Soul List.

When the school holidays were on I began my Ten Things lists to help me ‘show up to life’. To begin with they were working so well. Great, actually. And they were fun and sometimes contained little things like “collect three shells’. Now, that looks simple. But I was tricking myself because I knew that to collect those shells I would have to leave the house and that was part of the way I exploit myself to get me to do things I would otherwise not do.

The problem became, by week three my list was starting to look a lot like chores. Because…well, basically they were chores. There is literally nothing inspiring or exciting about writing “take kid to dentist” on your Ten Things list. It’s an errand. The idea behind Ten Things was that it would make me find beauty in little tasks. It would make me go, “Hey, this life thing? Not so bad.” Seeing your kid have a cavity filled is not life fulfilling. It sucks.

The issue was that I got caught up in being ‘productive’ when what I started this list for was to try to make my heart sing. Errands we are going to run anyway. By all means put them in a daily planner or diary so you remember them, but they have no place on a ‘soul list’. That list should contain things like, pick a wildflower, handwrite a letter to someone you love, dance along to your favourite song, swim in the ocean, have a cup of tea with a friend. The Soul List is about choosing 10 things each week that is going to create a memory. Soul List keeps you alive. It reminds you there is more to life then dentist appointments, grocery bills and laundry.

Little things. Tiny. Delightful.

(And I just remembered that I pressed a flower on my first week which now feels like a small gift to myself.)

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So this week I was careful to write 10 “Soul List” things. I wrote a separate list for errands and chores but I made sure that everything on the “Soul List” was something I enjoyed or enjoyed once so that meant I probably would find some kind of satisfaction in it again. It’s the only way I can think to make it so I don’t feel like I’m just logging time here but actually living. It’s harder than I thought it would be but I guess no one ever promised it would be easy.

Stubborn.

My therapist set me too much homework.

Apparently I have progressed to the next step of wellness which includes ‘doing stuff’. I’m not adverse to ‘doing stuff’, I like it. But I like it in small doses, carefully portioned to maintain the delicate equilibrium between forced interaction and introvert recovery where I have to ‘come down’ from the extra stimulation I’ve received by leaving the house. My therapist does not seem to share these thoughts and so, in what I can only imagine was either wild optimism or blind ignorance, she carefully penned into my ‘timetable’ for this week an outing to a cafe EVERY SINGLE DAY. Even as she was talking about it and I was nodding along I knew this was not happening. I barely have enough hours in the day to do half of what is on my to-do list let alone factoring in a random cup of tea every day. As such I’m two days out from my appointment and have done this task exactly zero times. Once a week may have been a more realistic goal, annoying yet achievable.

Other things on my homework list were writing three times a week (I’ve got that under control), spinning daily because I made the mistake of mentioning that I spin fibre sometimes, and two social outings. I wanted one but she pushed for two. I’ve tried really hard to spin daily, even though I’m out of practise and my yarn is less uniform than desirable and also spindle spinning requires more arm/wrist strength and dexterity than you think. I tend to give up after fifteen minutes with sore wrists, bored out of my brain because being forced to spin feels like work and hobbies shouldn’t feel like work.

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I think perhaps being set homework goals goes against my natural state which is that the moment I am told to do something I immediately want to disagree. It’s an awful trait that I’ve passed on to my eldest daughter who had incredible talent for ballet from 3 years old but dropped out of ballet every time she tried lessons because she ‘didn’t like being told what to do’. To this day even when I can see she is doing something that is an outrageously bad idea of apocalyptic proportions I have to be careful about how I speak to her about it because she immediately goes on the defensive and gets upset and it goes nowhere. I’ve basically just accepted after 18 years she is going to do whatever she likes. Sometimes (rarely) she will come to me afterwards and say, “That was a terrible idea”, and I will absolutely gloat and rub it in that I was right because I’m a terrible mother like that. But I do it in a sympathetic way because she is so much like me and I understand outrageously bad ideas of apocalyptic proportions.

