My terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day*

 

The dad was screaming at his child. Every instinct in me wanted to run up to the child and whisk him into my arms as I yelled back at the dad.

Then I remembered.

We’d dropped off our eldest at kindergarten for the morning, and the house seemed too cold and lonely to go back to. So my younger two children and I headed to the library.

Normally the library was a place of solace. On Thursday mornings the library was alive with storytelling and great family-friendly activities.

This wasn’t Thursday morning.

I could usually find some books with which to settle my kids at a table within an arm’s distance of me, while I had a quick look at some reading matter a little more advanced than Dr Seuss.

But not this morning.

While I was two metres away from my kids, they started some sort of uproar.I don’t even remember what they did. But I do remember the face of the security guard as he suggested I try to come back another day when the children wouldn’t be so disruptive.

So we headed for home.

But we needed milk, so we popped into the drugstore (yes, we were living in the USA at the time).

We didn’t end up getting milk that morning. The kids caused a racket.

And in less time than it takes to get a flagon of milk and line up in a 20-person-long queue, another security guard came up to us. In his sweetest, deepest Southern-USA accent, he said,

‘Ma’am, y’all need to leave the store. These chillun’ are disturbin’ the other customers’.

Mortified, I grabbed the pusher and the hand of my three-year-old, and we headed out—without the milk.

Our house still seemed cold and lonely, so I headed to our friend’s home, where the kids felt right at home and joined in the activities without fear of being expelled.

As the kids played, my dear friend poured some freshly brewed coffee and listened as I burst into tears and related the goings-on of the morning.

‘… and then … and then …!’

And then I looked at my friend’s face. She’d evidently been trying to keep a straight face, but could no longer hold it in. She burst into fits of laughter.

‘What’s so funny?’ I asked.

‘Well, after all you’ve been trying to tell me about being a Christian, at last I know now that you’re real! This has spoken more to me than anything else you’ve ever said. Thank God you’re human!’

She continued to speak words of truth, encouragement and compassion. Her words were loving, caring, concise and compelling.

She knew us so well.

We were everyday friends and shared most aspects of our lives. So she knew of the stresses and strains on our young family.

She also knew of the unrealistic demands I had placed on myself as a young mum of three young children in a place a world away from everything and everybody we knew.

She was also a doctor, and picked up pretty quickly that at least one of our kids had a fever—something that I’d overlooked. Several hours later, another burst eardrum revealed itself as the cause of my ‘terrible, horrible, no-good, very-bad day’*.

 

As soon as I remembered that day, I was able to think about the dad in the shopping centre in a different light. I was so quick to judge—just like those people in the drugstore. Several of them offered words of advice:

‘That child needs discipline.’

‘If he were my child, he would have had a spanking by now.’

‘You shouldn’t come here if you can’t control your children.’

None of the advice had been particularly helpful, and none demonstrated any form of understanding.

They did not know that we had been up all night with various demands of the children.

They did not know that we were from the other side of the world and really needed somebody to give us a break.

They didn’t know that the child who was being most boisterous never complained of pain, but acted up in other ways. He must have been screaming inside but didn’t know how to tell me.

The people knew nothing about us yet were so quick to judge.

And here I was, doing the same thing.

The dad and the child left the building.

And I felt sorry that I didn’t do anything. I hadn’t given any word of encouragement. I hadn’t offered any help. I hadn’t even given the understanding smile that I’ve since been practising.

I hope it says, ‘Yes, sometimes we do have terrible, horrible, no-good, very-bad days. I understand. I hope your day gets better from here, but I promise not to contribute further to your misery.’

These days I try to keep a bottle of bubbles in my bag, which often is all the distraction that distraught dads need. A dad with those magic bubbles in his hand turns into a super-hero in the eyes of a small child, and in the eyes of judgemental onlookers.

For the times when I’m not armed with bubbles, I have rehearsed some lines which I have actually used, such as:

‘Not a good day? Can I help?’

‘I hope your day gets better.’

‘Would you like me to help you with your trolley?’

‘I remember those days. Is there anything I can do to help you right now?’

I usually receive some funny looks—but, in comparison with being a judgmental, older person with a poor memory and no clue of the cause of anybody else’s terrible, horrible, no-good, very-bad day, it’s worth it!

