October.

On this month – my birthday month – I reflect on my life and wonder who I am. Most of my friends have finished having babies. Our children are growing up. Most of my friends have had long term relationships and I would estimate over half of them have have left those relationships. Always it was unexpected from the outside. Always they looked like they were carved in stone but they dismantle them until not even the shadow remains. No more substantial than dust in the wind.

We’ve bought houses and sold houses or left houses. We’ve had career changes. Most of my friends are artists and a good many of my friends who are artists do not use their art to put food on the table anymore. They’re working 9-5 jobs. They’re studying. Many of my friends are in this stage of metamorphosis where you begin to take stock and look around and wonder – who am I? Who am I now that I am no longer someone’s wife? Who am I now that my kids are growing up?

I go away for a few days over my birthday. I go to the beach and it rains. The sea looks angry and the sky is like a bruise. My anxiety flares and I go to bed early. I wake at 5. My whole body hurts. I’ve been so tense all night it feels like someone has taken to my body with a bat. My eyes feel like they have the flu. My head hurts. I’m still not that well and my jaw is out of place from clenching it. I cry. And to top it off my partner has written this absolutely beautiful tribute to me on Facebook for my birthday of which I feel unworthy. I am fragile this day. I feel like I am made of fine glass and with the smallest vibration I could shatter.

We play Scrabble and he always wins. I become obsessed with making certain words and hoard my tiles until I find the specific one I’m waiting for so I can make it. Sometimes the place I am planning to put it disappears and I miss the chance, sometimes my waiting pays off. Sometimes I let him make words that aren’t allowed because I love him.

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The rain clears and we walk along the beach even though it is still cold and windy. I watch a sea bird hover above the sea and dive down into the water and pull up a fish. It carries it away and I am happy for the bird and sad for the fish. I look for shells for my littlest girl. I only pick the prettiest ones for her. I like the small shells the best, tiny and intricate. I see one in the sand and pick it up but see that it is broken along it’s edge. I go to throw it away but I remember that I am broken too and people still love me. I decide to keep it. When I come home I put it on display in my room near my collection of seaglass.

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We go to film night at the girls school and they both win awards. They’re nominated so many times I lose count. It’s a long night for the little children and my small girl falls asleep on my lap for the second half, missing her own performance in one of the films.

It rains again. It feels like it has never stopped raining and for me the rain is both cleansing and holds a sadness that I cannot name. When it use to rain and I lived out west I would hole up in my house. The wood floors would get a sheen on them from all the moisture in the air. Sometimes it felt as though the walls were weeping along with the sky. The pets would smell damp and the grass would become untamed and we would sit inside and listen to the rain on the tin roof and we wouldn’t go out because we were all scared of flooding. I would close my eyes and see the brown churning water and the darkness and the unknown. I am grateful when it rains in a tentative kind of way. The same way you can be grateful for the warmth of a fire and not get too close. I hear it now, trickling into the tank and the weeds grow tall along the fence line. My washing I forgot to remove yesterday hangs low with the weight of water and so do I.

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I’ve been thinking about beauty. A part of me always longs for order. That instagram prettiness – white and greys. Minimal. The only colour is splashes of green from plants. Another part of me enjoys rustic beauty, bare floorboards, tongue in groove walls, a mandala of colours, an old couch with a throw on it to hide the bare patches. Eclectic hodgepodge. The character of a place. The overgrown lawn, the rusting tricycle, children with unbrushed hair, a bruise, a smudge of dirt, an unwashed window. I don’t know why I am drawn to these things. Something in me is unfurling.

I’ve begun to see the beauty of brokenness.

The Cup.

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It’s just a cup.

It’s not even a fancy cup, it has ‘made in korea’ stamped on the bottom. Recently my grandmother has been downsizing the items in her house and when I go over (which I should do more often but my life consists of work, work and a side order of work at the moment) I find she has piled a bunch of items on the bed in her back bedroom for myself and my mother and aunties and cousins to pore over like a garage sale. I collected a variety of mugs from the back bedroom – mugs are always in short order in my house because small children are butterfingers. Each mug reminds me of my grandparents home but I’m particularly protective of this one which no one else uses because it’s kind of unassuming.