Anyway, I’m mostly sitting here and writing this because I’m avoiding the tasks I have staring at me on that list like an accusation. I want to eke this post out for hours, hundreds of words just so I can avoid the ‘leaving the house’ tasks. But I won’t. Because another of my qualities is stubbornness. And that I have in spades.

Grateful.

He’s so patient with me. I feel guilty because I can only imagine it’s like buying a car you think is solid and then it turns out to have problems you can’t fix. So every time I can’t do something and he says it’s okay, smooths my hair, kisses my forehead, I feel like…”I’m sorry I did this to you.”

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In some ways that was why I needed to plan a weekend away, although it was midweek. Because I thought, if I’m close to the ocean I can retreat if I need to but it still looks like I’m getting out, doing things. Because it’s been a really really long year. And I did it, you know? We walked along the beach and I built a sand turtle and a sand flower and he made a sand heart until the tide came in and tried to soak us both. And we went to lunch and we went to dinner, even though at dinner the only table was near the door and in the middle of the room so I had to keep reminding myself that people weren’t looking at me and no one cared. “It’s like the gym,” I said to myself, “Everyone worries people are watching them but no one is because they’re all just there to work out.” So I made MYSELF look at other diners so I could see they were too busy with their company and their food and no one cared about the small woman by the door.

Such tiny steps that I don’t even feel like I’m moving until I look back and think, “You’re miles away from where you were months ago when you couldn’t make it to the kitchen. You have come so far.”

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I think I just keep waiting for it to be easy. But I think maybe…maybe it will never be easy. Maybe I will always have to pay a price to leave the house. Maybe everyone does. Because one thing I have learnt in the last six months is we are all a little damaged. Most weeks someone writes me to say, “I feel that. What you wrote? I feel that too.” And I never would have known. Sometimes it feels like everyone has it together and you’re the only one losing your shit. So maybe we all have something we just struggle with and push through. People are such amazing creatures. We can be so nasty and so cruel and then sometimes…divinity. Bravery. Compassion. Fierceness.

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One day when I am better I am going to write letters to everyone who helped me. And he will get the first one. And I will send them out, written in my own hand, thank you, thank you, thank you. For your patience, for your support, for your empathy. Thank you. I am grateful for you.

Showing Up.

Turns out learning to live is a lot like physical therapy after a body trauma. At first it’s really hard and – to be completely honest – not exactly fun. Then you get a bit stronger and a bit more use to stuff and now I’m in this odd place where I think, “What is this feeling?” And I realise I’m LOOKING FORWARD to something. I can’t recall the last time I looked forward to something.

It’s a two steps forward, one step back dance for a long time. Really, in the beginning I was just logging time on this planet. There didn’t seem much point to anything. In the beginning the only thing I enjoyed was work. Nice little parcelled out editing jobs because it was something I could achieve. I could look back at the end of the day and think – I did 600 photos today. I could scroll through them and feel like I changed something in the world. Small, insignificant, but something. Work, in the beginning, saved me. On days I worked my mood chart was better. It gave me a sense of purpose. Still, every time a job rolls in I think, “I love this.”

Then it was tiny outings. Maybe I made it into the shops to buy milk. Maybe I managed to walk into the school to grab the kids instead of waiting in the car.

I drove 400ks round trip.

I had tea with a friend.

To begin with those things I MADE myself do. This person is expecting you. So I took my sense of duty and I exploited it.

One time last year? I decided to live because my friend asked me to model for her. Literally decided I didn’t want to let my friend down so I had better live. I exploited the shit out of myself to make myself turn up to life.

It is awkward for me to talk about that. About feeling so bad that I weighed up the pros and cons of being alive. But I try to be honest here. I try to come to you with my vulnerability because I know too well that we hide the ugly parts of ourselves. Every time I bare my skin to you and show you my scars I’m being brave – because it’s easier to hide. I know…. Oh, I know….

But THIS week.

This week I showed the fuck up. This week I wrote myself a list of 10 things and decided I was going to be alive. If my brain could teach me how to hide then surely I could rewire it to be happy. To be present. And now I sit here thinking, what is this feeling? And I realise it’s looking forward to things. And that is being alive.

