Forgotten memories, unforgettable lines

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I first feared that mum’s memory lapses were more than old age forgetfulness in a brief moment of vanity last summer. I was staring at the tall, vertical mirror on her bedroom wall, pushing up my cheek muscles to hide the smile lines around my lips. Mum was watching me and said, “You are too young for Botox.” I chuckled. I wasn’t considering cosmetic intervention but at 43 and in Brazil, the land of Botox, I didn’t think that I was too young for one.

“How old do you have to be for Botox injections?” I asked giggling.

“40” she replied and I could feel deep worry wrinkles cutting into my forehead. Suddenly it wasn’t funny anymore.

“And how old do you think I am, mum?”

“Aren’t you 34?” she replied dropping her gaze.

“Mum, this makes me younger than my younger brothers.”

“Are you…36?” She asked hesitantly and I realised she had lost track of the age of her offspring.

Mum’s confusions didn’t seem normal so I took her to see a neurologist, who, after examining and asking her a few questions, explained that it wasn’t uncommon for elderly people that don’t live active lives to become very forgetful. Since my father passed away, almost ten years ago, mum has become increasingly insular, so, I put her mental confusion down to her sedentary lifestyle and lack of social life.

Despite mum’s reluctance, my siblings and I tried to help her become more active. We insisted that she used her hearing aid so she could participate more in conversations, hired a physiotherapist to improve her muscle strength and mobility and took her on outings. But unfortunately, her memory continued to deteriorate. Medical exams were scheduled and the results weren’t good. This summer when I came to visit I asked her again how old I was. She had aged me a little. According to her, I’m now 40. The inaccuracy didn’t surprise me. This time I knew that her mental confusion was revealing more than her way of living. Mum is losing her sense of time – she has been diagnosed with vascular dementia.

Vascular dementia is caused by problems of blood circulation in the brain, which in mum’s case was triggered by mini-strokes in the brain (transient ischaemic attack). These strokes cause damage in the area associated with learning, memory and language. The prognosis isn’t great. If the degeneration continues to occur at a rapid rate, the life expectancy is about 10 years. As the disease progresses she will become more forgetful, frail and, confused.

It hurts to see mum not being mum, not remembering to do the things she enjoyed to do for herself and for us. I wasn’t prepared to face her old age like this and I’m still learning to accept that our roles have been reversed and that our lives and our relationship are never going to be the same.  I miss the smell of her chocolate cake but now if I want to bring that memory to life I have to do the baking myself. At the moment it’s the small things but I sense that mum is gradually being dragged to a different dimension, a world where time doesn’t matter, a planet without a past or future. And she will increasingly spend more time at this place, often confused, frustrated and alone.

Because of the nature of the disease, I don’t know if she will ever realise that she has embarked on this journey and I wonder if she will be scared. Because I am. I’m pretty frightened to see my mum slowly being transformed into a different person. I’m scared because I don’t know how I’m supposed to follow her into her new world. I’m worried because I feel hopeless. I want to rescue mum from there but the wrinkles in my forehead are getting deeper and longer as I know there is only so much I can do. I can help slow the process but I cannot stop it.

I’m starting to unknown my own mother. Mum used to be predictable, consistent and calm but her behaviour is changing and she is losing these precious parts of her character. Now, one minute she agrees to go out with me but by the time I get changed, she’s changed her mind.  Or forgot she had agreed to anything.  Mum’s confidence is being whittled away, along with her memories. She is often responding to questions with other questions, uncertain of her own words, of facts or figures. “Mum, how much did you spend at the bakery today?” I’ll ask and she will reply “Didn’t I spend nine bucks?”

I look forward to coming home every summer but I’m starting to stress about my knock at the door being answered by a different person, by a new version of mum and that maybe that person won’t know me, or my story and the essence of who I am. I hope that day never comes, but if it does, I’ll offer her a smile because she taught me that a smile and kind words can heal a broken day. And I’ll come in and look at the tall, vertical mirror on her bedroom wall and will forever cherish the smile lines I gained because of her.

A stranger gave me roses

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It was the last day of the year and I was watching my children climb durian trees in leafy Parque da Jaqueira, capturing their primate adventures with my iPhone and listening to the songs of bem-te-vi, a native Brazilian bird of yellow and brown feathers. Suddenly the bird tunes were muffled by the noise of a crowd coming our way from behind the trees on the other side of the park and I immediately put the phone in my bag and turned to look for the nearest exit. But before I asked my children to jump down and run I noticed that the approaching mob were wearing white t-shirts and holding bunches of red roses. Phew. I sighed with relief and grabbed my phone again.