It reminds me of my auntie for reasons I can’t put my finger on. I suppose I must have hidden memories of her using this mug – none of which I can recollect with any sort of clarity. But it reminds me of her so when I drink my tea out of it in the morning I am saturated in memories of her, my auntie, as she was when I was a child, long straight dark hair that I coveted, and her quietness.

My other auntie was 15 years older than me and I felt like she was a sister, other members of the family babied me but she called me out on my bullshit, didn’t let me win at monopoly simply because I was little and spent an entire summer eating ice blocks and trying to complete Mario Bros on my NES entertainment system. She was a friend, a confidant, a playmate.

My auntie with the mug was more elusive, quiet and calm. She would take me in the early summer mornings down to the pool where she would do laps and teach me to swim like a frog. She sat me on her lap and showed me how to form the letters of my name. When I told her my dreams she would ask questions as though they were important and not just a child’s nightmares. I see her in the garden watering the gerberas. I see her in the kitchen washing dishes. I see her turning up to the house like a celebration, for our missing piece had returned home.

And I love this cup.

Purple Flowers.

It’s been just over a year since I began this blog. The day I actually broke went unmarked in any calendar because I’m not sure exactly what date I would go from. Breaking happened slowly, me fraying at the edges for two years before I tore apart all at once.

And I have gotten so much better. I get up and go to work, assisting other people. I come home and I work quietly, editing for photographers and carefully correcting colours and clearing newborn skin. I take my children to school and their appointments. I lie beside my small children at night and read them bedtime stories. I go with my lover to lunch and he eats the rest of my salad when I can’t finish it. Together we take the children to the beach where my daughter collects and entire basket of shells and we have to convince her to ‘leave some for other people’. I buy myself bedside tables from Ikea and he convinces me to sit on the trolley on the way back to the car and runs with the trolley until I’m breathless with laughter and fear we will crash into a column. I pay bills. I do my hair. I’m blissfully normal.

I sleep.

And this is not something I take for granted anymore. Some nights when I don’t have an early shift I sleep for 9 hours. This time last year 5.5 was normal. This time last year I woke to darkness every day and watched the rising of the sun and tried to breathe and survive. Now days I still sometimes wake before the sun and I watch it rise in my car with a cup of tea in a travel mug as I inch along with the other commuters.

I try to dream.

And my dreams are of fairy lights and lace. My dreams are of plaster dust and lavender. The crown of a newborn head, tiny crescent fingernails. My dreams are of wrinkles and white hairs. I throw the tablecloth of my life out before me and smooth it flat, I am careful to choose what I lay upon it. I watch the wheel of life turn and feel no sadness at it’s passing.

I wake one morning and reach for my camera. My four daughters and I escape the house like puppies set loose and we enter the outside which is different with a camera. Inside the lens everything fits into a box. We find some purple flowers in the grass by the side of a road and we stop to shoot in them. Inside the lens it doesn’t matter that cars are driving past and construction is happening beside us. It doesn’t matter that this spot is actually an overgrowth of weeds. The mosquitos are invisible in the shot. Inside the lens it only matters that there are purple flowers on the ground springing from the grass like hope and that is all I show you. Life is different, so easily distracted by the noise of everything you barely notice the purple flowers. I had driven that road every day but I didn’t see them until I went looking for magic.

That whole year I spent trapped in my own mind, fighting for a way out. Looking for a door.

I was the door.

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Will Stand Up.

About 15 months ago I saw a photo of me that shook me a bit. I’ve been all shapes and sizes but I had never looked at a photo of me and truly hated it. I had looked at photos and thought it was a rotten photo but I had never before looked at a photo of myself and thought, “I look bad.”

It probably isn’t a photo you would expect, in fact I posted it because after years of being a photographer I learnt that no matter how much you hate the way you look, your family does not. They don’t care. They don’t see what you see.

Your partner sees your smile in your eyes.
They remember the time you laughed so hard that for ages after one of you would just have to start giggling and it would set the other off. (Sassafras)
They remember the touch of your fingertips on their skin.
Whispered I love you’s.