I’m alive.

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The Recap.

How my week went : A Recap.

Me: I’m a shit human being.
Therapist: You have too much compassion. You should use some for yourself. Do something you enjoy.
Me: But I’m a shit human being who doesn’t deserve to do things I enjoy.
Therapist: Our time is up.

Me: Writes list of ten things to do this week. Sets about to complete all ten things in 24 hours. Completes little. Panics on Friday that hasn’t completed ten things.

Me: Edits baby photos while rewatching Prison Break. Begins to emulate Michael Scofield’s complete lack of tone in voice. Says everything in monotone husky whispers. Drives children mad with disinterested voice. Wonders what Wentworth Miller’s friends call him since his name is a mouthful. Takes question to Facebook. Discovers they call him Wenty. Feels satisfied.

Me: Says can help friend test presets using photos. Realised every photo I’ve ever taken is shit. Panics and sends partner on wild goose chase for newspaper, lollipops and balloons. Takes photos. Panics they’re shit. Sends them anyway.

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Me: Buys lingerie for midweek getaway. Ignores lingerie and wears beige cotton underwear.

Me: Takes children to work. Picks children up from work. Repeat 50000 times.

Me: Forgets to put petrol in car. Partner borrows car and is forced to put petrol in x3.

Me: Tackles rogue bikini line left neglected for two months. Despite having birthed six children without pain relief wishes for epidural during bikini wax. Swears a lot.

Me: Meets up with friend from Melbourne for flying visit so I can coo over her pregnant belly. Sees pirate ship. Finds book in second hand book store explaining hangovers. Feels like I’m reading an excerpt from my brother’s escapades. Reminds me of the time my brother installed security cameras for outside fridge as he suspected neighbour was drinking his beer. Turned out he was drinking his beer.

Me: Cries hysterically because Google Drive won’t upload images. Tells daughter I’m too tired for sleep to fix. Requires mini coma.

Me: Friday afternoon. Drinks.

Mask.

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I was doing my make up which I’ve discovered is a really good way of making me feel like I have shit together. If I didn’t do my make up I’d sit around in sweatpants all day full of lethargy (can you BE full of lethargy?) and spend hours waiting for something to kick start me. If I get up and do my make up then I’m forced to do my hair, get dressed, be productive.

So I was doing my make up. Foundation was all on, I’d added a bit of colour to my cheeks so I looked a little more like a person and then I was in the middle of filling my second eyebrow when it felt like I was looking at the sky underwater. Like all my feelings were shimmering below the surface.

When I lived in the country we had tank water and there is a little pipe at the top so that when the tank fills it can overflow without busting the tank. That felt like what was happening. My feelings had filled the tank and it was threatening the overflow pipe.

One tear slipped from my left eye, snaking down my cheeks, carving a path. I ignored it because I’ve become very good at ignoring things. The right eye filled and I put the brush down. Looked myself dead in the face in the mirror and watched the overflow happen. I drew breath in slowly, carefully measuring each one because I must be very, very careful here to not let this get out of hand. This is actually good, I told myself, just a little overflow, more room in the tank.

I slid to the floor and bundled my discarded pyjama pants into a ball and pressed my face into them because he was sleeping in the bedroom next door and I didn’t want to make any noise. I didn’t want to be comforted, I didn’t want his hands to stroke my hair, I didn’t want him to know because then I would have to acknowledge my feelings which might make the whole tank split at the seams, so I buried my face into the soft fabric and muffled my sobs for two minutes.

Two minutes of overflow. You can get through the day with two minutes of overflow.

It stopped. I got up. Blew my nose. Wiped my eyes. Looked myself dead in the eyes in the mirror. Then I fixed the rest of my make up. Deep breath. Smile. Open the door.

“Good morning!”

Just Don’t Think About It.

Just don’t think about it.

That’s pretty much how I’m cruising through life lately. Whenever I start to think about things I think, “Just don’t think about it” and wall that shit off.