The fervent murmuring lowered as the crowd broke into smaller groups and went about offering passers-by a hug and a rose. Most of the militants marched through the parks’ gates and on to the streets to approach drivers at traffic lights. I saw many getting out of their cars to exchange a smile and a hug with a stranger who also spread the love through open windows in buses, to cyclists, street vendors, and anyone willing to engage in this intimate act. I saw people with tears in their eyes, overwhelmed by emotion. I heard an elderly man saying he had not been hugged in years. I asked one of the volunteers why they were doing that and was told that the group is on a mission to simply reach out to strangers, clasp them close and make them feel better about their day – no strings attached.

I was in the park for two hours and was hugged twice by the group and the gesture made me feel warm and fuzzy indeed. I had been spreading the Christmas/New Year smile for a couple of weeks, wishing everyone a happy new year but was feeling a bit discouraged by the number of people complaining that their year had been pretty average. I was surprised to find that people that I know personally was so discontent. These are not people stricken by personal tragedies like a life-threatening illness or loss of income. What they were complaining about was that they couldn’t afford a bigger home, a dream holiday, didn’t have much ‘me’ time, their kids didn’t perform that well at school, their careers are not taking them where they want to go… first world problems we all face.

One of my friends who had “an awful year” was about to board a plane for an overseas holiday and had recently changed jobs. But it wasn’t the job of her dreams. The problem for me is that we live in a time in history in which we have never afforded and achieved so much and our lives are so abundant that it’s unfair to say that the year was ruined if we didn’t tick all boxes in our accomplishments list. We have become so obsessed with success and perfection that we created the self-improvement movement (or maybe it was the other way around), which I think is partially responsible for the widespread discontentment in our society today. The standards of happiness have become so high that too many people are thinking they are falling short of society’s expectations.

We are told that we can achieve anything and if we don’t it’s because we are not trying hard enough or didn’t follow the morning routine of the world’s most successful people. It’s about the Self, of improving our individual lives, but how about the lives of our neighbours? We are becoming increasingly isolated. We are living digital lives and moving away from our families and friends. Even if we don’t physically relocate to other geographic locations, much of our personal contact is now reduced to electronic interaction. Every year I travel back to Brazil and it always surprises me when my friends that are so active interacting with each other on social media say that they haven’t seen each other in a year. I’m also guilty, I only have to look at Facebook to see how many of my great friends have now become digital acquaintances.

Seeing people hugging, smiling, offering roses to random strangers reminded me of the essential things in life that do not need to be bought with a credit card but we forget these things when we are obsessing about our selves. We can only live authentic and satisfying lives when we realise we are all in this together but together doesn’t have the same weight through the window of a smart phone. The simple gentleness of the human touch is worth thousands of likes.

Flight wasn’t fun – now let our Brazilian holiday begin!

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Through the small oval window over the left wing, I see blue sky and soft clouds hovering above the aircraft and my dream of a breezy beach holiday getting closer below. Wait, no, that’s a mirage, what’s coming into view are houses of various colours and shapes packed together in a sprawling maze of streets and alleys – the famous Brazilian favelas. The Dreamliner tilts slightly to the right as the pilot angles the airplane for decent at Guarulhos International Airport in Sao Paulo and I’m reminded that we still have one more connection to get to our final destination, Recife, in the northeast of Brazil. I’m staring at the plane’s current route on the in-flight entertainment system in pure silence. This is torture.

I feel a bump when the aircraft touches down and the noise of the wind hitting the flaps scares my children – I kiss their messy hair. Well, not far now, I think to myself as I stretch my legs under the seat in front of me. My back aches and limbs tingle. That’s what happens after 18 hours trapped in an aluminum tin. The seatbelt light comes off, I get up and glance at my fellow zombie-looking passengers of long haul economy class, jumping from their seats to grab their carry-on luggage. I always wonder why such a rush to deplane, we will all have to queue again at immigration and the conveyer belt. But I guess when we are disembarking from such a long flight our thoughts are no longer coherent, the brain is too tired and confused to make sense of anything. Our survival instincts direct us to get out of the plane, and to do it fast.

