Saturday, 12 May 2018

The choosing game

Yesterday I was thinking about some of my learned thinking and how it's not really helpful (for example, feeling like everything should be perfect in the lead up to a fun event, otherwise it's too hard to enjoy it). This morning I'm quite tired (I went out for a fun event last night (after a less than perfect lead up, and I still had a great night) and some more of those learned thoughts/conditioning were swirling around in my head (e.g. thinking people are all good or all bad and feeling confused when it turns out that's not true (every time)), and the thoughts were leading to anxiety, even though I knew they weren't true. Then I started thinking 'Oh I need to change all this conditioned thinking, there's so many things I need to change, I don't know how to do it' and I felt myself about to really spiral down into an anxiety pit...

I was making a cup of tea while these thoughts were swirling, and pouring in our beautiful milk straight from the dairy calmed me a little, and I came back to the moment, and was somehow able to shift perspective on my thoughts, and instead thought 'Wow, there's some conditioned thinking that it would be helpful to change, which will make things a bit easier' and then I felt great. I felt like I was making a choice, a positive choice to help improve my life, and I wasn't saying that things were bad, just that I'd found a way to make them better. My early thinking had been victim-like which can feel isolating and hopeless.

I feel so different in my body when I am thinking negative or victim thoughts - my shoulders hunch, I curl in on myself so my lungs end up squished and it's harder to breathe - and then I feel anxious because I'm short of breath, but my brain assumes that the shortness of great is because of anxiety, so it starts to worry more and try to figure out what I'm anxious about, and (as Sarah Wilson says in her wonderful book First We Make the Beast Beautiful) I 'get anxious about being anxious'. If anything goes slightly wrong or unexpectedly when I'm thinking like that, it adds to the anxiety and before long I can be feeling like nothing is ok and everything is a disaster. I don't seem to be able to stop and think, everything is so swirly in my brain there's no room for new information.

When I am thinking positive thoughts, staying in the moment, feeling in charge of my life, I stand straighter, I open my lungs up and breathing is calm and easy, I can stop for a moment if something goes wrong, think about a way to deal with it, and then move through it. I can feel really happy and content, even if things are going wrong around me - they don't impact my mood.

There's a couple of things that I can learn from this. One is that knowing that my thoughts impact on how I react to things - SOMETIMES when I start to move to anxiousness, I can tell myself that what I'm thinking is not necessarily true, it's not the only way to think. Sometimes I'm not able to change the way I'm thinking, but knowing that there are other possibilities can mean that I know that the anxiety won't last, it's only until something shifts, and that makes it more bearable (it used to feel like I'd be feeling that way forever, and that was scary). The other thing is that if I realise early enough that I'm moving to victim mode, I often CAN change my thoughts, just reframe it a little - sometimes that's enough to lift me right out of it (like this morning), other times it just calms me enough to be able to keep functioning and I can recover more quickly. It helps if I can do something nurturing or notice the great things around me and come back to the moment.

I also know that practice makes it easier. Every time I shift my thinking I get better at it, and I can continue to improve. I know it's not a fix-all and I'm not going to be able to do it every time - any time that I can do it though, improves my life and that of those around me. So I will celebrate those moments and remember that I do have options when I'm feeling low - even if I choose not to access those options every time, knowing that there are choices makes all the difference.

(This activity from Scott Noelle illustrates all the above - I've been doing it a bit lately, and this morning was the first time since I started that I truly remembered the advantage of knowing there is a choice

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Stopping for anxiety

Yesterday morning I was feeling great - I was chatting to a friend online and saying how good I was feeling, and it was true. So I was very surprised a few hours later to discover that I was feeling incredibly anxious and definitely not so good anymore.

Because it was a surprise, so sudden, and without an obvious cause, I spent way too many hours trying to ignore it, pretend it wasn't happening, just get on with my happy day as I'd planned to. Which I know (usually in hindsight) is one of the worst ways to manage my anxiety. The more I push it down the more it bubbles up and can lead to me exploding or collapsing (or both).