 

Originally published in ‘The Lutheran’ magazine, September, 2012. http://www.thelutheran.com.au/

 

 

 

* from the book Alexander’s Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very-Bad Day by Judith Viorst

My Favourite Blue, Linen Dress

Last week, my husband missed his favourite trousers.

I thought they may have ended up in the same place as my favourite blue, linen dress – probably in a donation bin at the Salvos.

Applying the Marie Kondo ‘The Magic Art of Tidying’ to my house has been interesting.

At the moment, I’m about half-way through my house – so there are boxes of ‘stuff’, still to be sorted, lining the passages and walls. And the carport looks as though it should be hosting a garage sale tomorrow.

Somewhere in the middle of the initial phase; while I read the book, applied what I could, and two daughters moved back into our house, I lost my dress. Accidentally.

But I found my sanity.

I learnt quite quickly, thanks to Marie Kondo, that if something doesn’t ‘spark joy’ it no longer needs a place in my home. If it does ‘spark joy’, it needs to be allocated a proper home within my home.

If it has served it’s purpose and I no longer need it here, I can give thanks for it, and give it away to somewhere else where it may be useful or loved.

There is a sense of calm and peace that has come over this place as the clutter reduces and rooms become more restful with more space to do what we love to do.

To others, my house may still seem cluttered, I guess.

But I think some of what I’ve experienced has rubbed off on my (adult) kids.

This morning, a small pile of clothes appeared out of nowhere.
Among the pile…my husband’s favourite trousers.

Who knows. Perhaps there will be a joyous reunion with my favourite blue, linen dress.

Two-ice-cream days

It had been a big day. As I put our five-year-old to bed, I asked him ‘Did you have a good day?’

‘I had a great day,’ he said.

So I asked him, ‘Why was it a great day?’

‘Oh mum!’ he exclaimed, as if it were completely obvious. ‘Because we had 2 ice-creams of course!’

 

I guess I was taken a little aback. He’d played all day with almost all of his cousins. His grandparents had showered him with love and his favourite things. It had been a really happy day for lots of reasons.  So I continued the question,

‘So that’s what makes a great day, then …when you have two ice-creams?’

‘Yeah!’ Again he gave that exasperated look that means something like ‘Are you for real mum? Of course.’

He continued though.

‘You know when we went on our holiday and we had ice-cream for dessert and you said we could eat as much ice-cream as we like. That was the best day.’

That was the first day of a recent two-week holiday which included toboganning, whale watching and climbing tall towers, and his favourite part was …ice-cream?

 

Kids have a great way of putting life into perspective. While we are often carried away with making things bigger and more exciting, kids seem to revel in the simplicity.

How many children are swamped by technological gizmos and are still bored, only to find delight in simple pleasures such as digging in the dirt, splashing in water or stirring the cake mix?

How often does a toddler delight in the paper wrapping from the Christmas present rather than the present?

 

Especially if life has been too hectic lately, why not take a step back today and turn off the television, DVD and I-pad?

Then steer your kids in the direction of a pile of dirt, a stack of boxes or some water and plastic cups, jugs, funnels and implements from your kitchen and see the wisdom in simplicity.

Oh – and don’t forget the ice-cream!

 

Originally published as ‘2 Icecream days’

in The Lutheran, 24 July 2006, Vol.40, No.7

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

School Daze: Settling into School Life

‘Mrs Hahn, I didn’t think this would happen in your family!’

I can still hear the words of our principal when my child (who shall remain nameless) threw their body down onto the ground in the middle of the school driveway, arms and legs flailing, refusing to walk home.

I had decided that it would be good exercise to walk home with my child after their first day at school. When I think about it, that probably wasn’t one of my better ideas.

Though eventually enjoying school, each of my children struggled with the stresses and strains at the beginning. One cried from separation anxiety—made worse by their mother hanging around to try to calm the hysteria. Another asked to be dropped off at the kerb so they could walk up to the school alone — only to return to the car to ask us to open the very heavy front door of the school.

At the end of the first day, from more than one child we heard, ‘There’s no point going anymore. I didn’t learn how to read or write.’

What I learnt in the process of beginning four children in three different schools I’ve shared with other mums and dads who have all said, ‘It’s so nice to know that it’s normal!’