Of course the downside to “Just don’t think about it” is that at some point in the future I am probably going to have to think about it. Walling things off just WALLS THEM OFF, it doesn’t make them disappear. You can only shove so much crap into the closet before you can’t shut the door anymore and it all tumbles out and explodes all over the floor and you have to deal with it. But for now, “Just don’t think about it” is as good as it is getting because I do NOT have the inner fortitude to wade through this shit and pack it away neatly right now. I just don’t.

In the week that was…I don’t even want to talk about the week that was. Shit fell apart, shit fell together, some shit fell apart again. I went to bed for three days, lost my shit more than once, ate an entire block of chocolate in three days during some kind of cocoa bean/sugar self-medication (glass and a half of milk in every block, right, Cadbury?), ferried kids around, pretended I knew the difference between FTTB and FTTN NBN (I do now), put down a chicken (Just don’t think about it), rescued a Quaker parrot, couldn’t write, wrote, went exploring…

I’m supposed to see my therapist on Thursday and it’s the first time since I began working with her that I’m dreading it because I can’t figure out how to carefully crack the closet door to sneak out something to work on and shut it again without some of the “Just don’t think about it” stuff slipping out. And that would be bad. I’m scared I’ll crack the door and she will see a little bit of that and say, “Hey, what’s this? It looks important.” And I will either have to open the closet door wide or lie to her so I can keep not thinking about it. So I’ve spent 48 hours trying to come up with a convincing lie to tell my therapist so I can avoid thinking about things.

I’m not sure lying to your therapist is really conducive to getting good results.

I know what you’re thinking. That I should work through that stuff so I can move past it. But, you guys? Last week I had so much anger inside me I felt Old Testament God wrathful. I felt like my anger had that much power that I was basically running the household electricity just on what was slipping through my cracks. I felt like if I unleashed my anger on the world I would have split the earth in two and burnt cities to the ground. It felt telekinetic. My rage I held carefully in check for the safety of the world on large and still the bits of it that seeped out of my pores crept across the room, tendrils snaking into the corners, poisonous, black, dark.

So really, I’m doing everyone on the planet a major solid by “Just not thinking about it”.

And I think I’m doing an okay job. I kiss my partner. I tend the kids. I make jokes. I’m getting shit done.

Just don’t think about it.

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A Gift from my Mother.

When I was in high school my great uncle passed away. I didn’t go to the funeral but I went to the gathering at his home afterwards where my cousins and family had come together to celebrate his life and mourn his passing.

My great uncle was the husband of my Nanna’s sister who had died of breast cancer when I was 7. They had 4 children and one of them had daughters who were two years older than me and two years younger than me. Growing up, I had no siblings or first cousins until I was 8, so my second cousins were the closest in my age and my playmates. My family is very close knit so when my cousins lost their grandparents I felt their pain quite keenly. I couldn’t imagine the loss of my own grandparents, in fact even now with them in their 70s and 80s I feel like I’m not ready to do life without them. I’m 35. I’m still not ready. So I couldn’t even fathom that at 7 years old. I’m very aware of how blessed I am. I am thankful every day.

Coming home from my great uncles funeral my friends came over. Way more of them than usual actually and we were all going to walk over to another friend’s house and hang over there. My mother made sausages for everyone, the kind you wrap in a piece of bread and slather with sauce. She was in the kitchen. I was wearing this god awful dress reminiscent of 60s furniture and I felt like I was doing okay, I was a bit subdued but otherwise I felt okay. I don’t know why I remember what I was wearing. Memories are funny things. So I wander into the kitchen and I talk to mum a second about my friends and my plans and they’re all chatting in the lounge room and it just hit me.

He was gone. That life was done. His children and his grandchildren were without him. My grandparents had lost their friend. And I began to cry. Just my eyes filling with tears at first, but soon they became big raw sobs of grief. My mother took me in her arms. And I think I remember this so much because my family is close knit but we are not touchy. Emotions are usually kept pretty in check. I can only remember seeing my mother cry once in my life and I’m sure there have been many tears she has shed in private.