So I gather up my belongings and the stuff my kids dropped and put my children in the line while my husband collects the hand luggage in the overhead compartment. We are then herded off the aircraft and rush to immigration.

Fifteen minutes standing in the queue feels like an eternity when you haven’t slept in two days. Screaming and inconsolable children makes our heads thump – I feel sorry for their freaked out parents and grateful that they aren’t mine. My overtired boys stopped whining at the promise of McDonalds once we clear customs.

We go through the required procedures and are left with 30 minutes to board our flight to Recife. Our gate is on the other end of the airport so we pace down the wide glassed corridors, following the signs to terminal 2 – it’ll take eleven minutes, the sign on the wall tell us.

Guarulhos airport has been recently redesigned and looks beautiful. There is plenty of natural light and long moving walkways to my kid’s delight. Looking at them play you couldn’t tell these kids haven’t slept in two days. I notice that my eldest doesn’t have his backpack.

“Lucas where is your backpack?” I ask knowing we are in trouble.

“In the trolley, I think.” He replies walking backward on the moving belt and points to the cart my husband is pushing.

“That’s your dad’s backpack.”

“Oh,” he sighs.

“Where is your iPhone?”

“Oh, no”

I turn to my exhausted husband giving him an accusing look and remind him that “it was in the overhead compartment along with your backpack.” He has deep dark pockets around his eyes and it does not look like he’s registering what’s happening.

“We have less than 30 minutes to board the plane on the other side of the airport. Let’s just leave it.” My husband answers unsympathetically and the children stare at me with teary eyes.

“We can’t leave the kids’ iPhones behind,” I argue. “This is what we will do: give me my boarding pass and go ahead with the kids. I’ll go back to the Latam terminal to try to find the bag. I’ll meet you at the departure gate.”

I turn around and run back to the arrival’s gate as fast as I could, weaving through the rushing crowd. I feel my blond ponytail swinging frantically from side to side and beads of sweat gather in my forehead. The oncoming traffic of people look at me like I’m crazy, I think if I were in Sydney security would stop me for questioning. I make mental calculations of how long I have before my plane departs and wonder what possessed me to give iPhones to my children.

I spotted the staff in Latam uniform behind the help desk and explain I left a bag in the airplane.

“You need to go to the lost property desk,” a friendly staff explains pointing to the lift.

“But I have less than 20 minutes.”

“Just go up to level one and turn left. They will be able to help you there.”

And they do. The officer dials the aircraft and they confirm they found the said backpack.

“The customer has to board another flight in 15 minutes, could you bring the bag here immediately?” I hear him asking the person at the aircraft and cross my fingers.

“The bag will be here in five minutes.”

I wait pacing up and down the corridor, which is packed with lost items like surf boards, guitars, luggages of all shapes and sizes. I can’t take my eyes off the clock on the wall. I’ll have less than ten minutes to make my way to the gate – butterflies flutter in my stomach.

Within the promised five minutes I’m running back to the domestic gate with my faith in humanity restored. Pumping my legs as fast as they could go, I jet to my destination dodging people, luggages and trolleys. I was soaring like an eagle on a mission. No way was I going to miss my plane.

I’m approaching the gate and see a long line of passengers already boarding the flight. I spot my family there waiting for me. I wave the backpack up in the air and catch their attention – mission accomplished, I announce. Together we walk through the portal to our final destination, in three hours the plane will be kissing the ground and our summer holiday will finally begin.

Junk inside your stockings?

Empty red Christmas stocking hanging on a door

Photo: Creative Commons

 

I’ll never forget my first Christmas in Australia. We were invited to celebrate the event with our former host family (this is long before Airbnb was invented), this lovely interracial young couple (Korea meets Australia) with two gorgeous small children. The Australian grandparents joined the party too. Apart from celebrating Christmas in broad daylight, the party was not dissimilar to our Brazilian Christmas soiree—overeating and drinking, music and family. But then it came the time to open the gifts. Grandpa had the presents in a gigantic red sack and he could not tie the ends of the bag together, the gifts were overflowing, I was left wondering if more guests were coming considering the number of presents. He started distributing the gifts, most of which were for the children. The first couple of beautifully wrapped toys made the kids jump with excitement but the more gifts they opened the less they cheered. You could tell that the first gifts were carefully selected, age-appropriate, but the rest were just ‘stocking fillers’, an expression I had never heard until that day.

