mums first day of school shoes

Hey there, lady, I was just at Kmart buying a spare (cheap) drink bottle for my boys today, and they took 10 minutes to pick which one they wanted, and I was thinking about you and me and the first day of school. Here are a few things I want us to know.

They go to school, and you go to school. We all get schooled. They learn to read, we learn how to read them better. They learn how to get along with other kids, how to add and subtract, how to create and discover and write and learn. And so do you. It will be about how use your time, how to get along with teachers and parents, how to discover yourself as your time constraints change. You’re going to learn just as much as they will this year. 

When you walk up to your child’s classroom, expect to cut through a thick layer of invisible anxiety, first in yourself, then in everyone else. It is impossible to overstate the hopes and dreams and fears of every mother standing at the door as she releases her precious cherub into the ocean of the world. Every other kid looks like an octopus or a shark, and Nemo has a broken fin. Give her grace because this isn’t easy, and if you are honest, it’s not easy for you. All of us have invisible fears about our children that we hide behind our bragging and comparing. But you’re afraid, and this year you get to learn how to find your way out of the fear. You get to see the other kids as just kids who are all imperfect, all learning, and all on a pathway of discovery.

Speaking of bragging or comparing, you don’t have to do either. Protect yourself from this. When someone tells you something great about their child, it’s not an insult to your child or an invitation for you to tell a better story. You’ll find the women with whom you can connect who will have a genuine interest in your life and your kids, who don’t see your life as a threat to theirs. Wait for those people. While you wait, get rid of your own instinct to brag about yourself or your kids. There’s no need to fear, my friend. You are in process, and you are going to be ok, too. No need to come across as anything else to anyone else.  

At times it will feel like you are standing in a line with your child and every smile, every conversation with someone new, every invite for a coffee or playdate is going to feel like approval, the badge that says I am Someone, I am a Good Mother, I have a Good Child. Fight against this mentality. You don’t have to talk to another person at drop off. You have time to make friends. Friendship does not come easy. It takes time to lay down a groundwork of trust. You don’t have to tell the other mums you meet every deep, dark thing about your life. You don’t have to tell them the inner workings of your family life.

It takes a long time to find other women with whom you can genuinely connect who then you can deeply trust. Waiting is worth it. And if the women in your life end up not being in school, that’s totally fine, too.

Your kids don’t become magically different at school. The responsible kid will still be responsible, and won’t lose hats or jumpers or drink bottles. The kid with her head in the clouds, will still have her head in the clouds. Get this kid cheaper things. No need to feel guilty about that, this way you can replace their things without heaping shame on them. There’s a lot for kids to keep track of at school, they shouldn’t feel bad about losing a drink bottle here or there. We’ve all lost our expensive phones, right?

The teacher gets a version of your child, likely you get a different version. Both versions are real and true, and the joy of being a parent is working to understand all versions of our kids and helping them integrate their compartments into a whole. Your teacher sees a different side of your child, and you need their insights. Your teacher is your teammate, if you work together, your child wins. 

(An addendum here: There are I’m sure a tiny handful of terrible teachers out there – I’m sorry if you have one. Get on your child’s side, fill up their tanks with encouragement when they are down. Pray that the experience will teach them about empathy and perseverance. Talk to school admin. Hopefully next year will be better.)

Learn to see your child as one in a group, not the only one. The teacher has to attend to the group, and there are many others he or she needs to pay attention to. Your child is not especially deserving of unique attention. At least not more so than anyone else. Trust that every child will get the time they need. Trust that you are still your child’s number one influencer. Whatever their school cannot give them, you can fill in the gaps at home.

When you hear the thought, “My child deserves (a better teacher, a nicer table-mate, smarter classmates, more current technology),” replace it immediately with a list of what you can be grateful for. I’m thankful my kid gets to go to school. I’m thankful my child has food to eat. I’m thankful for clean water. I’m thankful for warm clothes in the winter. I’m thankful for a summer hat. Entitlement will cloud your judgment, entitlement will not let you see your kids for who they are, entitlement will steal your happiness.

Your child has unique needs that you can see more clearly than everyone else. But remember that there is a school full of kids. Every kid is there to learn, to develop as a person, to grow and to change. Learn to see other children. Learn to talk to them, appreciate them, learn to see your child as one in a group. We want them all to succeed.