So I’m crying and my mother is holding me and I begin to apologise. I say, “I’m sorry. I know I didn’t know him that well…”
And my mother says, and I will never forget, “That doesn’t matter. You don’t have to know someone well for them to touch your life.”

And I’ve never forgotten that. That day when my mother gave me this gift. That while the sausages fried in a pan and my friends in the next room laughed and talked, my mother gave me one of the most valuable pieces of life advice I ever received.

That we all matter.

That sometimes the most fleeting of contact can change someone’s life.

That our grief does not have to be measured for value against how well we knew someone.

That empathy is one of our most important gifts to the world.

Never lose it.

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That time my daughter needed an exorcism.

Do we even like being parents anymore? I’m joking, obviously but I go through memes and photos and posts every day taking about a) how hard this gig is and b) how we all need to self medicate to survive parenthood.

And the funny part is, almost all the things complained about are the parts of parenting I secretly don’t mind so much. Like the fact my five year old will come and ask me something and use a word that isn’t correct or say a sentence that doesn’t make sense, and when I say I don’t understand she will repeat the EXACT SAME WORD just slower or louder like she is speaking to someone of incredibly low intelligence.
“What day is tomorrow?”
“Friday.”
“No. What DAY is tomorrow?”
“Tomorrow is Friday.”
“No. The day after today. WHAT DAY is it?”
“Dude. It’s Friday. I don’t know what answer you want.”
“The day after today.”
“Tomorrow?”
“Yes. What DAY is that?”
“Tomorrow is Friday.”
“No. WHAT…DAY…IS…IT?”
“….you need to go play.”

It’s infuriating. It makes me want to stab myself to death with a spoon. But it’s absolutely hilarious and that’s what I love about parenting.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been on this whirly-gig for almost two decades now. But all those things that drive you insane today? Funny as shit in 5-10 years time. Trust me. One day your house will be clean, your car won’t have smashed milk arrowroot on the carpet, your kids will hold conversations that actually make sense and you will MISS this insanity.

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Let me tell you a story. It’s one of my favourites. To set the scene my eldest daughter is 7 years old. You wouldn’t know it to look at her now but she had this incredible temper when she was little. In fact, most people unless they experienced one of her infrequent but volatile rages wouldn’t have believed me then. This particular day it is summer and I am getting the kids to school. My Nanna took us because I didn’t drive back then and I was about 25 weeks pregnant with my first son and fourth child. Nanna was waiting in the car with E who was 3 and going to go swimming with her auntie that day. I am walking a 7 year old J and 6 year old B into their catholic school. Everything is fine.

I think I need to stop here and explain that I carry large with boys. Like, I’m big. With girls I have a teeny compact rockmelon under my dress, with boys…let’s just say that I was once stopped at 15 weeks pregnant with R and asked how much longer I had. (I may have growled at them).

Anyway, I’m waddling along and I mention to B that it is water play at her class today. She had swimmers and a towel and her class was going to play with sprinklers and buckets of water and have a grand old time. J says, “Why does she get water play and I don’t?”
I explain that her class is having a water play day, I don’t know, I don’t make the rules. She immediately launched into how unfair this was. B getting water play and E getting to go swimming.
“I can take you swimming at Nanna’s after school,” I say.
Not good enough. J is saying that is also unfair because then her sisters have done two water things and she has only done one. Her friends wave hello. She glares at them. She is beginning to melt down. She starts screaming she doesn’t want to go to school.
“I DON’T WANT TO GO TO SCHOOL! I DON’T WANT TO GO TO SCHOOL!”

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I kiss B goodbye and push her towards her classroom and away from her sisters wrath. People are staring. The bell rings and it’s assembly day so kids begin to move towards the hall. Throngs of children and me clutching my demon child’s hand while she struggles to free herself all the while screaming at the top of her lungs, “I DON’T WANT TO GO TO SCHOOL!”

At the doorway to the hall the Principal comes up to us and tries to talk J into coming inside and – I shit you not – she HISSES at him. Then screams in his face those same words. He retreats. I don’t blame him.