My head kept turning to the clock on the wall, the gift giving was becoming too long and boring and the pile of worthless junk tucked beside the Christmas tree was getting taller by the minute. By the time the last gift was distributed the children were more interested in what was showing on TV.

Back then, climate change was not a mainstream topic of discussion but I could not help thinking of the waste that millions of Australian households were creating that day and how they were nurturing a throwaway generation.

At that time it was clear to me that, by comparison, the Brazilian Christmas was very much a celebration of hope, love and piece rather than a purely consumeristic event but I was forced to change my mind when I went back to my country of birth for Christmas in 2005.  My city, Recife, had been invaded by stores selling cheap goods manufactured in sweatshops in other third world countries. Now, everyone had access to crap they could afford and this was reflected in the Christmas giving that year. I guess our Christmas principles weren’t so different after all, the festive Brazilian people just didn’t have easy access to an oversupply of things they didn’t need.

Fast forward 18 years from my first Ozzie Christmas and now we are all talking about climate change and the impact of our consumeristic society in the environment. But it doesn’t feel like we are matching our words with actions. I recently saw statistics showing that each Australian family contributes enough rubbish each year to fill a three-bedroom house from floor to ceiling. I think that Christmas alone is responsible for filling up the whole lounge room.

There are truckloads of reasons why society has evolved into such a remarkable waste producing machine and one of them is because we now can afford to buy more things and these things last less. It’s a vicious cycle and of course, this has an impact on the planet.

So it really surprises me when I see that the idea of filling up Christmas stockings continues as strong as ever. Don’t kids (and adults) receive enough gifts already? Do we really need to top up the Christmas gift giving extravaganza with more?

To make piece with our compulsion to buy, lots of websites are now promoting environmentally friendly, zero-waste stocking fillers. But this defeats the purpose, if we are combating excess, we don’t need fillers. We need substantial changes to our behaviours, we need to realise that Christmas giving doesn’t have to mean excessive buying. Giving makes us happy, but we can replace needless stuff with other ways to give like giving our time, offering a helping hand, being there when our friends need. That’s the true Christmas spirit, in Australia and elsewhere.

Stick figures: 21,000 min slicing carrots

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I did the maths. Every single school day for seven years I’ve cut carrot sticks for lunch boxes. This equates to 21,000 minutes or 14.5 days cutting the same beta-carotene vegetable (sometimes I add cucumber for a bit of variety) and stuffing them in little plastic containers. Today while I was going through my daily ritual it was borne in upon me that we haven’t had Disney’s lunch boxes in a while, my children have actually grown (I have these revelations from time to time), so why don’t I let them cut the vegetables and prepare their own lunch boxes? With their help, I would save 15 minutes each day.

There are many explanations why my kids don’t prepare their lunch boxes, but the main reason is the mother:

  • I don’t want them to make a mess that I will have to clean up
  • I don’t want to put up with the whining and whinging (they don’t want to do their lunch boxes)
  • I don’t want them to get hurt using a sharp knife
  • I take pride in a properly made lunch box, one that includes fresh food and prepared with love

As I was writing this I was thinking, gee, if I wasn’t in the equation, they would be using a butcher’s knife by now. I had set a deadline that by high school they would be doing their lunch boxes but now high school is just around the corner for my eldest and we haven’t had much progress. The mess they make in the kitchen and the complaining drive me crazy. And watching them use the knife sends shivers down my spine.

I know I have to do something about this so I rationalised that  I’ll continue with the vegetables and they can do the other food groups. But then the other night I was watching my eldest spread butter on his toast. I was standing there staring at him, my head shaking in disbelief as he maneuvered the butter knife. He made a deep whole in the creamed milk and ripped up his bread trying to spread the butter on top. Another revelation: my 11-year old can’t handle a butter knife, or any other knife for that matter. My kids are bad with knives because I haven’t given them access to the tool, I haven’t taken the time to teach them how to use one properly. I have to admit that rather than nurturing future helpers I’m over protecting my precious treasures from most house chores and denying them the chance to grow. I might be protecting their little fingers now but this can actually hurt them in the long run.