Your kids don’t see your imperfections. They remember soothed brows when they were hot with fever.
The time you went out to dinner and wore the red dress that made them think you were the most beautiful woman in the world.
They remember school concerts where you clapped the loudest, bedtime stories and birthday cakes.

No one ever sees what you see. I know that. So as a photographer I posted the picture. But as a woman who is human and flawed and a tiny bit vain – I hated it. I felt ashamed of me. And I stopped taking pictures.

I still photographed my sleeping daughter curled into me like a comma but I cut my face from the frame. I shot the book I was reading, the trees near me, my children, the surf, my partner…but not me. Sometimes parts of me made cameos, my feet in the sand, my hand holding a cup of tea, a shoulder, a wisp of hair. But I avoided the camera as much as I could because it was a mirror I was not ready to look into.

I do not write this to garner compliments. I didn’t need reassurance of my value. I didn’t feel worthless. I was still a good person, I was still kind, I was still funny (sometimes) and I was still clever. I was good at my job and I was a mother who was doing her very best and every day woke up trying to do better. I was a good person. I did not feel worthless simply because I did not feel attractive. I read articles frequently that advised that we need to love the body we are in and I felt that that was bullshit. Was it not possible that I could NOT love the body I was in and still be okay? Couldn’t I just look at myself with a critical and unbiased eye and find it lacking but still accept that I was a perfectly good person? So what if I was not pretty or beautiful or sexy? I’m still a worthy human being.

Here is what I know. I may never weigh more than I do right now. I find it so difficult to gain weight. My thighs – no matter how skinny – will always have a few rogue dimples of cellulite. My hips will always bear the stretch marks that crawled across them when I was pregnant with my first daughter. My stomach will never be entirely flat, that loose skin grew too many children and stretched like an old hair tie. It’s not coming back. My breasts will probably never fill out more than a B cup again. My hair will always be unruly and when brushed it will always go frizzy. My eyes are going to have smile lines, I can’t help it – I laugh too much.

BUT…this body? It grew children. It fed them. It carried babies that live in my home and ones that live only in my heart. It has kissed and loved and survived. It has hatched chickens and cooked meals and kneaded dough. It has delivered baby animals and picked flowers and planted herbs. It has walked beaches and forests. It has spun yarn and sewn clothes and worked stitches. It’s bled and cried and laughed and healed. It’s pressed the shutter of a camera thousands of times. It’s read and written. It has made magic.

It is not perfect. It is flawed beyond comprehension, really. It’s what I have. It works. Granted, sometimes it works like the vacuum you have held together with duct tape, but it works. Every morning when I stand in front of the mirror and I stare into my own eyes and tell myself, “You can do this. You’ve got this”, it rallies. I push it. I ask more from it than it deserves. And it rallies. It stands up.

I’m ready now. I am ready to look into that mirror and see what stares back at me. I will not look away. Not because I’m expecting beauty. But because I am expecting strength.

It’s time.

“Can stand up, will stand up…every one of us. Make your choice. Are you ready to be strong?” – BTVS “Chosen”.

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I Would Never.

I would never.

When I was little I did something naughty which I’ve long forgotten and my mother smacked me. I remember saying to her, “When I’m a mum I will never smack my kids.”

I have smacked my kids. Not often and not anymore but yes, I have smacked them. Now days this is a bit taboo. But when I was a kid, it was part of growing up. Maybe we know better now, but most of us survived unscathed so I guess it’s a bit of a wash what happened 30 years ago. I’m not going to debate the merits of smacking or not smacking: that’s a different post. What I want to talk about is ‘I will never’. I want to talk about the line in the sand we draw all the time on different topics and different days. I want to talk about the times you draw the line and at some point your find yourself standing at it and thinking…”I gotta move this.”

Generally I think we draw the line when we see the world in black and white. When you explore the issue further you realise there is a whole spectrum of grey you never knew existed and when you’re standing in the middle of that grey area it’s hard to see your line anymore.