Hints for beginning school that I’ve learnt so far:

  • Beginning school is tiring for all concerned: A more regulated structured day, as well as little bodies and brains that struggle to keep up with each other’s demands, is much more than we can expect of anybody without experiencing some teething problems.
  • Little bodies that are beginning school need lots of rest, lots of love and lots of energy replenishment.
  • Learning, making new friends, trying new things and growing is hard work. So it’s important to plan your child’s day so that she can rest and ‘chill out’ after school and replenish energy.

Our family found it helpful to have a supply of yummy, easy-to-eat, healthy snacks in the car, to restore a little energy supply and get us home without too many tears. Another family I know walked home with picnic food, stopping at a playground along the way to eat, rest, play and relax.

A comfy chair or bed at home, and having ready a supply of favourite storybooks and a milkshake or smoothie for the children to sip while I cuddled and read to them became a safe haven for them (and me) for the first few weeks of school. It also helped to create great memories by giving them devoted time to share the joys and frustrations of their day.

  • It’s worthwhile to resist ‘play dates’, extra-curricular sports and other activities after school until little bodies have become used to the increased demands of school.

In our family, we decided to plan that we had specific nights of activities, and other nights of rest. We also restricted each child to one sport or physical activity such as gymnastics or ballet at a time, and one musical instrument. It’s not only exhausting for kids to be taxi-ed all over the district, but also exhausting for their parents. 

  • Sticking to familiar and established routines such as baths, bedtime stories and prayers helps children to settle and relax for a good night’s sleep, and helps them to have control, knowing that not all of life has changed.

Many schools adjust their schedules for school beginners by having a mid-week day off, having shorter days for the first few weeks or having naps during the afternoon. If you feel that your child needs an occasional ‘early moment’ and would benefit from an afternoon nap, don’t be afraid to negotiate with the teacher to pick him up at lunchtime:

  • Keeping in touch with the teacher is about the best investment you can make, as far as their education goes. 
  • After school is not the best time to go shopping!           
  • After the excitement of beginning school wears off, many children come to realise that they are stuck there!

Be prepared for the end of the honeymoon period. Anticipate ‘tummy aches’, sore heads and sore toes (even if imagined, all of these are very real to your child) and have suitable strategies planned. While being sympathetic and loving, it is also possible to be matter-of-fact and deal with the situation confidently and appropriately. In our home we have often used the same strategy I learnt from my mother: ‘I’m sorry you’re not feeling well. You obviously need some more rest. Why don’t you go back to sleep? I’ll pull the curtains and make sure it’s quiet and dark so you can sleep. I’ll check to see how you are going later on.’

Importantly, the child needs to know she is taken seriously. If she is genuinely sick or needing to catch up on sleep, she’ll soon be back to sleep, and it will become obvious in other ways that there is a genuine illness. However, if the ‘sickness’ is her strategy to stay home, a morning in bed resting without television, games or books is very likely to inspire a quick recovery by recess time. And sometimes, little bodies just need to have a rest.

  • We found that celebrating ‘getting bigger’ helped our children to accept the changes more readily; by going on special weekend dates alone with Mum or Dad; having extra responsibilities, such as helping with the shopping by using the shopping list; or even being able to stay up a little later than younger siblings.
  • Remember that there is definitely somebody out there (probably at your school) whose child has outperformed your child’s tantrum.

Registering discontent is normal and healthy — it even seems to be part of a 4–6-year-old’s job description. It does not mean you are a bad parent, but it does give you the prompting to learn new strategies as your child grows.

Listen to your child. Ask how they feel and acknowledge their feelings as important. Avoid asking ‘WHY?’* Instead, ask something like ‘What happened?’

*’Why’ is a tricky question to answer if you’re a child because it opens up many more questions – and you can get into trouble for not answering the right way, or according to the adult’s expectation.

  • Your child’s teacher will be able to reassure you about particular behaviours you may be worried about and can also suggest ways you can work together to help your child to settle into school life.

If you speak with other more experienced parents you may also be reassured that your child is not the main contender for the Academy Award for melodrama!

 

Originally published as ‘School Daze’ in The Lutheran, February edition, 2008.

Money Matters: teaching kids the value of money

Mum’s birthday was approaching. I decided to give her a surprise and buy her a present. On my way home from school, I took a slight detour—via the main street. Boldly I walked into Eudunda Farmers, chose a lovely perfume and took it to the shop assistant.