Expect there to be issues between your kid and other kids. This may be the year you find out that your child isn’t as truthful as you hoped. It may be the year you find out that they like to steal or cheat or hit other kids. Maybe they started cutting class or failing a subject. Don’t let the disappointment you feel in your child become a disappointment you feel in yourself. Your kid gets to make his or her own decisions – this is true of a five-year-old and an 18-year-old. Their decisions are not always a reflection of your home or your parenting. They are their own people. Yes, you’ll have to lay down the necessary boundaries, but guess what? Your kid needs your love and your anchoring support in them as a person especially when they have disappointed you. And you and I need another lesson on how to dig deeper to find that unconditional love everyone needs.

Find the soothing words you need to use on yourself and your kids for specific stressful situations. For me it is this sentence, “We have enough time.” I always give us permission to be late. The irony of course is that we are almost never late, but giving all of us the permission to run late allows for a peaceful attitude in my heart and hopefully theirs.

You are going to need so much wisdom to know when you need to deal with something with your child and when you need to involve their teacher, other parents and members of the school. But trust that when you need wisdom, you will receive it. Walk into your decisions with a humble confidence. You can do this. Please tell yourself this every day, every week, every term. You can do this. You can do this. You can do this. 

Trust that you will make mistakes.

Expect your kids to make mistakes.

Plan for the teachers to make mistakes.

See mistakes as the doorway for all of you to grow.

You’ve got a year of growing ahead of you, my friend. Here’s to the new branches in your life, and here’s to the good fruit.

Now it’s your turn: I’d love to hear from you if you’ve got a kid starting school in 2019 or continuing on in school? How are you feeling? Drop a note in the comments. Got any good tips to share with the rest of us? Just write it all out here – we need all the ideas, right?!?!

beach day in Australia

Happy New Year, friends.  I hope 2019 started well for you wherever you are. I can hear the whirring of our ceiling fan as I write this. We are in the middle of what promises to be a warm Melbourne summer. It feels good.

I love thinking about the past year before I start thinking about the new one. For me there is a necessary amount of reflection needed to move forward. It’s like I can’t begin until I’ve looked back. The Internet has a gazillion tools related to thinking about the past year and planning for the next one. But for me I love answering this question: What did I learn? Here are eight important lessons from 2018.

Small changes are everything

Ruth Chou Simmons of Gracelaced sums it up for me in an Instagram post, “We make progress when we make minor adjustments, repeatedly. Not seeing impressive fruit or immediate change isn’t failure; it’s formation.” I am clinging to this walking into 2019. Small shifts in the right direction. Fun fact: Since October I’ve been going live on Instagram Monday to Friday midday to chat about this topic, and you can follow along here.

There is a long chain of people and events that help guide our direction

The short story is that 2018 was the year I started thinking about teaching writing workshops. I explored possibilities (teaching women in prison how to write their story), and no one called me back. I tried other avenues and had a meeting or two that seemed promising, but then again, no one called me back. Then in a most unexpected way, a door opened in a place I did not seek out to teach a writing workshop. The first one is February 7. This is after 10 months of thinking (well, maybe a lifetime of thinking), some exploration, a few closed doors and a random email. But it began when I read the newsletter of a poet who wrote about teaching poetry in a women’s prison. It grew during another friend’s month-long stay with us and our many conversations about injustice. Dear friends and my husband validated the idea and encouraged me to keep going. Like all good things in my life, there was a chain of people who encouraged and loved and worked to bring this thing (slowly) to life.

Follow your instincts

One of the enduring lessons of adulthood is learning which instincts to follow and which ones to ignore, but learning to listen to the instincts that I know, that I know, that I know I need to follow have led to immeasurable joy. In the middle of the year, I had this feeling that I had to learn how to garden, and I had to ride a bike. I didn’t know why, I didn’t know that I could (I still don’t know if I can grow anything), but I knew I needed to try. I have. Both activities have been two of the best parts of the end of 2018. I look forward to much more of both in 2019.

I need my friends

Friendship in my 30s has been one of the sweetest gifts of my life. Yes, it unfolds at a different pace now, we all have less time for each other, but the slow work of building trust yields rewards. We all need those women who are going to stand with us, speak truth into our lives, ask us good questions, yank out weeds from our garden and laugh and laugh and laugh (and maybe watch the Royal Wedding together as well).