There is a lot of places this comes into effect – abortion, welfare, asylum seekers, homelessness, the death penalty, even murder.

One area that this is a current issue in Australia is the cashless welfare card. The brainchild of someone who has never been on welfare and I doubt runs in circles that has a lot of welfare recipients, the cashless welfare card is basically a debit card that allows the purchase of life’s necessities but doesn’t allow purchases of certain items (gambling, alcohol, cigarettes). In theory that looks okay, I suppose. You can withdraw a very limited sum in cash out of it, so almost every purchase would be tracked to a degree. The flaws in it mean that you cannot buy from markets, home businesses that don’t offer Visa, online shops in many instances, gumtree, buy/swap/sell pages, some people have even reported issues paying their phone bill. And a lot of supporters are like, “Tough shit. Get a job. I pay taxes and so should you.”

Oh. But where is your line in the sand?

I work in the disability sector. My clients are often bed bound with complications from their conditions. As a support worker I frequently have to go to the store for them for bread, milk, medication. Under the contract I have with my workplace I am not allowed to take a debit card to the store. I may take cash only. I return with change and a receipt. If my clients receive a cashless welfare card I can no longer do this shopping for them leaving both my client and myself with some tough choices. If I arrive on shift and my client has run out of a staple item do I breach contract and take the card? Or do they hope they have a friend or family member ready to drop everything and come collect the items they require? They can’t go themselves.

Is that the line? Bed bound disability recipients?

What if my client CAN physically get to their chair but is in pain that day? What if it’s raining? What if they have $20 to last 6 days and they CAN go themselves but the taxi they would have to take would mean that when they got to the shops they no longer had the money to buy the item they needed?

What about my client who needed new wheels for his chair and ordered online? He can’t do that anymore.

Okay, should we draw the line at disability pension? Did we move it already?

What about the long term unemployed? Should we just throw them on the cashless welfare card? I have a friend who has a chronic illness. She is in extreme pain most days but can’t actually get on a disability pension because her lifelong chronic illness was put in the temporary category. Actually, it’s been two years now since her assessment so I should really check if she is cured yet as Centrelink said she would be. I’ve read of people with terminal cancer that have been unable to receive a disability pension.

What about the person that is unemployed and shares a house (because there is no way you could afford to solo rent on Newstart) – how are they paying board? Private rental? Fuggetaboutit. What about those unemployed because of mental illness? That’s not their fault.

Okay. Line in the sand.

Should we target those with known issues? Drug addicts? Alcoholics?

Let’s forget about the root of the issue for a second. Let’s forget that often those issues stem from the aforementioned mental illness issue. Let’s not fund programs for rehabilitation. If we give them the cashless welfare card won’t they just straighten out their act?

Maybe. Or maybe they’ll turn to crime to fund it. Maybe they’ll buy something they CAN buy, like nappies and sell them on a buy/swap/sell page and say they got the wrong size. Maybe they have a myriad of ways around not having to use the card.

Where is your line? Is it still black and white on all welfare recipients? Can you see the greys?

Life is like this a lot.

I would never.

I would never.

I would never have an abortion. Until I was told my 16 week pregnancy was incompatible with life. Until I was told he would not survive. Until I couldn’t be reassured he wasn’t in pain having his brain completely exposed in utero.

“Oh, we didn’t mean you. That’s different.”

So I am afforded compassion in that instance but if I already had a bunch of kids and my contraceptive failed and I’m already working two jobs and I need to keep them because look at how welfare recipients are treated and I get so damn sick when pregnant that my eldest daughter has to bring me my toothbrush and a cup to spit into in my bed – no compassion?

“I guess if you were really sick I understand. It’s just those people that use it as contraception, I can’t stand.”

I would never. I would never.

“I didn’t mean you. I meant career dole bludgers.”

“I didn’t mean you. I meant those people that come to Australia and don’t want to conform to our laws.”

“I didn’t mean you.”

“I didn’t mean you.”

“I didn’t mean you. I meant those other people that I have never met. Not you. Not your story.”

Lines in the sand.

I would never.

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Hello 2017.