Eventually, after I had dithered around and not got very much of anything done for a good chunk of the day, I went with it. I went into Yarra Glen for a while on my own (op shop, library, IGA - very relaxing), came home and watched a movie with the kids (Sing - they'd seen it, I hadn't, and I quite enjoyed it) then played a game of Korners (which I'd never heard of but had picked up at the Op Shop 2 hours beforehand) with all 3 kids - it was fun, easy to play but difficult to win, and resulted in lots of hilarity (which did have a slightly hysterical edge to it but it was a good release). After all that I was able to tidy up the kitchen a bit and then head to bed.

When I get stuck in my anxiety, I'm really best to take a few hours off and do stuff that I really love or that really relaxes me. If I don't, I feel like I SHOULD be doing other things - dishes, tidying, emails, whatever - but I can't quite get my head around doing them.  I start, and stop, and take ages, or stand around trying to decide what to do next, and all the time feeling guilty that I'm not doing what I should be, or resentful that I'm doing something that I don't want to be doing, and it makes my anxiety much much worse. Soon I'm listening to a voice in my head telling me how bad it is that I can't even manage my housework blah blah blah. The fear (and the voice feeds this) is that if I take a day off my 'responsibilities' then they might never get done.

But the opposite is true. I nearly always find that if I take an afternoon, a day, a few days off when I am getting anxious, and when I feel that antsy feeling of 'I should do.... but I really don't want to', then the next day (or even later that day) I do feel like doing all those things, I do them joyfully and easily and much better than I would have done them when I didn't want to.

I figured out what brought the anxiety on - a combination of little things really. I've been going to bed later than I'd like this week, so waking up later, and Amelie has been up before me a few days in a row - so no time alone first thing and I really treasure that time to reconnect with myself for the day. I didn't go for my walk - I know it's important, but sometimes getting the dog ready to go with me makes it feel to hard and I skip it - and I usually feel flatter or more anxious all day. Tony and a workmate had an awkward conversation about the puppy and I was worrying about that. I posted a few things on Facebook that I'd been putting off (sharing information, and organising an event) and putting myself out there like that had me anxious about responses. And I've had a lot going on in the last few weeks with Caitlin's birthday, her party, and a few other personal issues happening. Yesterday was the first day in over a week where I could just relax, and instead I saw it as a day to 'get lots of things done' - I forget that I often need the relax day first before I get up and get busy the next day.

And it's worked. I've woken up this morning, taken the puppy for a walk which was fantastic, had 2 awkward conversations that I've been putting off for ages (including sorting out the dog issue with Tony's workmate), I've done some gardening and some tidying up outside, and I really do feel fantastic and ready to get on with things today. And hopefully I'll remember that if that changes, if I feel like it's too much, that I can stop for a while again today (there's not a limit to how often I can do that, I don't need to ration out my self-care) and play with the kids or read my book or whatever, and it doesn't mean that I'm less worthy.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

How to be remembered

Last week I went to the funeral of the husband of a friend of mine. He had died, in his 80s, after being unwell for most of the past few years. I didn't know him well, had met him a few times, but my friend has been an influential and inspirational person in my life since we moved to Victoria 11 years ago. I first met her at a music session for kids that she was running, and we went to that session on and off for about 5 years. She provided childcare (in the next room so the kids could still come to us) at a mother's group we went to for a couple of years, and my kids loved being with her. We've worked on various children's programs and events together, including starting up a playground (which is still running even though both of us have moved on to other things). We see her regularly at the op shop where she volunteers, and down the street at other events around town, and she always has time to stop and chat to me and the kids, and I love listening to her wisdom and being soothed by her kindness. Over the years I've also come to know several of her children and/or their partners (who are all around my age) and some of her grandkids.

So I went to her husband's funeral to support my friend and her family. It was the most beautiful funeral I've been to, very emotional and personal and loving. The minister knew the family well so all her prayers and blessings were very personal. She told a wonderful story to the children that helped to explain what death and the afterlife might be like (about a caterpillar becoming a butterfly and the confusion he felt when he was in the cocoon stage). All of my friend's 4 children spoke about their dad, and she spoke as well. It was really lovely to hear from the entire family and their own experiences and memories, rather than just from one person.