‘Book it up, please!’ I said as I signed my very grown-up eight-year-old signature in Mum’s ‘book-it-up’ book. The shop assistant was most helpful and gift-wrapped the lovely present. I went home, gift in hand. A few days later I gave the lovely gift to my mother.

As I remember, Mum was very gracious. She said ‘Thank you’ and then asked where the perfume had come from.

Then she explained that ‘booking it up’ wasn’t all there is to paying. She would have to go to pay the shop, and we would have to go without something else because we didn’t have enough money to just ‘book it up’ whenever we felt like it.

But she knew I’d done it with the best of intentions, so we would call it ‘squits!’ this time.

But I was not to book anything else up without arranging it with Mum first, or I would have to pay for it myself.

I learnt a big lesson that day, and I think Mum did too, because at around the same time she began to give us a weekly allowance, so we could actually learn to save, spend and learn the value of money.

These days I work in a church setting, where we regularly hand out emergency food parcels. Some people are in need of help because they are experiencing a tidal wave of circumstances beyond their control. We are privileged to be able to help them with food and refer them to other services.

But others have never learnt the skill of budgeting, problem-solving or having to plan beyond today.

In February, when the Christmas sales have been forgotten and the payments begin, these people are likely to return to us because they can’t pay for food, gas or electricity. We’ll be told that their payments to department or electronic stores have been due this week. And very often, those payments are more than their income.

They’ve simply never learnt the ‘book-it-up’  rule—that anything bought on credit is not really yours until it’s paid for, and that you have to pay for it somehow.

As parents and youth leaders over the past few decades, Chris and I have learnt that different kids, different personalities and different life experiences lead to different attitudes to money.

We’ve tried to enable our kids to learn about money in small, manageable amounts while they’re little. By the time they’re adults we hope  they’ve learnt about managing money in a way that will protect them from the world’s lies, ‘You need this for your life to be fulfilling’, ‘Get this and you’ll be happy!’, ‘More is better!’

We want them to have experienced the consequences of handling (or mishandling) money before it means that their car is reclaimed or they get a bad credit report.

Where possible we’ve tried to relate kids’ money management to real life.

We’re not in favour of paying kids for jobs that simply need to be done in a family. In every family it’s important that we work as a team. If somebody doesn’t empty the bins or feed the dog, somebody else suffers.

So, rather than earning money to do ‘team’ jobs, our children have received a ‘salary’—an agreed fixed amount. But if they don’t pull their weight, they get charged.

It speaks pretty loudly to an eight-year-old when you hand him his allowance and then ask him to pay you back because you made his bed, emptied the bins or fed the dog, which were his jobs. It also helps teenagers to appreciate the value of reward for effort if they are expected to pay their sibling for doing the dishes, or pay for a takeaway meal for the family if they didn’t take their turn to cook.

Salespeople are taught the tactics of putting something in a customers’ hands for them to ‘feel’ ownership; the same principle works with allowances that have to be paid back.

Once our kids reached high school we gave them a debit card and transferred money into it regularly. To get the debit card they needed to present us with a budget which included clothes (except uniforms and sneakers), youth, Christian giving, savings, sports fees and phone credit (no going out if there is no credit on your phone; it’s a safety issue).They needed to demonstrate accountability.

We’ve also had a rule in our family for years that we don’t purchase on impulse. If somebody decides while we’re shopping that they simply ‘must have it’, they need to think about it for 24 hours before we buy it. Usually it is forgotten by the time we leave the shop. That rule has saved us making lots of poor decisions!

One of our children had her heart set on a game of Cluedo and had been saving for it. When she saw it advertised in the junk mail she asked me if we could go to buy it.

‘This is such a good sale. It’s 30 per cent off. Couldn’t you buy it and I’ll pay you back?’

Stored in my memory banks was the ‘book-it-up’ rule. So I came up with an alternative plan—lay-by. I explained how lay-by works, and we went to the shop to set up an account in her name. The shop assistants took time to explain all the details to our eight-year-old. For the next few weeks my daughter paid about 50 cents a fortnight, until she had paid in full.

What an accomplishment! She’d paid for an item herself, recognised its value, and only received it when it was really hers.

To have a real-life understanding of how money works is something that is important to children. It gives
them experience, teaches them problem-solving and risk assessment, and hopefully will prepare them for life in the big world where, unfortunately, money does matter.

