Mother’s Day, 2018: A Tribute To My Mother.

My mother was the most influential person in my development and career as a bookworm. 

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Today is celebrated as Mother’s’ Day in Australia and many other places around the world. My mother passed away in 2011, but today I want to pay tribute to her as the most influential person in my development and career as a bookworm.

IMG_0035I inherited my love of books and reading from both my parents, but it was Mum who put the consistent effort in to enabling my reading habit.

I surprised my mother – and probably everyone else, now that I think of it – by being able to read when I was three years old. In a manner entirely consistent with how I would behave for the rest of my life, I picked her up on skipping words and sentences when she was reading to me. I can understand her doing that – I’ve read the same book to kids a bazillion times, too, and it does wear a little thin. Back then, though, I was probably morally outraged as only a three year old can be when they’re getting shortchanged on a favourite story. When I read back to her the story as it was written on the page, Mum thought I had merely memorised the whole thing. So she chose a new book for me, and I read that one to her, too.

From that time on, Mum was always enthusiastic and active in encouraging me to read widely, and spent many Saturday afternoons driving me to the library so that I could borrow enough books to keep me going for two weeks.

By the time I was ten, I had read all of her Agatha Christie books and many of my grandgather’s Perry Mason and James Bond books, and I had well-loved copies of the Narnia Chronicles and the “Little House” books on my own shelf.

It was then that Mum let me read the old copy of Anne of Green Gables that her own parents had given her. I clearly remember reading Lucy Maud Montgomery’s descriptions of Prince Edward Island sand saying to her, “I’m going to go there one day.”
“You have no idea how far away that is!” she replied.
“I don’t care. I’m going!” was my response.

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I finally did go to PEI and visited Green Gables in 2015, and I wished that I could have told Mum and shown her my photos. I believe she would have been genuinely happy for me, and proud that I had achieved something I had wanted to do since that young age.

I know my mother was proud of me for following her into teaching, and I know she would have been proud as punch of the fact that I became a writer, too.

My career as a poet and author, though, would have been far less likely to happen without the love for books and reading that Mum and Dad modelled and mentored for me, and for that I will always be thankful.

My first book was not born until almost five years after Mum graduated to heaven. I couldn’t write about her passing for several years afterwards, because it was too raw. When I did finish the poem that I wrote for her, I shared it with my father and siblings so that they could share my memory. If they hadn’t loved it, I wouldn’t have published it. They did, though, and it enabled me to share part of that last day of her life to which they were not witnesses.

Since ‘July 19, 2011’ was published in ‘Nova’, it has touched and encouraged many people who have lost their mums – and dads, and others close to them. When people tell me that my poetry has touched their heart or affected the way they think about something, that’s when I feel the most fulfilled as a poet. I’m really proud today that Mum’s poem can have that effect on someone else. Although she is gone, her legacy lives on, not just in my memory and my heart, but also in my writing.

It’s impossible to not miss my mother on days like today, and not a day passes that I don’t think of her.  So, for Mothers’ Day 2018, I want to share the poem I wrote for her with you. I hope you enjoy it and find it meaningful.

 

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International Women’s Day, 2018

Why We Should Celebrate International Women’s Day.

As I was driving to work this morning, a caller to my favourite radio station was critical of the fact that the station was observing International Women’s Day as part of the day’s programming.

“What’s it going to achieve? Do you think you’re going to change everything in one day?” He spoke politely, but went on to dismiss the value of this, and every other, “touchy-feely day”.

While my initial instinct was to dismiss him as a sexist pig, his cynicism challenged me to consider that there might be many folks out there, and possibly not just men, who doubt the benefit or validity of such an observance.

This is what I would like to say to those with that mindset:

Observing International Women’s Day is definitely not going to change everything on one day. That’s not what anyone is expecting.

It is a chance to celebrate the changes that have been made, and to remember those who worked so hard to introduce them. It’s not even exclusively about gender equality – so many women have made significant advances, even when it was still almost entirely a “man’s world”. Think of Marie Curie or Ruby Payne-Scott making significant scientific and mathematical discoveries that have had a huge impact in many other areas of society. Think of Rosa Parkes and her courage that inspired so many. Think of the countless women who have worked for freedom, or justice, or civil rights for all people, not just women.

It is a day to remember that the rights and freedoms I have as an Australian woman were fought for by many – not just the suffragettes. Nurses at the battlefields of major conflicts, teachers, doctors and medical researchers, writers, women who raised their sons to respect them and therefore other women, lawyers, filmmakers, journalists— they and countless others have contributed to the privileges I enjoy in the 21st century.

It is a day to remember my own mother, grandmothers and aunts who worked hard to provide and care for me, but also to teach me and demonstrate for me what it means to be a woman of strength, confidence and integrity. It’s also a day to think of my sisters, cousins and friends who encourage and stand beside me when life is hard, because they model those same qualities for me time and time again. They remind me of not just what I am, but who I am.