The theme that came through from everyone who spoke was that this man was loving and kind, practical and a hard worker, and was always willing to help someone when they needed it. All the kids talked about times when they'd needed help (often when they'd made a mistake) and their dad readily did what was asked. Other people I talked to afterwards and since also told me about times when he helped with events or parties or anything that was happening, and he was always available to do what needed to be done.

It really struck me how much that meant to everyone who spoke - that he was always there when needed. It felt like such a beautiful, wonderful thing to be remembered for. Our society is so full of messages along the lines of 'let them work it out for themselves', 'I'm not here just to serve you', 'I don't have time to do that for you' etc - we seem to be encouraged to put ourselves first and to 'help' our kids learn to do things for themselves. I've been to funerals of people who parented like that and while their children were sad and missing them, the way they remembered their parents wasn't with the deep love and appreciation and gratefulness I experienced last week.

It was a great reminder that how we interact with our kids and with our partner and our friends and family, every day, is how we will be remembered. I definitely want my kids to look back on their childhood, teenage years, adult years and know that Tony and I were always there for them, would always be willing to help, no matter what the situation was. And I'm talking about genuine, willing help too, not 'oh all right, I'll do it...' type help. I mean 'Yes, I am happy to do that for you'  - even if that is not stated, I know that the energy and thoughts behind helping someone really influences how the receiver experiences the help. I know I don't enjoy it when someone begrudgingly helps me out, I would much prefer them to say 'no, sorry I can't right now' than to help grumpily. And I'm not saying that we should all do everything our children ask us, immediately and happily - but it doesn't hurt to do as much as we can, honestly and lovingly and willingly. Every little interaction helps build our child's world - we aren't going to get them all right, but the interactions are positive as often as possible, then they will build a positive view of the world and of our relationship with them.

We're often told that if we do too much for our kids they will end up spoilt and ungrateful. Last week I saw the results of a lifetime of being willing to help and support people whenever they needed it, and the children of that man grew up to be compassionate, loving adults, full of gratitude and seeing abundance all through their lives. That is what I want for my children and I am thankful for this family for reminding me that living a compassionate, supportive, loving life will help our children to grow up the same way.

Friday, 5 May 2017

Lego Exhibition

Yesterday we went to see the Brickman Wonders of the World Lego Exhibition at Melbourne Museum. I'd been planning to take the kids since I first heard about it sometime in March, though I kept putting off buying tickets because I couldn't figure out a good time to go. The exhibit finishes this Sunday so yesterday turned out to be the only remaining day that we could make it - I've done the same with many of the visiting exhibitions (and other activities) - either scraped in during the last week, or missed it altogether. I don't like to book things in too far ahead in case our plans change, which does sometimes mean missing out. I might try to book a few things and work around them and see how that works.

Anyway - I'd seen a similar exhibition at CentrePoint Tower in Sydney, many many years ago (when I was perhaps 10 or 12, with Mum and my siblings) and I LOVED it and have always wanted to go again. I didn't know if the kids would be as excited as I was - from the first moment they saw the Empire State Building in the foyer of the museum, they were bouncing with excitement and so keen to see more.

We all loved the exhibition and were amazed at the skill of the builders involved and detail of every sculpture. The sculptures themselves were incredibly true to the original, and many of them had little scenes set up around them of people enjoying the site - some of those details were hilarious, and it was all interesting. I spent most of the 2 hours saying to the kids 'hey, did you see the guy over here who is doing ...' and we all pointed out lots of fun and interesting details to each other.

There were buildings (ancient and modern) and paintings, sculptures, natural formations, vehicles, metro maps, jewels and crowns - all magnificent. It was also fun to count how many of them we'd actually been to or seen in real life (12 for me, 5 for Liam and Caitlin. None for Millie which has added to her desire to go somewhere overseas). My favourite was definitely the Titanic, there was so much going on in the set up and the boat design was so intricate and realistic.

