Monday, 15 June 2015

Carrot, egg, or coffee bean?

Feeding the birds.  Making lasagne.  The bright coppery-red swamp cypress tree in the field just down from me.  All these things put a bright spark in my day.  I'm so grateful for them because it's little things like these which have really kept me going lately.  No matter how hopeless I have felt, no matter how dark and endless the tunnel may seem, there's nothing like an endearingly tubby sparrow hopping around on your deck to raise a smile, or a trio of stunning rosellas stripping seed pods right outside your window to make you feel blessed.

Has it really been two weeks since I last wrote?  So much has happened and for the first time ever I am completely unable to write about it.  I don't think I could find the words anyway.  Trust me, you're not missing anything exciting!  I wish you were.  But for once it isn't about money.  And I'm not ill.  Even so, the curveball which life has suddenly seen fit to throw my way has this time hit me fair and square in the stomach and knocked the wind right out of me.  Normally a situation like this would send me scuttling off into hibernation, spending days under the duvet indulgently wallowing in gloom and conveniently ignoring the outside world until I felt ready to face it again.  But this time I can't.  This time I have to face things head on.  I have to talk when I don't feel like talking.  Act bright and cheery when I feel like bursting into tears. Make myself productive when I can barely function.  I have to be strong and just thinking about it makes me want to scream.  I'm SICK of being strong! I want a holiday from being bloody strong!  

But right now, right this minute as I'm sitting here spouting off, this story has appeared in front of me. I'd like to thank a lady with a very uncanny sense of timing named Brooke:

Carrot, egg, or coffee bean?

A young woman went to her mother and told her about her life and how things were so hard for her. She did not know how she was going to make it and wanted to give up, She was tired of fighting and struggling. It seemed as one problem was solved, a new one arose.

Her mother took her to the kitchen. She filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire. Soon the pots came to boil. In the first she placed carrots, in the second she placed eggs, and in the last she placed ground coffee beans. She let them sit and boil; without saying a word.

In about twenty minutes she turned off the burners. She fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. She pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. Then she ladled the coffee out and placed it in a bowl. Turning to her daughter, she asked, ' Tell me what you see.'

'Carrots, eggs, and coffee,' she replied.

Her mother brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted that they were soft. The mother then asked the daughter to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard boiled egg.

Finally, the mother asked the daughter to sip the coffee. The daughter smiled as she tasted its rich aroma. The daughter then asked, 'What does it mean, mother?'

Her mother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity: boiling water. Each reacted differently. The carrot went in strong, hard, and unrelenting. However, after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak. The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior, but after sitting through the boiling water, its inside became hardened. The ground coffee beans were unique, however. After they were in the boiling water, they had changed the water.

'Which are you?' she asked her daughter. 'When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?

Think of this: Which am I? Am I the carrot that seems strong, but with pain and adversity do I wilt and become soft and lose my strength?

Am I the egg that starts with a malleable heart, but changes with the heat? Did I have a fluid spirit, but after a death, a breakup, a financial hardship or some other trial, have I become hardened and stiff? Does my shell look the same, but on the inside am I bitter and tough with a stiff spirit and hardened heart?

Or am I like the coffee bean? The bean actually changes the hot water, the very circumstance that brings the pain. When the water gets hot, it releases the fragrance and flavor. If you are like the bean, when things are at their worst, you get better and change the situation around you. When the hour is the darkest and trials are their greatest do you elevate yourself to another level? How do you handle adversity? Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?

Well look at that right there.  Lesson for the day.  Jackie Gower you are going to stop whinging right now and be a fabulous water changing coffee bean.  It's a bit of a pain because right before this curveball came and threw itself at me, things were going so well!  I was positive, I was productive, I had things pretty well under control - but even though this current situation has nothing to do with money, indirectly it still does. Because when you get knocked for six, or undergo any sudden shock or trauma or change in circumstances, things can slide very quickly.  Life has a habit of going on around you even if you're not functioning yourself.  Bills still come out and at the same time your judgement is impaired, or you feel so low you develop a bit of a 'devil may care' attitude about money.  It's a pretty dangerous combination for your finances, a lot of damage can be done in a short time while you're completely oblivious and I have to try and get myself back on track and hold things together somehow before that happens.  The next month is absolutely vital because my interest-only period on my home loan has now ended, my interest rate is about to change and the bank manager is going to want to see me to discuss how things are going and what I want to do.  And right now, I have no flipping idea.  My ex-husband advised me the other day to 'keep treading water for a few more months' and whilst it's not ideal, I think it's probably all I can do.

But even though I might sound like a whinging old hag right now, there are still some wonderful things going on.  I've found it hard to write any blogs because I haven't been able to talk about what is going on but instead I have immersed myself in writing my first e-book and I am enjoying every minute.  It started off as one thing and seems to have sort of morphed into something completely different but I am loving every spare moment spent of writing it.  It is a very different side of me than you will have seen before but I hope you will enjoy it.  Watch this space, it's growing fast!

And on another cheery note, Liam the big fella is home from uni for a month!  It is so lovely to have him back, particularly this new, improved version!  This version can cook, do the dishes, clean up after himself - all the things I had tried to get him to do for 18 years previously and failed!  It's brilliant, I don't have to lift a finger!  Joking aside though, it truly is wonderful to see him so happy and we're all loving having him home.  Savvy chap that he is, he's just changed uni rooms from the single studio he was in to a flat with two other mates, knocking what could work out to be as much as a couple of grand off his accommodation fees over the next six months.  Amazing how resourceful one can be when needs must!