I want my children to be capable of looking after themselves by the time they leave home and I know there are still many years to get them ready but they have embarked on a journey towards independence from the moment they learnt to crawl and my role is to equip them for the journey, help them gauge the risks accurately rather than removing all obstacles.

The new year will begin with a better division of chores, a present that they don’t expect Santa to bring but they can thank me later in life. And the carrot sticks will continue make their way to school next year, but there will be a new pair of hands making them.

Apparently, I’m a writer.

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Last week my son’s school teacher invited me to speak to her class about being a writer. While she was making her request I was squirming in my seat, completely taken by surprise because I don’t think of myself as a writer. I have, however, spent a good chunk of my time penciling down words this year. My children often see me in front of the laptop typing away or in bed with a notepad, my mind lost in another world. So I guess that’s the behaviour my son has observed and he matched my actions with his words. It makes me feel warm and fuzzy that my little one sees me as a writer but at the same time, I feel a bit like a fraud. There are so many excellent writers out there who have crafted wonderful stories. I don’t have a journalism or literature degree, I don’t get paid for writing. I question if I’m entitled to use the word writer to refer to myself.

The Oxford dictionary has two definitions for writer:

  • A person who has written something or who writes in a particular way
  • A person who writes books, stories, or articles as a job or occupation

The Free Dictionary has a few more definitions including:

  • a person who is able to write or write well
  • a person who commits thoughts to writing

Using the definitions above, anyone can be called a writer so I guess to segregate the proper writers from everyone else new words were introduced: blogger, storyteller, wordsmith, communications consultant, the list goes on.

I’m often wondering if I should I accept the honour to be called a writer or choose one of the other alternatives.  Then on Saturday I received the copies of my book (Pieces of North Shore, an anthology from my writer’s group). I was sitting in a cafe with my friend sipping a latte and flicking through the book’s bounded sheets, smelling the beautiful scent of a freshly pressed book, staring at my name in the top of the pages and it hit me that hey, I have a book, I must be entitled to call myself a writer.

I guess you don’t have to get paid to use the title. We don’t do it for money or glory. We write because of the things we notice in the world and to make sense of it all. We do it because we love the art and the craft or to fill up the time when a story does not let us sleep. It just feels right to spend hours scribbling down ideas and sometimes we even find an audience to read our stuff.

A year ago this would have  been an unlikely story. I had written a couple of things but wasn’t sure how to progress, what next step to take. At that time, a friend invited me to attend the writer’s group at North Sydney library and here I’m being called a writer and wondering if I should accept the accolade.

I still don’t feel confident in my ability as a writer, it’s a work in progress and it probably will be for the rest of my life but I think now I have found my calling. I don’t really think we need a label to describe the pursuit of a dream but for practical reasons, next time I’m asked if I am a writer, I’ll nod in agreement.

Creating colourful memories

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Celebrating our 20th themed party. Last weekend we had a Pokemon party.


Chocolate heaven. I remember the aroma of chocolate that impregnated the whole house. Mum used to bake delicious treats for our birthdays and chocolate cake was her specialty. A bit muddy in the centre and crusty on top. Decades later I still recall those special days. It doesn’t matter how hard we work to leave our children real state assets and unearned money, most of what we really leave behind are memories. Memories of who we are, the time we spent together and the essence of our relationships. One of the most powerful sources of memories of my childhood are birthday parties, mine and of my siblings’. We didn’t have that many parties and they weren’t fancy but I still vividly and fondly remember them. It’s funny I have no recollections of the gifts we received but memories of the experience and the emotions it recalls on me is as fresh as my mum’s bread oozing with melted cheese waiting to cool in the kitchen table.

It’s no surprise then that I was naturally drawn to creating similar memories for my kids and wow how time flies, I’ve just celebrated our 20th birthday party last weekend. It doesn’t matter how busy I am with work and everything else, every year I manage to whip up two memorable parties (well, if they’re as memorable for the kids as they’re for me it’s unclear). It’s always a lot of work and painful paper cuts but I enjoy the late nights in this labour of love. I feel as excited as the kids, planing, organising, baking and sometimes I spend so many hours on these projects that I ask myself why, why… the kids would be as happy with an indoor playground party. But I feel it’s the little things that colour our lives and each family has their little things. For our family one of these little things is making birthdays extra special days.