At this point basically every head in the school is turned towards my daughter wailing. People whisper to B who is sitting placidly with her class. Privately she looks pleased because she will forever be known as the ‘good sister’ and also because she will have mad street cred for living with such a crazy person and surviving.

I realise I cannot take her in. This temper tantrum will run it’s own course but she absolutely cannot go to school today. So I turn to J and I say, “Okay. We are going home.”

But I do it in that mum way. You know the way. Like, your voice is totally calm but the kid knows shit just got real. And J looks at me and knows this so she starts screaming, “No! I WANT TO GO TO SCHOOL!”

She’s hysterical. I half drag her towards the exit. She’s screaming the whole way, “LET ME GO TO SCHOOL! LET ME GO TO SCHOOL!”

But I can’t back down because I made a call and kids smell weakness.

She is digging her heels in and I’m so big and pregnant, you guys. But it becomes clear the only way I’m getting her back to the car is if I carry her. So I heft up this 7 year old on my belly while she is kicking and screaming and yelling, “LET ME GO TO SCHOOL!”

I am headed towards this little path behind the church and there are colourful flower beds. I see the parish priest walking a visitor around them, both marvelling at the roses while I am heading towards them with a kid that looks like she needs an exorcism. Just before we get to the priest and companion, J does this wild whole body buck that because of my centre of gravity being off due to massive belly sends both of us sprawling on the concrete, my shoe breaks, my skirt rides up and I skin a knee. I burst into tears.

Here we are. Both of us crying, me bleeding, one shoe and the priest looking on in horror. J sniffles and looks at me and says, “Please mummy. I don’t want to hurt you…..but I will.”

The priest recoils and retreats to the safety of his rose bushes.

Five minutes later I am hobbling back to the car, broken shoe in hand, both J and I crying and Nanna jumps out and says, “What happened?!”

Where to begin?

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Now, as far as shitty parenting days go, that was right up there. It was so far up there. It’s one of my top 5 Shitty Parenting Moments.

But now we laugh about it. So I guess it’s also one of my top 5 Most Hilarious Parenting Moments.

What I’m trying to say is the real shitty stuff is the stuff you will never laugh about. Sickness, broken hearts, those heart stopping moments when you think ‘there but for the grace of God, go I’. You’ve probably all had one of those. The day to day with kids is hard work, I’m not devaluing that, but it’s fleeting, man. It really is. But it’s so fucking good as well. The hard stuff is part of the tapestry of your parenting journey. It just wouldn’t be the same without it.

So, yes. Drink your wine, eat the chocolate, sneak the good ice cream. But try to think, “Will I laugh about this one day?” “Will I miss this when she is walking out the door on a date at 18?” For me the answer is almost always, yes.

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Chaotic Random or The Universe in motion.

I’m going to preface this by saying this is a long post and I apologize for that and also for the heavy conversation on a Friday night. Bear with me. 

Yesterday I read an article another writer shared about the phrase, “everything happens for a reason”. In the article the woman spoke of her multiple miscarriages and how that platitude was painful and cruel.

I understand that because in the throes of painful life experiences it can feel like someone is discounting the unfairness of the situation or devaluing the pain you feel when they say these things.

Sometimes there is no right thing to say. Especially when it comes to pregnancy loss because “I’m sorry” doesn’t really cut it. Sometimes people want to not talk about it. Sometimes they need to in order to process it.

I have been on both ends of that conversation. The one with the painful raw wound that is being offered comfort, and the person presented with someone in unseen agony and awkwardly realising that of the thousands of words at my disposal…none are going to help. I’ve known when people have offered me a platitude that they’re doing the best they can. They’re at a loss, bereft of words and what they say doesn’t really matter, what they’re offering me is love.

This world is such a strange place. I don’t really understand it and sometimes I wish I didn’t think so much because I think about EVERYTHING and it’s exhausting. I think that despite the differences between faith and science both are seeking the same purpose – to make sense of what the hell is going on. And there are two options here. Everything is guided by some force, which basically means all our major life changing moments are pre-ordained – fate, hand of God, destiny, divinely ordered. Or it’s chaotic random, in which case there is no reason or logic to anything at all.