Many of the sculptures were surrounded by a moat of lego which we were able to use to build our own designs. These were a lot of fun, we made cars and pyramids and statues and towers. We raced our cars down a ramp put there for that purpose - Liam spent a lot of time engineering his car to make it structurally robust - lots of trial and error and then thinking about how to counteract each new problem. He was pretty impressed with his final product, and amusedly annoyed when Caitlin's vehicle of 2 big wheels on an axle was faster than his car.

As we made our way around we were looking for a particular lego figurine - there was a competition to count how many times he appeared throughout the exhibit, then you can enter your answer online and potentially win a prize. This added another whole level of interest to each sculpture and helped us really look at every aspect of the scene.

There were also tables set up with white flat squares of lego, and lots of coloured one by one blocks, where everyone could make their own design and put it on display on the wall. I tried to make a star and didn't get anywhere (although my statue of David was quite cool), the kids had a lot more success at designing something they were happy with.

Millie's, Liam's and Caitlin's designs
The Flying Scotsman, made from lego. Steam engines and lego combined - super exciting for me!
We explored for 2 hours (although it was hot in there and Caitlin and I started to feel a bit overwhelmed) and loved it all, we could have stayed longer. We made our way out through the shop and bought some road bases to use with our own lego, as we don't have any and this was something that all 3 kids were happy to get.

Upstairs we met up with my Mum and Dad, and my sister's son who they were looking after for the day. We all went in to the new Children's Gallery in the museum - we hadn't seen it before and the kids all loved it. Mum and Dad and I had a coffee while the 4 kids explored, then the kids joined us for something to eat and then we all had a bit more of a play and headed home. It was very cool to be able to combine our trip in to the museum with the kids seeing their cousin and grandparents.

The traffic was heavy though flowing on the way home (leaving just before 5pm was always risky) - we got home in about an hour 20 which wasn't too bad. We grabbed a hot chicken and bread from the IGA and ate that at the hall before going in to karate - Tony came and picked Millie up as she didn't want to do karate that night. Karate was fun and challenging as usual, afterwards we chatted to one of the Sempeis about his recent trip to Europe and then came home to finish our dinner and put the animals to bed and get to bed as quickly as possible ourselves - it was a cold night and we were very grateful for our fire!

Monday, 24 October 2016

Learning without judging

Last night I watched a Transformers movie.

LiAM and Tony were watching it and I was half paying attention and half doing other things (which is the way I watch most TV), and I was getting tired and sat down for a few minutes and watched a bit of the movie without distraction. I really really loved it.

I had planned to go to bed as soon as I could and to read my book - instead I moved to the couch and watched the rest of the movie with Tony and LiAM. It was great to spend that time with them and discuss the movie and Transformers and other things, and it was also really cool watching the movie.

Transformers is something that until a few years ago I would have said 'No' to the kids watching and wouldn't have wanted to watch myself either. I don't even know why I was so against so many movies and TV shows and characters. Some of it was about violence, sure, or concepts I didn't want the kids to see. Some of it was about commercialism, not wanting to expose the kids to the popular shows because I felt, I think, that they had no inherent value, they were just popular because some marketing person had decided they would be and everyone had blindly followed along and watched the shows and bought all the merchandise. I wasn't interested in watching (or even reading) the popular stuff ' myself - I made my own choices based on what I liked - although I mainly made choices based on what I liked, within the range of things that weren't really popular. It never occurred to me that some of these shows were popular because they were enjoyable!

I am so grateful to have discovered and followed this unschooling lifestyle that we have chosen - by opening up and allowing the kids to choose what they watch (and to truly choose, from all options, not just from the options that I have deemed to be ok), we have an environment where the kids have discovered so many wonderful TV shows and movies and books and games, and had SO much enjoyment - and I have as well. There is so much that we all would have missed out on if I had continued to control our viewing and reading. I've discovered that Barbie movies are fun and funny and beautiful and have great story lines and lots of morals. I've discovered that Ben 10 is a fairly typical young (and then teenage) boy who is constantly struggling with his duty to save the world (I was SO anti-Ben 10, and now that I've watched it, I really can't understand why).