I remember a family when I was growing up that didn’t celebrate birthdays. The father used to say that every day was special so he didn’t have to single one out. This sounds good in principle but in reality we are too distracted with life to make every day special. It just doesn’t happen. Our day of birth is a great opportunity to remind ourselves and our children that we are more than a speck of dust in the universe and that yes, every day is special but we need to stop and acknowledge it. All memories aren’t created equal. We are most likely to keep memories that are associated with emotions. If everyday is the same routine with no emotional experiences our memories of our early life will not be as colourful.

Long before I had children I realised that a birthday party can send a powerful message to a child. I was going to church back then and there was this migrant family whose mother had returned to their home country in Africa for a few months and the father was left with the kids. They had a daughter who was turning five and it broke my heart to think she wouldn’t have a cake, that no one would be singing happy birthday in celebration of her life. I ended up organising a party for her. I will never forget the sparkle with joy in her eyes when she arrived in the church hall and found it had been decorated for her. She held a smile on her face the entire party. That kind of smile that says “I’m special, I was noticed.” I can’t tell if one event like that can have a lasting impact on someone’s life but I’d like to think that any positive impact, even if temporary, makes the world a better place.

I sometimes think of starting a charity organisation to provide birthday parties for children in foster care. I imagine that most of these kids don’t get to celebrate their birthdays. How cruel is it to remember your childhood and think that no one cared enough to celebrate your birthday. No memories of cakes, piñatas, pass-the-parcel. I don’t know if there is a market for it, I don’t know if I have the energy to make this happen, at present it’s only an idea, but as my kids get older they will require less labour intensive parties and I feel like I could share the joy to other addresses. If you are a foster family reading this, please leave a comment, let me know if you think there is a need for a service like this.

Thanks for reading and hope you are creating colourful memories for yourself and your loved ones.

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A Day in the Life of a Working Mother

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I wanted to whinge about this crazy week but ended up penning down a story instead. I plan to slow down but here I’m 1am and still going. One day. Soon.

“Kids get your bags and get in the car.”
Amelia recites this phrase every morning, except the days she works in the office. Those days her husband deals with the morning chaos.

“Being late is a bad habit.” She says running upstairs, two steps at a time, almost tripping over the last step. Steadying herself she glances over her room, looking for her bag. It must be in the wardrobe. Amelia notices the kids’ flannelette pyjamas still on the floor and squints. They never pick up their clothes. She wonders if it’s worth yelling again asking them to come clean the mess. Why bother, we will be even later. This is just an irritation, a minor irritation. Her spacious bedroom looks small with all the clutter. She walks over the jumble of clothes and stops in front of the sliding mirrored doors of her robe. Before she slides the door open she notices the face starring back at her. Her eyebrows climb, there is no spark in those eyes. She looks tired and her hair hasn’t seen a brush yet. Amelia pulls an elastic band from the pocket of her blue Nike jumper and quickly ties her short, unruly hair, into a ponytail. That will do.

Amelia races downstairs, this time holding the rails.

“Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go.” She instructs the kids, who don’t seem to hear, they are totally absorbed in their game of Pokemon cards. Amelia always repeats ‘let’s go’ three times. A single ‘let’s go’ doesn’t express her sense of urgency.

“There is no canteen money if we are late.” She warns them and this time the kids get moving.

They drive to school talking about Pokemon and the upcoming birthday party that she hasn’t started planning yet. She printed extra copy of the invitations to send to their family overseas but unknowingly to her Steve distributed every single invitation to his friends at school. She is uncertain of who or how many kids have been invited.

“Mum can you pick us up early?” asks Steve.
Her heart feels heavy every time she hears this question. She wonders if she is giving her children enough quality time. Is car time quality time? She read somewhere psychologists saying that car time is part of the equation. She finds this reassuring. She is focusing on the traffic ahead but notices Steve is still staring at her.
“I’ll try.” Amelia says unconvincingly, she knows she won’t be able to.

She finds a spot in front of the school.
“This is our lucky day!” Amelia cheers up.
“A school day is never a lucky day.” Steve mumbles.
“Common, you enjoy playing with your friends, don’t you?”
“Mum, no child likes going to school. We just go because we have to.”
“Ok but you have to hurry now, the bell will ring in a few seconds.” Steve’s mouth is a horizontal line now. She immediately regrets saying the word hurry and gets out of the car to kiss them good bye and straighten their hats.
“I love you.” She shouts as she watches them climb the fence. Her boys never use the school gate.