Go back to the doctor

I’ve always been a person who went to the doctor because of a problem and never went back. The first appointment is a general inquiry, there were usually tests done, but now I know it’s in the follow up appointments where two things happen: the doctor has to work harder to understand you, and you have to keep telling the truth about how you really are, about the treatment and whether or not it is working. This goes for mystery physical things and for emotional and psychological matters. Before this year I never went back. I thought I was too complicated. I thought things would get better on its own. In 2018 I saw my GP six times, and it led to a new kind of health and freedom in my life. I sprained my ankle and had to see a physiotherapist at least five times. It meant sitting with a medical professional who often took my health more seriously than I took it, and something about that forced me to take myself more seriously as well.

There’s no experience like losing someone you love

Two women I loved dearly died in 2018. Their lives are irreplaceable, and there is a grief in losing them that will never go away. It was a reminder that we are made by love, the love of God, the love of others. I feel so grateful to have known them and been loved by them.

Write it down

It doesn’t matter if it is an idea that came to me while I was driving or a longing I could voice to no one. If I wrote it down, I felt better. If I wrote it down, I was less resentful of people or circumstances. Somehow letting the ideas out, letting the words out helped me to live and helped me to realize I have more to do. If you want to know more about my journal and writing tools, I did a series of videos about that here.

Endings are hard, some endings are necessary

We are conditioned as a people to think that endings are all bad, which is why we delay our endings. We stay longer than we need to in organizations and relationships that cause death to our souls. This year we decided to end our commitment to something. It was a hard decision, one we put off for a long, long time, but I have a feeling it will lead to a beautiful beginning.

Well friends, that’s it for me today. I have a feeling I could write a blog post about each of these eight lessons. Would you like me to do that? Could you let me know in a comment or email? As always, please join the conversation over on Instagram. I’m on there almost daily.

Now tell me: What did you learn in 2018? 

gift giving Christmas thinking about others

My calendar tells me Christmas is a few weeks away, and it still surprises me even though I’ve known all year that it is coming. I had to go to our local shopping centre last weekend to buy (another) bag of cranberries, and I noticed how full it was at 11am. Throngs of people were out shopping the sales, wandering in and out of cheery stores, and posters were screaming at me: Buy this! Buy this!

I have only one philosophy for Christmas shopping. Get it done fast. Get it done early. Nothing can turn me into a grinch faster than navigating a parking lot on December 22. And it is so not the point. There is nothing about the western trappings of the Christmas holiday that can nurture the spirit of what Christmas is about.

Here’s how I see it. God becomes a baby to be with us. He is born to an impoverished, unwed teenage couple in a stable with animals. I’ve had two babies in a Swiss teaching hospital, complete with three course meals (best chocolate tarte I’ve had in my life) and nurses on call 24-hours a day. The thought of having a baby – God or my own – in a filthy shed with animals is unthinkable to me. But this is Christmas. It is the brightness of the star in the sky, it is the softness of swaddling clothes. It is the cries of a new born baby.

This is why we give gifts. This is the only thing that can get me excited about giving anyone a present, and here is a practical way that we apply it: A Gift Weekend.

Pick a weekend 

Set this weekend aside for gift giving. If you’re single, get friends together and do this with them. If you’re married, make it a fun thing you do with your spouse (and friends if you want). If you’ve got kids, involve them in this. There are no rules – do this in a way that suits your personality and your community. A Christmas PJ and cookie online shopping party? I would go. A tour of your local Christmas market with a view to getting all presents there? As long as there’s mulled wine, I would be there. Or the easiest option for us right now – an early (in the day because parking lots) trip to the local mall.

Set an amount 

Decide whom you’re buying for and how much you’re going to spend. When I have less money, my ideas are better and more creative. We give our kids $5-10 each to spend on each member of their family.

Give to others

Find something that you and your community can get behind and throw the weight of your love, energy and resources into it.

You can do it locally – find a soup kitchen where you can volunteer, find people who work in a local prison and give gifts to prisoners or their kids, partner with people in your community who are providing Christmas meals for people who cannot afford it. Or use your money to fund businesses or organizations that have gift catalogues and fundraising drives.

If you live in Australia, TEAR has the best gift catalogue – Useful Gifts. My kids will pore over it and seriously think about what they would love to get someone else in a different country. The physical catalogue is easy to read and understand – I highly, highly recommend it. We find it one of the most meaningful ways of nurturing an attitude of giving in our own hearts and in our kids’ hearts. (This is not sponsored, just our own experience.)

Wherever you live, there will be people who are reaching out to others at Christmas. Find them and partner with them.

