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.

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Action and reaction [short story]

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My feet got tangled and I went tumbling down.


I had just parked the car and was walking to my favourite coffee shop this morning when something got hold of my foot. I turned my head down but before I could see what was restricting my movements I realised I was tumbling down. I probably fell over in two seconds but it felt like I was falling in slow motion and I could foresee the damage of the impeding impact. Images of my upcoming half-marathon flashed before my eyes. No training today that’s for sure. I went down on my left knee first,—no, not my knee—then the right, then my wrists swung forward to protect my face and finally the rest of my body hit the unprepared surface. I wanted to get up but the forces of gravity and pain were keeping my body stuck to the pavement.

“Are you all right?” I heard worried voices hovering above me. The good samaritans that came to my rescue grabbed my arms and helped me get up. “Are you okay?” someone asked again. I was a bit disoriented and dizzy from the sudden jerk of my head, all I could muster was “I hope so”. They held my arm and walked me inside the nearby hairdresser.

“Please have a seat while I get some water” said a concerned hairdresser. I took a seat next to the window and a deep breath, “what a way the start the day” I joked, finally starting to come to my senses. “If you can laugh about it you might still have a good day ahead” the hairdresser said passing me a glass of water.

“Ouch” I felt a sting when the broken skin touched the water droplets outside the cold glass. I turned my palms up and saw blood and grit from the floor. I looked at my legs to assess the damage and noticed wet spots halfway down the black running pants I was wearing. I tried to roll them up but they were too tight, I had to wait the check my knees when I got home. I sipped the water slowly trying to digest how this happened to me today.

“There was something stuck to my feet,” I said putting the empty glass on the coffee table.

“You don’t know what it was?” asked the hairdresser.

“No, but I’ll find out now,” I said trying to rise up from my seat but my knees ached and trembled and my bottom landed back on the chair. I tried again, this time I placed both hands at the edge of the chair,  pushed down through my arms and began straightening my legs. A sharp pain traveled from my head to toes. That’s the moment I realised I might not be able to run the race. I didn’t just fall, I had a fall. When you fall you get up again and move on with your business but a fall is a beast of another kind, it is an unprovoked attack, a serendipitous act of violence that finds you unprepared and inflicts grievous bodily harm. And it knocked me down really bad.

The hairdresser followed me to the crime scene for our forensic investigation. We found narrow straps of white plastic scattered around the parking. These are the straps used to bundle magazines and stack them in piles. Someone, maybe a delivery person, must have slided the magazines out and mindlessly tossed the used straps. “There are garbage bins everywhere, why couldn’t he or she have walked ten metres to dispose the plastic straps properly?” I squeezed my eyebrows together.

“People can be so thoughtless” the hairdresser sighed.

“If I were an elderly person I’d be in hospital with broken bones” I continued.

“I know,” she said with a tone of concern, “I’ll throw the straps in the bin so no one else gets hurt.” She said walking to the trashcan.

“Thanks heaps for rescuing me today.” I waved to the hairdresser and started limping to the car. I opened the door, squeezed through the opening with half-bent knees and started the engine. My legs felt heavy, it was tricky to operate the pedals and with every new movement I discovered a new pain. Eventually I got home and rushed to the freezer to get the ice packs. I put them in my sore knees, ah, finally a bit of relief.

Every action has a reaction—the pressure of the cold bags of ice in my skin made me think of Newton’s 3rd law of physics. Newton wasn’t referring to human behaviour but I kept thinking of how the actions of the delivery person resulted in pain and suffering to another human being. I’m sure he or she didn’t intend to harm anyone but being unaware of your behaviour is just as bad. I wriggled in the couch trying to find a conformable spot. One of the greatest crimes of our civilisation is the offence of mindlessness, that’s why there is so much pain and suffering in the world. If we were conscious of the consequences of our actions, we would be better equipped to change our behaviour. But we are too busy or preoccupied with our everyday lives and keep on going on auto-pilot, we don’t pause to ponder.

I noticed that with every new trip to the kitchen to replace the ice packs the pain worsened so I decided it was time to inspect my knees and apply some antiseptic cream on the wounds. But there was an obstacle on my way, the stairs. I had to go upstairs to get the first aid kit and a new pair of pants. I grabbed the rails on both sides and swung my legs forward, one at a time and with every step images of people whose physical abilities do not correspond with the demands of their environment flashed in my mind. I felt privileged I was only carrying a temporarily broken body.

By school pick up time my legs were as stiff and heavy as iron bars and I started to move like a robot to keep my legs as straight as I could. The drive to school is literally painfully slow but luckily most of the route is within school zones so the other cars are going slow too. When I get there I have to explain my robot moves to the parents at the gate and one of the mothers asked: “are you going to sue the council?” Hum, I hadn’t thought of that.

“No,” I replied with a pause, “I don’t even know who the tosser was.”

“They might have caught the fall on CC TV” she insisted.

“Good point,” I reply, “but I don’t want to put my energy on a litigation.” The glares of disappointment from the parents made me feel like justifying my position so I said “I might send a letter to the council though, to alert them to be more vigilant.”

“But they’re more likely to do something about it they feel the pain with their pockets.” stressed another mother.

“That may be true,” I said slowly trying to calculate the impact of my words, I don’t like the blame and sue culture that has developed in our society but I didn’t want to offend anyone so I carefully added as limped over eggs shells on the way to the car park: “but I don’t think every accident should be a case for litigation.” They didn’t say anything back and continued to walk at normal pace so I was left behind wondering if because they found me too slow or too righteous.