Postscript: The author reserves the right to give a false impression of being a perfect parent. She’s not! Ask any of her kids!

 

Originally published in:

The Lutheran, 2010, February edition

The farm in the front yard

2013-09-07 17.22.18

Chris has been busy gardening. He grew up on a farm, and he is the true-life evidence that you can’t take the farm out of the man. He loves it!

Our half-pug dog Shelby loves to help him. Wherever Chris has been digging, Shelby loves to dig too. And wherever something lush manages to grow (and is not too prickly), Shelby sits on it, as if to give her approval. We can’t get cross at her because she looks up at us with her big, brown eyes, wagging her tail as if to say, ‘Thank you so much! This is a lovely new throne for me!’

Gradually our small backyard has been divided into two domains: Shelby-friendly territory, and the garden. Currently there are all manner of fences, netting and even satay sticks protecting Chris’s precious garden from one small, aging, curious and territory-protecting Shelby. But somehow Shelby still manages to pick Chris’s peas.

2016Pic.ShelbyBev_n
Shelby – photo by Bev. Eckermann

By wangling her half-pug half-snout into whatever angle the fencing allows, Shelby grips onto the nearest pea pod. If it’s a snow pea, she’ll eat it all. But if it is a snap pea, she grabs the whole thing, deposits it on the ground in front of her and shells it. Very occasionally she won’t be able to get the last of the peas that are left in the shell. But she is determined. So she takes the entire pod into her mouth, somehow manages to extract the peas, and spits out the rest. Perhaps she could qualify for Australia’s Got Talent.

I too love gardens. A couple of years ago, inspired by a ‘metre-square garden’ book, I prepared a metre-square in the front yard. I had visions of having a Vietnamese salad garden in my one-metre square. In my head I had it all planned, and off I went to the local garden shop to purchase my seedlings (and have a cup of tea and scones). Evidently I was gone long enough for Chris to see that I’d been digging, so he decided to help.

When I returned, instead of my perfect metre-square ready for picture-perfect planting, half the front yard had been turned into a ploughed field. To write down in words what I felt, in a way that would not embarrass my dear one, is too tricky. Let’s just say that one of our teenagers refused to have any of her friends over anymore. She was already ready to leave because of the possums that had taken up residence in our roof and wall cavities. Now she was disgusted that our front garden had been turned into a farmyard.

Thankfully, Chris and I had grown together long enough for everything to be okay. I could recognise that he had done what came naturally to him. His love language of ‘Acts of Service’ had kicked in and, combined with the gardening and physical activity, he’d had a great afternoon. He was justifiably proud of his efforts.

I, on the other hand, had to swallow the words that had crept to the front of my mouth. In the past I would have said something like, ‘What did you do that for? You always do what you want! Why didn’t you ask?’

A blessing of being married for a couple of decades is that through doing, getting it wrong, forgiving and then trying again, we’ve learnt that our marriage certificate is not a certificate of mind-reading. I hadn’t told Chris about what I had envisaged. How then could I expect that he: had any idea about the book I had bought, would ever think about planting a Vietnamese salad garden, or ever had heard of the concept of a metre-square garden? Fortunately, I had learnt (the hard way) the blessing of choosing to hold my tongue.

So, for a season or two, we had what looked like a farmyard in our front yard. Inside renovations and the eviction of our resident possums altered our daughter’s attitude, so she no longer felt the compulsion to leave. And life was a little too busy to worry about pumpkins replacing petunias. The farmyard survived, and so did our relationship.

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One day, I visited the home of some dear friends. In their front yard were garden beds of pretty flowers and lovely foliage. When I looked more closely, I saw that the foliage was in fact different types of lettuce and herbs. Tomatoes were beautifully staked and attractively presented. Their garden looked gorgeous, as well as being practical. I asked our friends if Chris could come to see their garden, and they were gracious enough to invite us over for pizza.

If a picture paints a thousand words, a garden speaks an entire book to a garden-loving husband. Given a way to combine his love of gardening with his love for his wife, he has now spent weeks redesigning, digging, composting, paving, pruning and planting our front yard, so that now it is both pretty and practical. Yesterday he and I together put in the last touch: spreading lovely mulch among the freshly planted pansies, petunias, cyclamens and gazillion bulbs that he had divided, sorted and replanted.