The last two years I created a flipagram to document the year that was. This year I began dumping photos into it in July so come December I wouldn’t have to spend hours finding them and putting them in. It also meant that I took more photos consciously because I wanted the memories.

The funny thing about being a photographer was that my family actually ended up with less photos of ourselves rather than more. Half the reason was because when you do something for a job you don’t really want to also do it in your spare time, you can almost always spot a photographer at school plays and concerts because they’re the ones on their iPhones instead of hauling the big camera out. We are tired of the big camera, we don’t even want to look at the big camera. The other half of the reason is because I’m a cull-er. I might take 10 photos and I will chose one – the best – and throw the rest. So it’s hard for me to bother bringing the big camera out if the light isn’t good, if the kids have their hair unbrushed, if in the background I know we still have the breakfast dishes unloaded from the dishwasher. I know if I saw that photo in a gallery I would cull it, so why take it in the first place? So I had to consciously let go of the fact my five year old had moved and I chopped her toes or the image was grainy because I pushed the ISO at 6 at night. Take it, take the photo, no one is entering awards with this.

I have a few favourite photos of my mother’s childhood. In one, a Polaroid, she is standing with her sisters and my great aunt who looks like the most fabulous person, some kind of 70s celebrity, and it’s colours are retro and the focus is soft and it’s one I would have culled if I took it. But I love everything about it. A real memory, frozen in time. I love the photo of my aunt and grandfather and my aunt’s boyfriend making teacups out of string with their fingers. I love the photo of my mother clearly caught unaware as someone entered her bedroom and she was sitting in front of her dressing table.

And we are so blessed to live in an age where we don’t have to worry about the cost of film and developing. We can just shoot and shoot. What a treasure trove of captured memories we will leave to our own children.

But the other thing I wanted to talk about as we enter 2017 (which, please universe, cut us all a break on) is actively CREATING memories. I’m not talking about booking European river boat cruises (although if money is no object by all means) but simple things, read to your children, take a bush walk and collect shells, go on a picnic, try something new. I wrote a list of 50 things for 2017, some are huge big-dreaming things but many are small achievable experiences that I can fill my year with and create memories. My mother said to me the other day that she keeps saying she wanted to go somewhere with Dad and that it hasn’t happened yet because she hasn’t planned it. Some memories happen TO us – but sometimes memories are like anything else…you get out what you put in.

Write that story, visit the rainforest, collect wildflowers, bake with someone you love, have a water fight. Dream and dream and dream…and live.

And take the damn photo.

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Dreaming.

Do you know what I miss about being a child? That feeling that the possibilities were limitless. I never recall a time as a child where I thought there was anything I couldn’t put my mind to and achieve.

That’s probably a credit to the tribe of amazing adults who raised me, my quiet, quirky, hardworking father. My stubborn, humorous, doting grandfather. And the women in my life who I appreciate more and more as I get older. Our family had an over abundance of females, the scales tipped heavily to the second X chromosome. And these women were strong, fierce, funny, clever, creative, talented beyond measure (so much so that I didn’t even realise they were skilled until I went out into the world and discovered these talents were not possessed by everyone). Patient, empathetic women. When we get together in the same room the vibrance created by these women is uplifting. And that’s not to say they have not had heartbreak, disappointment or trials. Because they did. Their strengths show in how they weathered these. Sometimes waiting so patiently, gathering strength in the darkness and then stepping back out into the light and weaving their magic – living – despite those challenges.

So, you see, growing up I believed there was not a single thing I could dream of that wouldn’t be delivered to me should I put my mind to it and decide to do it. I’m not sure at what point I stopped believing this. That I decided to settle for the attainable instead of shooting for what I really wanted. That I became so scared of failure that it seemed safer to try for things I didn’t have to work very hard to get. I think a lot of us do that as we get older. Stop dreaming and start thinking about attainable goals. Which is fine, it’s good in some ways to be realistic. But in other ways it sucks. See, I think dreaming big is like a lot of things – if you don’t use it, you lose it. So when my therapist says, “What do you really want to do?” I come up blank. Literally can’t think of a thing. I can tell her things I can do, or things I plan to do to get from here (point A) to there (point B), but none of those things set my soul on fire. None of them make me excited. None of them make me dream.