I can’t live like that.

If everything is chaotic random then does anything really matter? It sends me into existential crisis and I may as well drink poison and be done with it.

Most people I have met are not true chaotic random believers. Even if they don’t believe in God sometimes things will happen they can’t explain and they seek to justify it in some way. I’ve met self proclaimed atheists who believe in karma. Which is a form of faith in itself.

In 2011 I was caught in the worst flooding in Brisbane in decades. I was about 20 weeks pregnant and I was shooting my last wedding for the season. I had taken the five kids to Brisbane with me and we were staying at my grandparents. My ex husband was working away in WA on the other side of the country. I expected to stay for two nights. I left the animals at home, the cats and chickens with enough food and water to last two days. It was raining before I left. I worried the roads would wash out and I wouldn’t make it to the wedding, but the day I left it receded a bit and I made it down. It rained on and off the day of the wedding. Then it poured. I waited an extra day at my grandparents, the roads were cut the way I usually went home. And then I got some texts from a friend that lived near me saying her husband was driving down through Toowoomba. She kept in contact with me and when he made it down I left immediately.

This is when things happened that didn’t usually happen that I can’t explain. Firstly, I had never had a car phone charger before but that day my mother had given me a spare one she had saying she didn’t need two. Secondly, I stopped in at a petrol station and filled not just my main fuel tank but also the reserve – something I never did. Next, I called into shops to buy snacks and for some unknown reason I bought a lot of food for the 2.5 hour drive. Bananas, bread, water etc. I did all this very quickly, as though I was in a rush. I had $1000 cash on me – me, who never carries any cash and lives off cards.

We drove towards Toowoomba, me eyeing the churning water under bridges as we drove over them, following my phones directions because I had never driven that way before. I could barely see through the rain. I followed the tail lights of the ute in front of me, when he swerved, I swerved…he could see the potholes before I could, chunks of bitumen removed from the rain that was relentlessly bearing down on us. Just after Helidon we were near a place called Tomatoland and the guy stopped. Cars in front of him were stopped and we were about 10 maybe 15 cars back. People were getting out of their vehicles. I opened my door and looked out.

You know that scene in Lord of the Rings when Arwen calls the river to wash away the wraiths following them? And the river turns to horses barrelling down the banks? That was what I saw. Crossing the highway, bashing through Tomatoland. There was no river, it was just flooding from what looked like no where.

What I didn’t realise – none of us did – was that Toowoomba had just experienced flash flooding. On the top of a fucking hill. People were being swept away, people were dying. And all that water was rushing down the mountain, down the range and heading straight for us. If I had been 15 minutes earlier we would have been on that range on our way up the mountain. We would have died.

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We waited ages. Maybe an hour before some folks started crossing the highway and turning around. At this point I decided to head back to my grandparents. I turned around and started back. The water was now moving through a gully to our left. It was inundating houses, a boat drifted by, smashing into trees and continuing on. I told the kids not to look. Soon we were stopped again by SES. We were a few cars back. She said the bridge in front had washed out and we had to wait. I asked if we were safe. She didn’t know. I asked if I could get back to Helidon. She didn’t know. There was another bridge after this one. If we made it through this one we would have to wait again before the next bridge. If we got through there, we would have made it to Helidon. I called around to see if there was anywhere the kids and I could stay at Helidon. A pub told me all the rooms were full but if I could make it he could offer me floor space on a verandah.

Right that second while the water rose in the gully beside us and it truly looked like we would not make it was when the situation hit home. I looked back at my kids, I looked at the raging water and I thought, “I’ve killed my children.” I literally thought we were not going to make it out of this. I apologised to them. “I’m sorry, I made a mistake. We should have stayed at Nanna’s. I’m really sorry.”

Soon the SES worker was letting some people through. I started driving down this highway – completely alone. There wasn’t another car in sight. It was apocalyptic. We were supposed to drive to the next bridge and wait to get through. But on my right I saw a motel on a hill. On instinct, I turned around, drove the wrong way up the highway and pulled into it. They had a room, no power though, could I pay in cash? I could.