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In pride of place are his meticulously varnished garden stakes, proudly supporting his precious peas, which are pleasing to the eye and safe from the snout of our pea-plucking pug.

 

 

Originally published as:

‘Shelby, the pea-plucking pug’ in The Lutheran, July 2012, Vol46, No6, P214-215

Priority Number One

I read in a leadership post the other day, that in order to get where you want to go, you have to prioritize and let nothing get in your way – especially other people.
Yesterday, I read about putting your ‘future self’ as a priority.
So, today, I made my list of priorities, in accordance with the unwavering directions of the leadership coaches.
I began working towards Priority Number One.

The phone rang. So in the next few minutes, my daughter will arrive here, crying.

Where is leadership then?

In this mother’s heart, mothering is the leadership path I will take; today, tomorrow and into the future.

In the words of John Lennon’s song ‘Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans’.
I’ll be truly living – not fighting against the plans I may have made, but believing that what I choose to do today is the best I can do to show love – and that must always be my priority.

The Possum Diaries (From Facebook posts)

[email protected]!!!!
A week or so ago, we discovered a new possum hole in the wall behind my quilting cupboard. This morning I decided to check whether they had left it alone – and especially that they hadn’t decided to nest in my stash.
There was a 6″ x 6″ hole (twice as big as last time) and inside was/is a sleeping full-sized [email protected]!!! Visions of Colin Thiele’s books coming to life .Do any greenies have any ideas how we can evict probably up to 5 families of possums from our house? There are already 2 possum boxes in the trees within 20 metres of our house, … We have poorly fitting concrete tiles which shift – or get shifted by the possums. All the neighbours have the same problem.If they don’t move out, I might just have to
Oh Poo!
RIP possum which has decided to die in our bedroom wall .
And RIP another one – perhaps the one I was laughing at a couple of days ago because its backside was sticking out into my sewing room, has died in the sewing room wall – or just left a dreadful smell…..Chris’s gyprocking skills will be used to their utmost today I think – as will our paint matching skillsWe can’t see where they are getting in! And the Possum man requests aren’t getting through. He might be a bit busy methinks.Memory Lane candle place at TTPlus will be getting a visit from me today for de-stinking the house.

 I have an addendum to the book…

“the very hungry possum” who ate the walls of the Hahn house.

How can a day be so full of contrasts?
Possum mischief and yukkiness
to one of my favourite things – Singing and playing piano for a bunch of people at Strathmont with the Salisbury Lutheran Ladies Guild. I had a lovely time…hope they did too! I hope they’ll have me back!
NIMBY – I have always tried to resist being a NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) – BUT as of today, I’m becoming a NIMRAP (Not In My Roof Anymore, Possums). Hope the neighbours don’t mind too much – or should I take out shares in the company who are sealing our gutters?
24 hours without the sounds of possums in either the roof or wall cavities. Hoping the whiff of something I smelt yesterday was the result of the dog’s belly-ache, and not something stuck inside the roof…If this gutter-sealing works as a possum antidote, the 2 companies will be getting referrals here

Julie Hahn was feeling annoyed.

Apr 15, 2015 12:18am

Well the possum saga continues…Now in Noah’s wall
Dear fellow possums, The renovations are going splendidly. After months of hard work, our outlook suddenly grew from dark and dingy, to expansive, colourful – and, unfortunately, noisy. The humans do not take into consideration our sleep requirements, and bang on the walls during the day.
Today, the humans added an extra room to our palace. It is quite decorative, though not very private. We believe it must be a particular eating place since they have kindly placed an apple into it. We actually preferred the extensions with sky-lights that they had in place last week. But they were faulty – and only allowed us to go out at night. Somehow we managed to lock ourselves out of our own apartments.
Never mind.
We made alternative arrangements and our kind neighbours showed us other entry points which we have been utilizing since then. We’ve begun working on another section for Mama possum and her little baby.
Unfortunately, the humans keep thumping. So much for the sleep. Oh well. It’s time to go out to meet the other neighbours. Good night.
2015-04-18 23.07.07
Dear Possum friends, The humans have been very kind. The latest addition to our room was furbished with lovely fresh apple which was delicious. While I was eating, one of the humans popped up to say hello.
I didn’t realize until then that the new room was indeed a possum gymnasium, complete with obstacle course. The degree of difficulty factor was not too much for me on the first attempt.
Having decided to abandon the second attempt when the human shone his shiny bald head into our apartment I waited until the noisy humans had settled for the night before I made the third attempt to retrieve the apple. To my great delight the human head had rewarded me with more apple. However, my gymnastic ability had gone and I discovered that I was stuck. So I made an enormous racket and woke the humans. I didn’t expect that they would transport the entire gymnasium out to my favorite tree and release me. Freedom! If you’d care to join me, try for some of that lovely juicy apple! It gives you quite a trip! Bon voyage!
All clear! No possums and no health worries either! Thank you AquaGuard for sealing our gutters with extra-tough anti-possum stuff, and Thank God for Doctors and medical treatment.
Update on the pitter-patter of little feet. Having hired a very expensive possum removal company, and having installed much more expensive (but evidently effective) gutter guard (Aquaguard), Chris made a friend by giving some lovely fresh apple, then removed the cage from the house and opened it on the back-lawn.
The possums have not only stayed out of our roof, but there is no current evidence that they are coming into our yard at all. It seems that if our roof is no longer a holiday destination, they’re not interested in visiting at all.