And as I get older it’s harder too. I tend to do the math in my head and think, “If I did X I would be Y by the time I finish.” And you know what I read the other day? Someone said the same thing, I can’t remember what it was about but let’s say medicine. They said, “If I studied medicine now I’ll be 43 by the time I finish.” And the other person said, “And how old will you be by then if you don’t study medicine?” And that was an epiphany for me. Because you will be 37 or 43 or 57 anyway. You may as well spend that time doing something you love.

So long story short, I’m going to start dreaming again and see where that takes me. And if I practice really hard perhaps I’ll find something that sets my soul on fire. Perhaps I’ll stop limiting myself with can’t or shouldn’t or sensible, attainable goals and see where I fly off to.

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Beyond Belief.

An eating disorder stole a lot from me. It didn’t just take fat. I mean, for a long time that was all I could see it taking. And for a long time that didn’t bother me because hadn’t I been trying to lose that weight for awhile? Those extra pesky few kilos?

The first thing I noticed was my hair. But I had extensions in at the time and the bonds held the lost hair in so I didn’t notice until I took them out. I have a photo of the hair that I lost that day and it was terrifying. I literally had a panic attack on the floor of the shower. That was the first outside sign.

My breasts lost their fullness. My hips protruded. I found myself staring at my ribcage below my collarbone because I had never seen it before. I fingered the bones there and wondered at them. The knobs on my spine became prominent and my legs – they held out to the last but yes, eventually they gave themselves over…the gap between my thighs widening.

Next was my skin. All the toxins that were locked in fat cells ran free throughout my body as it survived on itself. I broke out and broke out. And on top of that because the fat in my face was reduced I started to notice fine lines I never had before.

After that was my teeth which meant I knew it was also effecting my bones. I’m scared to get a bone density scan. I’m scared they will tell me it moved beyond what can be fixed. My toddler leant on me and snapped a rib. She wasn’t even being rough, just climbing on to my lap and I heard it snap and my daughter’s friend beside me heard it and stared at me. So I’m scared they will say that the damage to my bones is irreparable.

I lost my mind. Hours of my life spent in crushing anxiety.

It stripped away so much more than fat from me.

But after hours of therapy and hundreds of dollars I am getting better. I’ve put on half of what I need to. I cannot see those ribs below my collarbone anymore, hidden away under a fine cushion of newly laid fat. Slowly I get better, day after day. Clawing my way back. Fine hairs regrow all over my head like Spring returning after winter. I’m amazed at my body and the way it recovers. I’m ashamed by how poorly I treated it. That’s probably my most crushing symptom these days. The guilt of what I did to myself. The other day I went to the dentist for the first check up i had had in two years and confessed to the eating disorder like she was a priest. Then I lay back and let tears leak from my eyes while she completed her exam because I was so guilty over what I had done. So I think that’s part of my next step in recovery. Forgiving myself. Knowing that this was not my fault and I am doing the best I can.

The other day on Facebook I said that I have a bangle with “She believed she could so she did” on it. But that a more accurate one for me was, “She wasn’t quite sure if she could but she gave it a crack and got half done so good for her.” And I think there is bravery in that too. Because I DON’T always believe I can. But I ALWAYS try. I don’t always win. But I always show up. And that is worth something too.

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Surprise Me.

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For me, this was a week like any other. I took my children to school, I ran errands, I went to the dentist, I edited photos, I had brunch with my partner, I laughed with my daughters, we discussed a crush my son has.

But this week it just felt like a torrent of horror and grief descended on our state. Amusement park rides killed people, a bus driver was set alight, a woman found dead, two people were shot in the suburb next to me. It felt like the end of the world and I mean that in no small way. It felt like Armageddon coming. It felt like the beginning of the end.

And I had no words.

No words.

I couldn’t express my individual grief about these situations because nothing I could say could fix anything and the problem was bigger than me.

We discussed the US election that truly fills me with fear and not just because someone I am frightened of might win but because the support lent to that individual scares me too.