It's been a great lesson for me, that judging something before seeing or trying it, is really unfair and doesn't really make any sense. Even without thinking about the kids, my world is so expanded and happier now that I am open to trying things without pre-judging them. And for the kids - it's so much better that they can try things for themselves and make their own choices.

There's stuff that they watch that I don't like - which doesn't matter, because they like it. I watch enough so that I can talk about it with them, and can usually find bits that I can appreciate. I'm also happy to listen to them talk about it even if I'm not a fan. There are TV shows that one or another of them don't like, so they do something else if the others are watching it.  I've really come to realise that there is some value in every show, the kids pick out the bits they like and don't dismiss the whole show because of an aspect they don't like - a great skill to have in life. They are much better than me at deciding in the moment if something is worth doing despite the downsides, or whether they'll give it a miss this time.

I've also discovered that love amassing knowledge about anything, and learning bits and pieces about pop culture makes me very happy. I love that we can discuss the worlds of Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings or Star Wars in great depth. And at first I was restricting my knowledge to just the things I was really interested in, and I didn't value knowledge about other 'world's. Now I am happy to soak it all in, and I really love that the kids know so much about so many things. All knowledge is valuable and it all links in to other things - I've seen time and again how knowing something about, say, Pokemon, helps a real concept to suddenly make sense.

Last night Amelie astounded me by telling me which stone was used for each of the evolutions of Eevee (a pokemon - there was a picture of each of Eevee's evolutions, and without reading or any other clues, she told me which stone was needed for each one.) I don't know how or when she learned that information, she has picked it up through watching and playing and talking about Pokemon. That particular knowledge helps her when she plays the games, or talks to others about Pokemon - and it also shows that she has the ability to effortlessly learn a whole series of reactions or relationships - when she comes across that kind of relationship in maths or chemistry or anywhere, she won't be thinking 'oh no I have to memorise all this stuff' - she will simply learn it as she discovers it and then be able to use her knowledge when she needs it.

Last night I learnt lots about Transformers. I learnt that they all have distinct personalities. I learnt that some are good (Autobots) and some are bad (Decepticons) - and that some have switched sides. I learnt that they can be kind and thoughtful, and that they can have their feelings hurt. I learnt that people can ride inside them when they are in their car or truck form. I did multiple searches on the internet while I was watching and learnt the names of the Transformers in the movie, and a bit of their back story, and followed trails of some of the actors in the movie and found out which other movies they were in etc. As always, once I started taking in new information it led to more and more links - I am amazed every time that learning can be so easy and enjoyable, and I am so excited that my kids know that already and spend their days learning happily and easily and without pre-judgement.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Dentist, library and Healesville Sanctuary

Amelie had a dentist appointment yesterday so the kids and I went down to Healesville to have her front teeth checked - she had banged them hard on her knee when we were in Esperance a few weeks ago, then hit them again on LiAM's head a week or so later, and they have been bleeding and looking a funny colour since then.

The dentist said they were about to fall out (they are both baby teeth) and there's nothing to worry about, so that's a relief. He wants to get her back in for a filling - I'll wait and see when she's ready for that then book her back in.

Seeing as we were in town I was happy to hang around and explore somewhere. The kids wanted milkshakes from the fish and chip shop near Coles, where we often used to buy milkshakes before our trip. We started walking over, then talked about going to the library - LiAM realised that he'd want the iPad and his iPod if we went to the library so the kids kept walking to the shop and I went back to get the car. I couldn't find them when I arrived, then Caitlin texted to say they were in the library - the guy at the fish and chip shop had said they couldn't do milkshakes - unsure if that was just for today or permanently.

We hung out at the library for a while, reading books, finding books and DVDs to borrow, and playing on the playstation (Lego Indiana Jones) then Caitlin went over to the ice-cream shop to get milkshakes from there. They were delicious - more expensive and much tastier than the ones we normally get.