You can probably see that the possum who took longest to depart from her luxury upstairs apartment was not at all shy. She came right up to us as if to say
“So long – and thanks for all the (apple).”

 

Possum Antics

 

‘Ssh! Be very quiet. Come with me.’

My husband Chris gently took me by the hand and led me to our son’s room. I hesitated at the door, knowing that our home had recently hosted at least one family of uninvited furry guests which had eaten through the tiles in the adjacent laundry.

‘It’s not mice … or …?’ I asked, wincing and not daring to name what I dreaded more than mice.

‘No. Trust me. Ssh!’ he said.

He went over to look behind where our son’s pillow usually lay — uncovering a hole in the wall that I’d tried to forget about and we’d all tried to ignore. It had been temporarily covered up with several layers of board and a pile of books.

I looked from afar with trepidation. Chris went right up to the hole in the wall and signalled for me to follow.

There in the hole was a pile of soft grey fur, still attached to its owner — a sleeping possum. Chris poked the possum. I could envisage a frenzy, like I’d read in Colin Thiele’s novels about a possum ravaging the house. But our possum just rolled over and continued its sleep.

The nurturing, maternal greenie in me went, ‘Aaw! Isn’t that gorgeous!’

But the rest of me — the part that likes to be at least in some control over the order of the household — was already experiencing a state of mortification at having found mouse droppings in the laundry. This had been exacerbated by Chris’s discovery of a mouse-house in an old sneaker we kept for crabbing expeditions.

‘I’ve had it! We need to move. We need to sell or we need to bulldoze this house. I can’t take it any more!’ I yelled — out of range of the sleeping possum.

At about the same time as we discovered the sleeping possum in our wall, I made a discovery of my new favourite TV program, late on Friday nights. ‘60 Minute Makeover’ is an English television series in which house designers revamp homes in 60 minutes real-time. Teams of people with strict and detailed instructions invade a home, often while the owner sits next door sipping a cup of tea. In 60 minutes, up to four rooms are renovated — gutted, painted, carpeted. In one episode an entire bathroom was renovated — with a little tiling that still needed to be completed after the episode finished.

I dreamt of the ‘60 Minute Makeover’ team coming to my house. There were so many things that had deteriorated. Several rooms had non-functioning lights. There were at least six holes in our gyprock. There were holes in our floors. Ceilings dripped water by the bucketful every time we had a decent downpour. Different coloured patches of paint decorated the walls where creative young adults had waited while their mother decided — or, more precisely, didn’t decide on the best colour for a makeover. And all of us were suffering from lack of sleep due to possum parties in our walls and ceiling. The house had become a place we all wanted to escape from rather than a place of refuge.

Life’s priorities in other areas had taken over our care of the house. Our lack of knowledge of home maintenance had meant even further deterioration due to procrastination: Where do we start?

In what I can only put down to a God-incident, the book I was reading at the time was Women Who Do Too Much by Patricia Sprinkle. On the day of the sleeping possum, I read: ‘… I became more and more overwhelmed by the chaos. One day as I sat hopeless, considering the mess, our kitten walked daintily into the room, sat down, and looked at her dusty paws in distaste. Then she gave me a withering look that plainly said, “You could at least sweep!”’