Now it’s your turn: What do you love to do at Christmas to keep your mind focussed on what matters? Do you have any tips on how to get involved in the needs of your community? Please share them for all of us. 

I was chopping vegetables with my five-year-old a while ago when he told me a story. He began by referencing something we both heard that morning, but it was his interpretation of what he heard that caught my attention. It caught my attention so much that I could feel my physical anger reaction almost immediately.

My heart beat faster. My breaths shortened. My hands started to shake. I was angry. Within seconds I was forming a response. I wrote down what he said, I formulated the story for my husband, and I started composing a mental email.

I expect my child to be exposed to misogynistic thinking in advertising and television, I don’t expect him to face it here, I wrote in my head to people involved.

I listened to my son, and I let myself get angrier and angrier thinking about it. I was so angry that at some point I realized I was enjoying being angry and enjoying having a reason to be angry about a specific group of people. The evening went on, and when we had some privacy, I told my husband about the conversation. He suggested that perhaps I didn’t understand the context. He told me the story because he and my son had been there for the whole thing. He expanded out the boundaries I put around it.

I didn’t write any protest emails. I didn’t talk to anyone. I misunderstood the context my son was talking about because I wasn’t there for all of it.

The situation with my son didn’t need an angry email from me, but after my emotions settled, I could see something else.

My anger was pointing at something.

It was like an arrow directing my attention toward a situation, a bigger situation,  that needed to be addressed. The specifics here are not important, but I needed to be able to separate what I was getting angry about in the moment from what I actually needed to pay attention to. Because what it pointed at is something that required action.

The bigger picture involved an important decision we have to make. We needed to reflect on our reasons. This would mean many complex, sometimes difficult, discussions between us as a couple. It meant we needed to communicate that decision with others, people who may not understand or may be hurt by our actions. And there were many, many things in there that I needed to let go.

You don’t have to do much to find anger. Just turn on the news. Spin the dial on your radio. Listen closely to your friends. Pay attention to your emotions. We are an angry people. We know more, we feel more and that can keep us from seeing what we need to do. I wonder about your life and its specifics. What events or people push your buttons easily? What else could it be pointing to? Perhaps there is more action for you to take.

Being angry is easy, looking at what our anger is trying to get us to see can be so much harder, taking action can be harder still.

It requires our courage, vision and action. It means we need to slow down, let our emotions diffuse, let the anger go, but let the arrow remain. However difficult it may be for you to look at the thing anger wants you to see, dealing with it is what will bring freedom and peace.

Now it’s your turn: What is anger pointing at in your life? What steps do you need to take to deal with it? Is there someone with whom you could share this who could help you discern what to do next? 

Coming back to this blog after a long absence always feels awkward, and for those of you who have read it for a while, you know there have been many long absences. But here I am again, trying to put words together. I’m not sure what brought you here in the past or why you’re here now, but I am grateful for your presence. I built this space over time on stories of my life with the kids, stories about food, family and faith at the table, devotional thoughts that were supposedly “authentic.” I’m not against that kind of writing, but I have to wonder how much all of us need more encouragement. Are we so over-encouraged that our own freedoms and comforts are the most important things to us now? I guess this is my way of telling you that this is not like most of the posts you will find in this blog.

I wondered whether or not I should write about children forcibly separated from their parents in the United States, I wondered if I should write about Australia’s policies about asylum seekers. I wondered if you care about these topics, I wondered if this would have any impact in your life.

It is only privilege that allows us to think about the suffering of others without doing anything.

This is not about you. It’s not about me.

But I don’t think any of us want yet another political opinion as we swim in a sea of outrage. How do we become more concerned about the interests of others?

How do we become people of action in an era of outrage?

I’m writing for those of us who live in suburbia, drive in rush hour, drink lattes, endure difficult bosses, go to soccer practice, mop floors, and fold laundry. What does the suffering of some at the hands of immoral legislation have to do with us?

I hope these words are not another bucket of outrage water thrown into the sea. I hope we can see the land, swim toward it and find a way out.  Here’s why this matters to me.

Thirty-five years ago in July, mobs of Sinhalese people wandered around the streets of Colombo, Sri Lanka burning Tamil homes, killing Tamil people, raping Tamil women, looting Tamil goods. They burned my grandparents’ home to the ground, the second time this happened in seven years. They stole my grandmother’s jewelry. They came down the street where my parents and I lived, and we jumped over our wall and hid in our Sinhalese neighbor’s house for three days.