It is a day to consider what legacy I pass on to my nieces, my students, and my readers. What do I want them to learn from my example? I want them to know they are enough. Strong enough, good enough, beautiful enough, deserving enough, talented enough, smart enough, and worthy enough. They do not have to take any else’s bullying or abuse. They do not have to accept other people’s bad behaviour. They are under no obligation to “measure up” to the yardstick of anyone else, male or female. They can make of their lives anything that they decide upon and set their mind to. They can face challenges with courage, and they can overcome whatever would seek to undo or defeat them.

These are the women I write of in my poems, blog posts and stories about women of strength and beauty.

That, my friend, is what this day helps me to achieve, because it sharpens my focus on those things for a time.

So, happy International Women’s Day 2018.

I hope that you will think of it in terms of gratitude and humility. I also hope that every woman will use it to both be inspired and be inspirational.

Two-sday Surprises.

Sometimes, a small surprise can mean a whole lot more than its face value might suggest.

This morning didn’t seem any different than most when I left the house to head to work, but it proved to hold two lovely surprises.

The first surprise came in the form of a shop assistant who remembered me as her teacher from a number of years ago, and happily recalled the things she had studied and learned with me. An adult now, and with a different hair colour, I had not recognised her, but she knew me straight away.

It was nice to hear that she thought the books we read and the lessons we drew from them were valuable, and that history classes were interesting. It was wonderful to see that she had grown up into a confident, friendly and polite young woman with a lovely personality.

Of all the fond memories she recalled, though, one in particular had a profound effect on me: “You were the one teacher I ever had who showed me that it was okay to just be me, because that’s who I was meant to be. It’s something I have never forgotten.”

Wow! What a privilege to hear a former student say those words. I have struggled for many years with self acceptance, and as a teen I knew full well the agony of not fitting in with a particular crowd. Even then, I had the strength of will to resist peer pressure and not buy into many of the pitfalls that offered themselves to me at bargain prices and opportune moments. But that didn’t mean I was free of the wish to be someone or somewhere else – a desire that has recurred several times since.

Yet, somehow along the way, I managed to communicate something valuable about self acceptance to at least one teen in a similar situation.

I wonder if that knowledge would appease or satisfy those who think I push too many boundaries. Being part of a fairly conservative school, church and family, I take both pleasure and pride in not exactly looking conservative. I don’t intentionally break the rules, but I don’t mind testing their limits. My opinions often differ, and my willingness to assert them can make others uncomfortable. I don’t see that as a problem, though. There is merit in challenging people to see different perspectives and to accept differences. I’d like to think that people might become so used to my differences that I will need to think of something new to do to keep them on their toes.

My second surprise was a note on my desk from ex-students who had a reunion on Saturday night. I attended the reunion: it was a lovely evening of catching up and reminiscing. I didn’t realise, though, that they had left me a love letter on their tour of the school. How gorgeous that they still know how to make their English teacher happy and proud.

ANZAC Day, 2015.

Hundreds of people attended the ANZAC Day memorial service at the cenotaph in Cobden for the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landing. There were thousands at the dawn service in Warrnambool and hundreds of thousands at the dawn service in Melbourne. The grey clouds and steady rain did not deter them: instead, it seemed appropriate for a time of sombre reflection.

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In Cobden, the path to the cenotaph was lined by a guard of honour consisting of our Scouts and Girl Guides.

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A lone piper played in tribute to the fallen and in honour of the returned servicemen who were present.

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Hearing the New Zealand ode spoken in Maori was very powerful, even though most people there couldn’t understand a word of it. The speaker’s love for his country and thankfulness for the ANZACs and all those who served after them was evident through the emotion in his voice.

The Australian ode was spoken equally powerfully.It was impossible to remain unmoved by all the feelings of love for my country, gratitude for those who have served and the freedoms we still have because of them, and sadness for the loss of life on both sides. I made no effort to hide several tears that spilled down my cheek when they played The Last Post and during the period of silent observance before they played the Reveille.

When they played the instrumental version of the Australian national anthem there was no invitation to sing, but half the crowd sang anyway. I would have loved it if everyone joined in, but I guess the “I’m not singing in public” sentiment is still strong among many people.

It was beautiful to meet a little boy, Euan, who was incredibly proud to be wearing his great-grandfather’s war medals. I watched him stand attentively and proudly through the whole ceremony. He had obviously been made aware by his parents of the importance of the medals and the reason for the commemoration, because he took it all very seriously.

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I am so thankful that remembering those who served their country and their fellow Australians, New Zealanders and allies, often at the expense of their own lives, is so important to so many.

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“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.”

Lest We Forget.

A wonderful and unusual legacy.