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Everyday angels

I remember being about 10 years old and sitting at the big girls' table one afternoon when I heard the news.  It came to me in hushed whispers.  The parents of one of the boys in the year above me were getting DIVORCED.  I had absolutely no idea what that meant but did my best to look appropriately shocked as this was obviously extremely scandalous and NOT a good thing.  We lived in a tiny English village where life was very sheltered and none of us kids had ever heard of this happening before.  By the time I got to high school the following year I realised that this socially unacceptable disaster had happened to a few more people than I thought, although there was only one way you could tell them apart from everyone else - they had free school dinners.  I remember being very indignant about this when I first stood behind a small boy in the dinner queue.  He didn't have to pay for his burger and chips like me, he just got his name ticked off a list!  I went home and told my mum about it, far from impressed.  She said that he was from one-parent family - you know, his parents were DIVORCED.  His mum (or whichever parent he lived with) probably didn't have much money so he and other kids like him were allowed free dinners.  Oh.  That was OK then.  I didn't know this boy, only his name from getting ticked off the list but from then on I wondered what life was like for him.  Wouldn't it be lonely only having one parent?  Did he miss the other one?  Was his house as 'nice' as other people's houses?  Did he have enough food to eat at home?

My goodness, how times have changed.  In the 30 years since I stood behind that boy in the dinner queue, parents like I had have become a minority.  Any of my children's friends whose parents are still together is pretty much a rarity and even some of those who have two parents are not the original two parents they started life with!  I never thought in a million years our family would become one of the new majority.  None of us did.  I remember Liam coming home from school not long after we moved here and saying that one of his teachers had told him about the 'Whangamata curse'. Apparently it happened a lot - happy families would move to the area supposedly to 'live the dream' only to have the wheels fall off.  I think Liam was quite taken aback but laughed it off and so did I.  'That will never happen to us!' we all said.  But it did.  I don't think it was anything to do with a curse; more a case of simply taking the old problems to a new house.  Or maybe we were born in a really unlucky year or something.  You only need to look at my old school friends on Facebook to see that the class of '89 has by and large been hugely unsuccessful in love and marriage!  I tell you what though, as a mother who has been unable to afford a loaf of bread for sandwiches more times than I care to admit to, it would be bloody helpful if kids of one-parent families still got free hot school dinners!

But as with all things, there is always a positive.  Since my own marriage ended, I have been saddened to see several of my close friends go down the same track.  Each time, people have been shocked to see another 'perfect family' fall apart. Just yesterday I heard of another beautiful friend who unbeknown to pretty much everyone has been raising her four children alone these past few months.  She is one of the strongest, most capable women I have ever met and I know that no matter what she will hold it all together and do a brilliant job just as she always has.  Even so, knowing what she was going through and seeing the stress on her face, the lack of sleep in her eyes and hearing the wobble in her voice just absolutely broke my heart.  Bless her heart, she has just become a member of a very special club of sisters in our community and I hope she knows we are all here for her, just as we are for each other.  We may not have the funds spare to help one another financially - we don't have enough ourselves!  But we have all been there, we do a great job and by God we are a strong bunch of women.  Even if we don't need each other or see each other that often, it's nice to know we're around.  Don't get me wrong, I know there are plenty of amazing solo dads in the same boat too and they have my utmost empathy and respect; I just haven't had anything to do with them really.  Let's face it, male or female, it's not easy either way!

I reckon I have it pretty easy in comparison to a lot of people.  Sure it would be nice not to struggle. Ali and me wouldn't even get to eat roast chicken if it wasn't for my mum bringing me one when she comes to visit!  But seriously, I live a very peaceful, boring life.  My kids and I have a wonderful relationship, my ex-husband and I get along really well and his partner is lovely.  She has two small children and my ex is wonderful with them, it really makes me smile to see him buckle them into their little car seats and take them to swimming lessons.  I admire him a lot, I don't know if I could do it!  I guess you never know what you can do though until you're faced with it.  I still love my in-laws and all the siblings and relatives who were my family for more than 20 years.  As far as I'm concerned they're still family and always will be.  I have no psycho exes to deal with, no bitter custody battles, life just ticks along really.  Don't get me wrong, the breaking up part was still shite. Seeing my friend yesterday brought all the awful, hideous memories flooding back.  But unlike me, she had someone who had been through it to tell her everything was going to be alright.  Someone who wasn't just saying it but who meant it and was standing in front of her as living proof.  And as I stood there I realised what a long way I had come from where she was now.  I wanted to tell her of all the positive things I had learned along the way, all the things she could look forward to, all the things which would make her happy and how this already awesome woman was going to change and grow beyond her wildest imagination.  But I didn't.  I didn't think it was the right time but she'll learn for herself soon enough, I know she will.

I hope that like me she will find her life is full of everyday angels.  Like the angel who brought in a brand new pair of boots to work the week I sold most of my shoes.  She had bought them for herself but were too small for her so she brought them into our workplace to see if they would fit any of us.  I felt like Cinderella and I already knew before I even tried them on that they would fit.  Or the wonderful, kind angel who contacted Nova Energy and put enough credit on my power bill to last Ali and me at least one month, if not two!  Or the volunteer angels I didn't even know existed in our own town who brought me FIVE bags of food last week.  Amazing people like these can literally mean the difference between being able to hold everything together or having your whole world fall down around your ankles.  I truly hope that one day I can find a way to repay all the people who have helped me.  Who knows, maybe I could even turn out to be somebody's angel one day, wouldn't that be brilliant!