If I had not have pulled in there and waited at the bridge to get into Helidon we would have been there that night when the rest of the water poured through Helidon and Grantham, decimating property and killing people. Again, we could have died. Not an outside chance we may have died. But entirely likely.

We waited on top of that hill for a few days. Grantham was declared a crime scene, dozens of people were missing. The phone lines were sporadic. The worst thing was at night when you couldn’t see the water and you worried it would be on top of you before you knew. I parked close to the building so we could get on the roof from the car if we needed to. There was no power and the water was barely running. They ran out of food after the first day but people shared what they had. During the day helicopters droned overhead – searching for bodies. We all knew that, but we tried not to speak of it. The car charger was handy. With no power it allowed me to run the car for awhile and get some juice back into my phone. The lines were so congested my mother couldn’t get through and listed us as missing persons. Also, because I had filled both fuel tanks I wasn’t as scared to run the car to charge the phone.

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After another couple of days the water completely ran out at the motel, but by that stage I had heard a rumour they were reopening the range. Leaving and taking a chance I handed in the room key. Before I went up I drove into Helidon, still in shock – we could buy some food if we could pay cash. Which again – I could. We were the second lot of cars allowed up the range and into Toowoomba where we would stay another night before trying to get home. There was no chance of going back to Nanna’s. The flooding had now hit Brisbane and it was a disaster. The police warned us that they couldn’t guarantee what we would see on our way up the range, that they had done their best to clean up. He said it seriously so I knew it was bad. I told the kids to close their eyes on the way up. I watched the road. I did not look around.

The next day I filled up with more fuel, paid cash, no eftpos was working still. We made it home.

If I had been 15 minutes earlier or 30 minutes later – we may be dead. If I didn’t suddenly decide to go to that motel on the hill instead of trying to get to Helidon, we could be dead. If I didn’t fill up both tanks of petrol, I would have run out. If I didn’t have a car charger, I would not have been able to hear reports that allowed me to assure my mother I wasn’t drowned, get home when I did, know I couldn’t go back to Brisbane. If I didn’t buy food we would have been a lot more desperate. If I didn’t have an unusual amount of cash on me, we wouldn’t have had a room, food, fuel, water.

Hand of God?

Divine intervention?

Chaotic Random Luck?

I can’t believe that is chaotic random. It didn’t feel that way. Anyone I explain that too – especially anyone who saw what came out of Toowoomba that day – whistles in appreciation of our sheer luck. They tell me it was God. They tell me it was fate and it was not my day to die. They tell me it was a guardian angel.

But if I had died? If I had been 15 minutes earlier and my car had washed out on the range and myself and five children had died? People don’t want to believe that’s God. They don’t want to believe that’s fate.

People only want to believe that fate brings the good. Everything else – chaotic random.

But it doesn’t work that way. You don’t get to pick and choose. Either EVERYTHING is random or EVERYTHING is pre-ordained. The same God that saved me in 2011 could kill me tomorrow in a five car pile up.

That is life. It’s not all beer and skittles. Some parts fucking suck. Okay, a lot of it sucks. Bad things happen. Why do you think it was ever going to be easy or good? What ever gave you that impression?

In 2011, I nearly died. I nearly killed my kids. People did die. Children died. It was senseless and horrific.

And people lived. A woman drove around with bags of food delivering it to stranded people and checking on elderly folks. A man had his son standing on the back of a ute handing out bottles of water to stranded motorists. A complete stranger offered to pay for my fuel at the petrol station because he didn’t know if I had cash. People shared food and resources – they were good and kind and empathetic. THAT, my friends, is divinity.

I can’t make sense of the bad things. I don’t think anyone really can. Not the way we can make sense of the good things. Sometimes I don’t think there IS a reason or a lesson. What lesson is there in a child dying? Who would ever demand someone learn that lesson? I think it’s just up to us as human beings to provide kindness, caring, empathy and love in our clumsy human way.

It’s a strange world, the way our heartache must sit side by side with our love.

I would love to hear others thoughts about this either in the comments or via the contact page. 🙂