I don’t know what kind of world I’m leaving for my children.

Sometimes I regret having children for that reason. When I was a teenager – before I was a mother – my family seemed too large to be damaged. I felt like as a child I was more fragile and therefore the worst that could befall someone would surely befall me first. But as soon as a child of my own womb was placed in my arms I realised fear for someone else. For all the times I could not protect them. We talk about sleepless nights and endless questions and even broken hearts but the worst thing about being a parent is realising your own powerlessness in the face of the world. Knowing the only thing standing between them and the cruelties of this place, is you. And you are found wanting. The dangers seem insurmountable, and your own fragility – which seemed a blessing as a child – is now a flaw. From the moment a child is born they are on a journey growing away from you. If your do your job well they will be ready to fly long before you are ready to let them go. My eldest is 18. I’m now not sure I will ever be ready. Is any parent?

That powerlessness is sometimes the reason I lose my breath and think, “Why did I do this?”

The answer, of course, is hope. Disturbingly tenacious, hope outlives us all. We have children even when we are surrounded by cruelties because we hope. I remember one time when I was about 16 my grandfather saying he thought my generation would be the one to fix the world, now that is a hope I pass on to my own offspring. I think every generation must carry that, the silent prayer that whatever we didn’t fix our children may be the ones to do it. It’s an unfair burden and I’m sorry.

I posted on Facebook the other day that cruelties fail to shock me anymore. I’m no longer surprised by intolerance or bigotry. What continually moves me to tears is kindness. The first responders at Dreamworld. The taxi driver who ran towards a burning bus while others ran away to rescue those inside. The people that listen to your story and offer you a gentle word. Always in times like this I have to remind myself that while the world is frightening – people are good too. That I cannot protect my children from cruelties but I can shape them into the kind of people that do surprise me. Our grief always sits side by side with our hope. We have to tip the scales ourselves.

32.

The other day we were sitting at the table and because it was my birthday someone mentioned getting older and I said I liked 32. That I could have stayed 32 forever. And you said, “But that was before me!”

But it wasn’t.

I reconnected with you halfway through 32, we saw in 33 as a couple. Whenever I think of 32 I think of you. I think of the way you blew into my life, unexpected – and I bloomed. You took years off my face because love is a kind of elixir for life. I shone. Sparkled. And people noticed because all my friends would comment on the way I had come out of myself. You could send me a simple text that said, “Hey kitten” (something I thought I would have hated had anyone else said it, you were an exercise in exceptions) and my day was made. I became fascinated by photographs of us together because it felt like I had never seen my real face before. I barely recognised me.

None of this is to say it was simple or easy, because it wasn’t. At first there was so much vulnerability in loving someone. And I fell in love with you so quickly and so hard. I didn’t really mean to but once I started I realised I wasn’t going to miss this for the world. Eyes open. That’s how I fell in love with you. Your attention to detail felt indulgent. Of course I made a study of you too. Hours spent tracing the lines beside your eyes that fanned out like gentle sun rays. I loved them because they spoke of how much joy you could find in life that you smiled so much. I loved them because I felt unbelievably blessed to be lying there beside the man who was once the boy who I had spilled dreams to, almost two decades before. Oh yes, I felt vulnerable in the beginning. When I realised I was falling in love with you I cried to you on the phone. I cried to my daughter in the kitchen. But then I threw all my chips in because I had a sense that this could be the greatest adventure I was ever going to go on and I didn’t want to miss it.

It wasn’t always easy. But your conviction never wavered, your love was a constant. It wasn’t always easy because life isn’t always easy but loving you was the easiest thing in the world.

Why 32? Because 32 was the year I went on the bravest, most important journey of my life. 32 was when I stopped being who I thought everyone wanted me to be and decided to find out who I WAS. 32 was when you slipped your hand into mine and said, “Let’s do this.” 32 was when I stopped letting life happen to me and I chose you with a deliberateness that was breathtaking. I remember lying there and I thought, “Just look at him, one look and you will know.” And I raised my eyes to yours and you held my gaze, a question answered.

Yes.

32.

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