Amelia drives off waving at some parents chit-chatting at the gate. She sighs. She doesn’t want to be a stay at home mother but she wishes she had time to chit-chat sometimes. Her days start early and are full. Here she is, not quite nine in the morning and has already done one hour of work, before the kids got up.

The school traffic steals a couple of minutes from her morning. As she waits at the pedestrian crossing, she notices the blue sky dotted with a few specks of fluffy clouds. The thermometer in the car’s dashboard displays 18C. The perfect weather for a run. But she has so much on at the moment, she has to resist. She is hopeful that she will have a break for a run later in the day. That’s why she is wearing active wear and her GPS sports watch.

But the day doesn’t go as smoothly as planned. There were no pit stops. The only break she’s had was to scramble some eggs for lunch. She spent the whole day staring at the screen in her computer. It’s already time to pick up the kids and she still has emails to reply. She will have to return to the computer at night. Her eyes are red and sting. Amelia puts her elbows on the desk in front of her, holds her head with her hands and massages her temples with the tips of her long middle fingers. I’m working too hard.

On the way to school she sights runners pounding the pavement and wonders how they find the time. Don’t these people have mortgages to pay? For a moment she wishes her life was different. Amelia stops at a set of red lights and spots her birds. The common birds that are always there performing a synchronised dance across the sky, in perfect harmony. Amelia thinks they are pigeons but she isn’t certain. It doesn’t matter what they are and it doesn’t bother her that she has to stop at these lights for two whole minutes. She enjoys the show. She tries to count them, 25, 30, more. More than a messy sum of birds. This is a self-organised dynamic system showing cohesion and movement of a group without a leader. A show of competence and cooperation among birds, qualities she admires.

She arrives at after school care and from a distance she spots the boys playing soccer. Amelia worries that her kids don’t spend as much time at home as they would like to but she is watching them play in the soft rubber field, they tackle, they dribble and they don’t seem in a hurry to leave. This makes her feel better.

Amelia signs them off and they walk to the car talking about Pokemon and the homework that still needs to be done. But not tonight. They are now heading to music lessons and she will be there replying to emails while she waits at reception for thirty minutes. If the lessons were longer she would go for a run instead. She is still in active wear and wearing the GPS watch. She is not the only mother waiting in the tiny reception at the music school but she is the only one working on a laptop. The others are reading Women’s Weekly and those types of magazines. She wanted to reach out for one too, just for a bit of entertainment but she knows her night will be even longer if she doesn’t deal with the emails now.

Thirty minutes go by and the boys are back at reception before she sends the second email. “Just a minute boys.”
“Mum I’m hungry.” Whinges Jack.
“Just pressing the send button… now.”
She looks at them. “Ready to go.”
“Mum, can we stop for hot chips, I’m starving.” Jacks insists.
Stop? Stop? Who has time to stop. “We’ll have dinner shortly at home.”

They are walking across the footpath of the quiet shopping village. By now a cafe and a take away shop are the only stores open.

“But mum I am hungry now!” Jack doesn’t give up.
Amelia raises her arm to check the time and calculate how long it will take to whip up dinner, quickly read the kids a story, have a shower and go back to the computer. She feels a drop of sweat running down her back.

“My stomach is grumbling mum, please?”

Amelia stops walking and stares at the trees at the end of the road soaking up on what’s left of the sun in this gorgeous spring day. Even trees do a better job of looking after themselves. She wonders if she will ever finish reading the book she started last month. Amelia doesn’t give her kids junk food very often, she thinks this is lazy parenting. But she is too tired today.

“I just had an idea.” She says putting her arms around the kids’ shoulders. How about we go to Macas and grab a take-away dinner and you can eat in the crèche at the gym while I do my exercise?”

The boys don’t like going to the crèche. They say creches are for pre-schoolers.

“Only if I get a milkshake with my meal.” Jack tries to negotiate a deal.

“Ok, you choose your dinner tonight.”

The kids arrive at the gym carrying a brown bag in one hand and a clear plastic cup with a cold drink in the other.

“I’m sorry but the creche no longer opens on Thursday nights.”

Amelia gave the receptionist a blank stare, she could not believe it. Maybe she didn’t hear the girl properly with the thumping sound coming from the treadmills behind her. The girl showed Amelia a copy of the gym’s timetable, circling the creche’s opening times.