Today would have been my parents’ 60th wedding anniversary.
Mum has been gone for a while now – she graduated to heaven in July 2012 after dementia took her from us long before that – but it’s still nice to remember and reflect on the life they built together and the legacy they gave to us as their kids.
I’m thankful for the lessons they taught us and the way they demonstrated problem-solving and talking together as a couple. I’m thankful for their love for each other and their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

It’s fair to say that our family is unusual by contemporary standards. My parents remained together and faithful until my mother’s death. My brother, sisters, and I are all still married to our original spouses.  The nucleus of my immediate family has thus far been untouched by separation, divorce, or abuse. What an incredible blessing. What an amazing legacy for my nieces and nephews who are now making their own ways in the world: some studying, some married or preparing to marry, and some now raising their own beautiful children.
I’m thankful for my amazing family and all the ways they have enriched my life. I’m thankful to be able to call every one of them mine.

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December 19, 1953. Hoskins Memorial Presbyterian Church, Lithgow. One of the many things I like about this photo is that my newly-wed parents are flanked by my Aunt Margaret, whom I have always loved dearly, and my grandmother whom I never met. It reminds me that the understanding of family that Mum and Dad gave to us was something their families gave to them. The legacy didn’t just start with my parents – it started with theirs, and theirs before them.  That’s very powerful when you stop to think about it.

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How will you be remembered?

The first time I remember hearing that someone famous had died was Elvis Presley in 1977.  I was ten, and had already learned to love his music. I watched Elvis movies on TV on Sunday afternoons. I sang along with his songs. I cried when I saw on TV that he had passed away. 

I remember quite vividly the time I was watching TV and the newsreader told me that John Lennon had been shot and killed. Again, I loved his music and the magic of lyrics that touched my soul, even as a thirteen year old. I always was into poetry, lyrical or otherwise.

I remember when Princess Grace of Monaco died in a car crash in 1982. I was shocked, and felt deeply for her family, especially her daughter Stephanie who was in the car with her when it happened. I knew of her as the elegant and sophisticated First Lady of Monaco, but I had also loved her in ‘High Society’ and other movies. 

That same year, a friend of mine was killed while riding his bike to visit his new workplace. He was hit by a drunk driver. He was just a regular guy. He was funny and sweet. He had so much talent and his life as a young adult was just opening up for him. His horizons were bright. He was gone far too suddenly, too soon. 
The grieving among his friends and family was intense. There were no news bulletins, magazine stories or headlines. Social media didn’t even exist. But there was a large church packed full of people who loved him and wished with all our hearts that he hadn’t been taken.

There were things we all wished we had said. Moments that we had allowed to slip by without acknowledgement or appreciation. We would never get another chance. 

This was my first experience of death among my friends. It was followed by several others over the next few years. All of them were young men – healthy, talented, funny guys who were genuinely loved by their family and friends.  Even now, I think of each of them when reminders pop up in conversations, on Facebook, in places we used to know. 

I remember being in the car, on the way to church, when I heard on the radio that Lady Diana, Princess of Wales, had been killed in a car crash in Paris. I was incredibly sad – more so for her sons and her family than anyone else. I watched her funeral on TV. I watched Charles and his boys as they walked slowly in the procession to Westminster Abbey.  The image of the wreath of flowers from William and Harry on her coffin, with a note that simply said, “Mummy”, broke my heart. That was when I really wept. 

It is completely understandable that people get upset when a beloved movie star, singer or other celebrity dies. 
Someone they admire, respect or aspire to be like has passed away. Their unique blend of personality, talent and beauty, be that physical, intellectual or spiritual) has been lost to those who remain behind. 

Last night the news was that Paul Walker, star of various movies, had died as the passenger in a car that hit a pole and burst into flames. The driver, his friend, was also killed. 

There has been a huge outpouring of grief on social media for Paul Walker, but what of his friend?
There were two men who died in that crash. 
Most likely, there were numerous other young men who were injured or killed in car crashes this past weekend alone. They were important, too. They were someone’s sons, brothers, cousins, friends, boyfriends, employees, students, teammates. Surely their lives are just as valuable as the celebrity?

Many families grieve every week for these reasons.

It can happen to anyone.  It can happen to anyone’s family and friends.
Young men in cars are more likely than anyone else to be injured or killed on a weekend.  

Life is so fragile, even though most of us tend to live as though we are invincible. 

In your grieving for those who have achieved fame for their talent or beauty, please think about and acknowledge the others who remain faceless and nameless to most of us.  They are no less important.  Their families also need prayer, support, condolence and encouragement.

It’s really important that we learn to use our grief as a reminder to make sure that our family and friends know we love them and appreciate them. Create positive, lasting memories so that there will always be a legacy of love when someone is gone. The memories and love are invaluable.

Our legacy of memories and love to our family and loved ones is far, far more important than fame.