I was under two and have no active memories of these events, but however hard I try, I cannot undo these threads out of the fabric of my life. I think it is why I write anything at all. So when I come here and try to write a devotional thought about how the falling leaves reflect the changing seasons in the world and in our lives or how patience is a good thing and we need more of it, well, I just can’t do it anymore.

Every corner of our world holds lives torn apart by violence – every corner of your community holds it as well. If you don’t see it, you’re not looking.

I need you to believe that the safe, beautiful life you construct for yourself and for your family, it is not shared by other members of your community.

Is this going to matter to you?

Will it matter to us that other kids struggle in under-funded schools while our kids thrive in a private school? Are we going to be bothered by a tax system that privileges some at the expense of others? Is it sufficient to be content with our children’s physical safety while kids on our street return to all manner of abuse daily? Is it enough to vote abortion out of our countries while ignoring the needs of young women and men in our schools? Are we going to be a people who stick to our three issues without looking to the myriad of other problems in our community?

Will it be enough for us to build a safe life for ourselves and the people we love?

For me 2018 has been the year when I knew that my answer to this question was a solid no. If your answer is no, please keep reading. These are the small ways that I’ve been moving toward becoming a person of action in an era of outrage.

Reject your privilege

What’s the easiest way to find our privilege? Whenever I think or feel, “I deserve this,” I know I’m looking at my privilege.

“My child deserves the best teacher.” “I deserve that parking spot.” “I deserve a break at the end of this hard day.” “Our community deserves a better playground.” “I deserve ___ because I pay my taxes.” “My church deserves protection from the legal system.“ “I deserve to receive my food when I want it.”

Deserve is the language of privilege. Checking where I believe I deserve something is becoming a source of freedom for me – freedom from my privileges, freedom to see what other people need, freedom to see what I need to do.

You could look at it another way. I’ve chosen to believe that I have everything I need. Everything I need. There is no lack in my life, so why would I spend my time, energy and money giving myself more? Voting so that I am safer and happier? Enabling organizations and politicians who want to work for me? I have everything I need. This means I look to the interest of others. It means I vote for what is best for others. It means I am looking for the protection of people in my community who do not have the security I do.

Meet different people, ask better questions

Many people who read this blog are from a Christian background, and it can be easy for us to be so planted in a faith community that we have no idea of what else is happening around us. It’s been crucial for me to engage with people who are doing different things – people in local business, council members, and program co-ordinators at a community house. When you meet people who are involved in a different part of community life from you, ask them questions. Ask them what they notice about your city, ask them where there are the most needs, ask them who does good work.

I found out that our city has the highest rate of domestic violence and suicide in our region of Melbourne. I found out that there are many organizations already doing great things here. (Do not be so foolish to think you are the only person who can come up with good ideas. I’ve been amazed at the wonderful things already going on where I live, and the many heroes who have tirelessly served behind the scenes.) I am beginning to find places where I can take my skills and hopefully put them to use for the welfare of our city.

Make the big issue a local issue

We’ve all seen those Facebook posts asking us to sign a petition or giving an opinion about the latest even in the news today. The big issues can get us angry, but does it make us active? For me the answer is no. Yes, I’ve called my local and national politicians and given my opinion (we all should), but turning my eyes to our community has given me things I can do. Are you disgusted by your government’s policies on refugees and asylum seekers? After you call your representatives, find out who works with migrants in your community. Involve yourself there.

The key here is who do you know? Maybe you need some new people in your life – people who can draw you out and into different corners of your community.

Take small steps toward involvement 

Every movement I’ve taken in 2018 toward my community has been small. It’s been a conversation with a woman about her indigenous heritage at an event at our local kinder. It was a meeting with a project officer at a community house. It was asking a local council member a question about what most surprised her in our community. Small conversations, small steps. I still don’t feel like I have “done” much, but I’m moving toward something. I’m choosing to believe that these small steps will lead to finding my place in our community. But most importantly it has given me a bigger, deeper vision and love for where I live and what is going on around me.

Whatever the rest of 2018 holds for you, I hope that somehow you can take one step toward someone else in your community. Believe that you have nothing to lose and nothing to fear. Believe that there is a better life than simply being angry and outraged. Believe that there is a life for you outside of your privileges. Believe that you have something to give. Let’s do this together.

Now it’s your turn: I would love to hear your thoughts about community engagement – do you consider yourself involved in your places? What have been effective tools in getting involved? What keeps you from being as local as you can be? What is a corner of your community where you could be involved?