“Really? I rushed so much.” She didn’t mean to say that, the words just came out of her mouth, she could not hide her frustration. It was her fault, this is what happens when you are too busy, sooner or later you make mistakes. Why am I cramming in so much? Why do I have to be so productive?

She turns back to look at her boys and they smile.
“Mum, now this is a lucky day for us. Can we go home?”
“Ok, let’s go.” This time she only said it once.

Sydney is a privilege

Getting out of bed at 5:30AM on a Sunday may not sound like a privilege to many people but I felt really lucky this morning. I went with the kids to the Spring Cycle to cross the bridge and explore the centre of Sydney with our bikes. I was joined by a friend from Croatia and another from Iran and we were there enjoying every moment of our expedition with the blue sky above our heads and in awe to be living in such a beautiful, safe and multicultural city.

I’ve been living in Sydney for 18 years and am now used to such high standards of living but having grown up in Brazil I’m all too aware that the way we live our lives in Australia is a privilege denied to most of the seven billion people that share this planet with us.

I’m not talking about wealth accumulation—although I’m sure that there are plenty of opportunity for this to those that seek financial riches—for me it’s the little things in life that make Australia so attractive. For instance, today I was able to catch a train at 6am with my bike without feeling threatened that I could be mugged or had my bike stolen. Then during the race my children took off and I only met them again at the finishing line and it didn’t worry me that they were out of sight for a little bit.

When you grow up in a country that has a decent welfare system and public infra structure that makes live more enjoyable it’s easy to complain when Sydney trains are running five minutes late. Sometimes when I hear friends whinging about minor irritations in essential services I wonder how they would cope in a country that offers very limited resources to their citizens.

Of course Australia has problems too, we just have to look at the inequality in the Aboriginal communities and we have to raise our voices to fix what’s not working. I think if we show gratitude for what we have and remind ourselves that many of our privileges are often determined by your geographical location we may become more generous as human beings.

Why I keep writing

wpg-anthology

Fellow writers publishing North Shore Pieces


I have always written a bit of copy as part of my marketing jobs but I never saw myself as a writer. I used to think of writers as eccentrics endowed with a genetic ability and immense creative power. They sat in somber rooms with a pen and a notepad with bent corners or a rusty Remington typewriter and popped out words for hours, inspired by some supernatural force. And in my mind the end result of their creative process would always be an original story in which the depth of their talent shined through.

Then one day I realised that writers are grown not born. I started to write about my observations of life and its many transitions and the things I don’t quite understand. I wasn’t confident in my ability as a writer and was only using the mighty pen to make sense of life in times of trouble and awe. But little by little I noticed my writing getting stronger and the words flowing more naturally.

You see, I was using writing as therapy. My thoughts often travel at the speed of light and they pass through my brain without giving me the chance to fully interpret and reflect on them. Sometimes I only notice that they touched me when it’s too late and I’m there covered with the cosmic dust of anxiety. In these moments the pen can be my best friend as it helps me watch as the stars collide and particles of reason evaporate from my awareness. With a notepad in hand many times I’ve been able to translate the sensorial explosion into emotions and rational thought and bring myself safely back to earth. I don’t think I was particularly good at writing but it became a habit, and like it is with any passion or hobby, I wanted to learn more and improve at it. So I decided to take my writing more seriously and joined a writers group (WPG – Write Publish, Grow).

When I joined the group I thought I’d only have the capacity to write about things that existed in the real world so non-fiction was a genre that made sense to me. I’m naturally drawn to facts, reason and reality as these elements save me from the tricks my mind plays on me. But being exposed to the group helped me appreciate other genres too and now I’m starting to explore life in short stories, combining fiction and reality in my narratives.

My journey with the mighty pen has been an amazing experience. Not in my weirdest dreams I contemplated the idea of writing a book, let alone a book in English, my second language, but here I am less than a year from joining WPG publishing an anthology with my fellow group members. The book will be available in November and it’s a testament that writers are a product of hard work, passion and practice. I feel confident my writing will continue to improve and I hope my stories will encourage others to have a go at sharing theirs. We are all storytellers capable to inspiring and challenging our fellow human beings and the more with write the more beautiful and impactful our stories become. All we have to do is write. Just keep writing.