Everyone was keen to go to the Sanctuary, and I was pleased I'd thought to suggest it. We can go as often as we want on our membership, and it's so close to home, I hope we continue to pop in whenever we are in Healesville. We saw a lot in the couple of hours we were there. There've been some changes - there are cassowaries, a cool new koala exhibit and we hadn't been in the new lyrebird exhibit either. We watched the bird show, excellent as always, and we were all very very excited to see the wedge-tailed eagle when she came out. We went to feed the parrots - Caitlin was able to hold a red-tailed black cockatoo, it wouldn't go onto the arms of the other kids, and none of the parrots were interested in the food we offered them (provided by the keepers) - it was still great to see them and Caitlin was thrilled about the cockatoo. We saw the pelicans, bats, wallabies, more birds and the goannas, then raced back for the dingo talk, which seemed even more relevant after meeting dingoes on our trip. We learnt that the biodiversity on the dingo side of the dingo fence is in better shape than the non-dingo side. Makes sense really, if you take out the top predator, things change a lot. Also the dingoes keep the cat and fox populations under control. We saw echidnas and discovered they have rear facing claws on their rear feet. We saw a keeper syringe feeding a very old koala and talked to her about how they were helping this koala (she was 18), and LiAM asked about the echidna claws - it's so they can scratch themselves without getting caught in their own spikes.

It was a very enjoyable afternoon and I'm looking forward to going a lot more often and remembering to really explore our own region like we did at all the places we stayed on our trip.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Cool learning and connections

I'm confident that learning happens for each of us, every day, often in ways that aren't obvious at the time. Some days though, the learning seems to be jumping out at us and we are all making connections and it's like we can feel our learning jumping ahead.

In the last couple of days there have been lots of little incidents of delight where people expanded their knowledge or understanding of the world.

LiAM and a friend were outside after the rain and saw water running from the driveway, so they followed it all the way to the bottom of the hill and then saw more water running to that point from the other direction, and followed it up the hill to the top of the dam. On the way they saw a blue tongue lizard, and discovered lots about waterways.

Millie was going through all the odd numbers (1 is odd, 2 isn't, 3 is odd, 4 isn't...) and on the way discovered that the digits repeat through each decade of numbers - so 0 is the same as 10, and 20, and 30, and 1 is the same as 11, and 21, and 31, and 2 is the same as 12, and 22.... She's come back to it several times and keeps exploring the idea further and finding it holds no matter how far she counts. She's quite excited about it.

Caitlin has been practicing doing handstands on a raised surface like the couch - so feet starting on the floor, then hands on the couch and legs up - it was pretty tricky at first and she kept practicing and it didn't take long for her to get it. She also learnt some cool ways to flip into the foam pit at Gravity Zone Trampoline centre yesterday, a round off and some other aerials that she couldn't do before - doing them into the pit gave her more support and flexibility so it won't be long until she can do them on the ground.

Watching BTN yesterday there was an article about a whole bunch of new words being added to the Australian National Dictionary. I was interested in the words that had been added and we chatted about some of them, and I was pleased to hear about the dictionary and didn't think I'd heard of it before (or not in a way that was memorable). About an hour later I was reading a book called 'The Bush and the Never Never' - I had picked it up at the library that afternoon, partly because we've just been to the Never Never, and partly because it was written by a man whose name was almost exactly the same as one of my uncles. I was already feeling a bit weird because that same uncle had rung me up this afternoon (after I'd borrowed the book) - and we'd had a great chat about our trip and he was saying how much he'd learnt about Australia by reading my blog, and I was talking about things I'd learned too. On the 2nd or 3rd page of the book the author was talking about the meaning of the 'bush' in Australia, and that words related to the bush take up more room than any other in the Australian National Dictionary. A dictionary which I now know something about because of the kids' news program, and one that I am going to find out more about because 2 mentions of it in one hour has made a fun connection that I want to explore further.