On my way home I was in so much pain I was thinking of driving to a medical centre but I pulled over at the chemist instead and asked the pharmacist for her opinion. I rolled up my pants and she frowned. “Looks quite nasty.” Drops of sweat run down my shoulders, maybe I broke something. “But I don’t think you broke anything,” she said as if reading my mind, “I don’t think you would have been able to drive here otherwise.” Phew. She recommended an anti-inflammatory tablet and a visit to the doctor next morning “if you don’t wake up feeling better.”

As the day progressed the pain got stronger and my knees stiffer and I started to get cranky at the possibility of breaking my tradition of joining the Sydney running festival. I’ve been doing the half-marathon for five years straight, now thanks to that mindless delivery guy I might have to give it a miss.

I was picturing the fall over and over in my head and what I could have done differently. I was cursing whoever tossed the rubbish in the parking. I wanted to stomp to my room and start the day over but instead I had to gently swing my hips from side to side to move my legs, sit in the edge of my bed and carefully lay down and place ice packs in both knees.

But staring alone at the ceiling I started to think about how I was reacting to the situation. I was joining the mindless mob. It’s not the end of the world if I missed the race and being angry at the world was not going to make me recover faster. I was not able to run but I was capable of taking a step back and turn off the auto-pilot. Instead of continuing ruminating my story, I put my headphones on and played some soft music. It did not take away the pain but by the time I got up to change the ice packs I was counting my blessings, the accident could have been much worse.

The year of the snake

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Celebrating 11 years of caking making for my kids. We’ve had all kinds of cakes (and sleepless nights) over the years, from the Hobbit, to spideman to animals

My life is full of imperfections and minor disasters but I’m glad and grateful to say that today,  I had a perfect day. I managed to finish the birthday cake the night before Lucas’ birthday party so in the morning I could work on the details of the celebration. Lucas invited 21 friends for the occasion – there was a lot of work to do.

The weather in Sydney has been gorgeous this autumn but on Saturday when I got up and looked out the window the ground was wet. Yes, rain on the horizon. Well, it was more of a strong drizzle, but that couldn’t be happening, not today when we were going to take 22 active boys on a bush walk. Luckily the birthday party fairies were on our side because an hour before the party the sun came out to save the day.

And so off  I went to the bush to hide 22 stuffed animals for the treasure hunt. I climbed up trees and rocks trying to camouflage the toys amongst the leaves and bark. I marked the area with bright ribbons and drew signs on the ground to hint to the kids where to look for the toys.

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I’ve been organising children’s birthday parties for 11 years. It’s always a lot of work. I’m always exhausted by the end of the day. I always promise next year I’ll do less. But then I look at the photos and think of the children’s face and my heart clenches. My eldest will soon be a teenager, he won’t be wanting these types of parties for much longer. So every year I keeping going back for more.

Despite the hard work, it’s so much fun organising the parties with my boys. Weeks before the celebration they come up with a theme, ideas of games, food and friends for the big day. We all cherish these moments and I’m sure these are memories they will return to for the rest of their lives.

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Back to the fine day, we went to an hour’s walk/treasure hunt in the bush down the road. Our march to get there drew the attention of onlookers, probably wondering why the exodus of so many children. My husband was notably stressed though. He thinks I’m crazy for organising these big parties and entertaining so many kids. The children behaved well and I could see some of them were not used to exercise and tree climbing, a few were quite tired by the end of the adventure. When everyone had found their toy we headed home to recharge the energy with  pizza, sushi and of course, treats.

Just before cake we had a Brazilian style piñata, made with a giant inflatable balloon. This is one of my favourite parts of the party, watching the kids going over the candy like ants. I’m glad to report that no one got hurt on the making of this video.

After everyone left we sat on the floor to read the birthday cards and open the gifts. This moment always brings a bit of jealousy on the other sibling but they have been generous enough to donate one of the gifts to the other.

Nothing really extraordinary happened today. Just a family celebrating life with children. And life doesn’t get any more perfect than that.

Do you organise parties for your children? Would love to hear your stories.

Short cut: life’s too short for long hair

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I’m now a woman of short hair

I’ve been meaning to cut my hair short for years but every time I walk through the haidresser’s door I chicken down.  It’s just hair I tell myself, it will grow back! But I look at my reflection in the mirror, and my beautiful yet damaged, over dry and full of split ends long hair is running down my face and I feel comfortable. It’s funny how we get used to our surroundings and it’s so hard to let go, even when you know your life will be better, easier or more productive.

You see, I run two half marathons each year so I’m often exercising and my hair does get in the way. It takes long to wash and dry and I spend at least 30 minutes straightening it. It’s a pain, I have to admit. And most of the time I have my hair up in a ponytail which I think defeats the purpose of having long hair. So why do I need long hair?

The word need is very appropriate in this context because I had become really attached to my entangled vines. I’ve always perceived long hair as more beautiful than a short mane, and my views of women with long hair are normally more positive. To me long hair makes women more feminine, attractive, sophisticated. Yes, I know, this is a subjective view, beauty is always int he eye of the beholder… but I just could not help myself. When it was time to let go of my long hair, I ran to the corner of my comfort zone and ignored other hair styles more in line with my needs and personality.

But I don’t want to remain in my comfort zone for eternity, I don’t want to get stuck in a rut. This morning I called the hairdresser as soon as they opened and made an appointment at 12. I marched into the salon with courage and resolve and bravely announced: I’m here for a serious hair cut. In less than an hour it was done and I’m quite pleased with the results.

I’m not sure if a change of hairstyle can be life changing, but it feels like I have taken a step in the right direction, I’ve crossed a new frontier – I’m a woman of short hair now. When I saw truckloads of my hair being swiped across the room and placed in the bin I felt empowered. But hair grows back quickly and it’s easy to go back into old habits and thinking patterns.  I hope this is an experience I can go back to when I’m reluctant to venture out into unknown territory.

Next step: declutter my wardrobe, I have more things to let go…