Inspired by the kitten’s wisdom, Chris and I decided to take a step — even if it was a baby step— to alleviate our possum problem. Chris phoned our friendly neighbourhood gyprocker and paid him for an impromptu lesson in repairing gyprock holes. An hour and a half after he began to repair the holey walls that had plagued us for years, Chris finished.

Motivated by the ease of doing that job well, once he had the equipment and knowhow, Chris ventured down to the local hardware store to purchase metres and metres of gutter-guard mesh. Several hours later, he climbed off the roof and said, ‘We’ll see what happens!’

None of us remember what happened because we slept through it — the first night for years without the interruptions of thumps and bumps and possum fights. It’s amazing how much less grumpy a whole family of Hahns became after the possum eviction. For the first time for a long time, we were almost happy to stay in our house.

Since then, we’ve made more changes — some minor, some major. We’ve even saved up our pennies and paid professional renovators to come in and make our house more family-friendly. I enjoyed watching them, just to see that everything that painters, tilers, carpenters and plumbers do happens with little steps. It is while the tradesmen take meticulous care in their little steps — the precision of measurements and preparation, hammering in each nail, grouting every tile — that big changes happen.

We’ve learned lots about making house changes. But the most profound lesson was from that kitten. Sometimes it’s making the first little step that leads to bigger accomplishments.

 

First published as ‘Minute Makeover’ in The Lutheran, November 2011 vol45 no10 p379

SMS Reply YES

To anyone who has made and kept annual specialist appointments, our hats go off to you. They require the skill of an orchestra conductor to co-ordinate and choreograph.

First up, you have to remember them. That means having some system of diarizing events that occur only once a year.

That might seem easy to those of us who have reliable computer systems, with even-more-reliable personal assistants. And easy if your reliable computer system doesn’t crash, leaving you completely out of not only diary records, but also, all contacts.

Or easy if you’re happy to carry around not only this year’s calendar, but also next years, committing yourself then, to march around the world with two calendars/diaries, or an electronic version and back-up paper version which will not fail, but may not be conveniently next to you, or within the vicinity of a working pen, when you arrange a visit with Aunt Mary.

So, you end up double-booking other events, vowing to yourself to keep doing the double-shuffle between paper & electronic gizmos each night, or each morning

…until your child phones in distress and needs to be rescued, or the husband calls and announces that he is stranded at the beach because while he was swimming, some needy person has taken the bag that he left on the beach complete with his clothes and car-keys.

And somehow, the diary gets ignored and so do several appointments that you may have been looking forward to but can no longer remember.

IF the office of the specialist is particularly effective at communication, they may have a system of reminders – such as the one we received last week with an option of replying with an   SMS – REPLY YES, or calling to make a different appointment time or date. Sounds easy enough?

Until you remember, within 24 hours of the appointment, that despite the hospital’s Emergency Department having made the initial diagnosis eight years ago, the specialist requires a referral from the local GP – who in all likelihood has never met the patient, but needs to refer the patient who he’s never met, to a specialist he may never have heard of, to review again the situation that the specialist has diagnosed and may/may not have informed the GP about – if in fact the GP is available, and his computer system has not crashed – which, in this particular circumstance, has happened.

Eventually, you are able to make an appointment to see unknown GP who will make referral about unknown patient to unknown specialist about unknown condition – and all the boxes are ticked for the government to approve Medicare payment with the assurance that their system is preventing the specialist from over-servicing.

As parent you also need to ensure that the other parent is informed with adequate warning so they can arrange the morning off.

The child, who is also now old enough to not want to visit and undergo the annual testing regime unnecessarily and remarks ‘If I am a fascination to them – then they can at least ask me!’ also needs to be informed of appointment with new GP and old specialist.
And the school needs to be informed that the child will be late for school to which they respond, ‘Could you please inform your child that they need to report to such and such a place when they arrive then?’

Of course I can.

So, in total,
An SMS to say YES means

Phonecall to husband
Phonecall to GP who has lost computer, so could we please check to see it’s absolutely necessary
Phonecall to specialist to see if the visit to GP is really necessary
Call back GP to make appointment
Inform child of appointment tomorrow
Inform child of appointment with unknown GP today
Inform school of child’s late arrival
Inform child of what to do on late arrival
Then, at last, remember to pick up the referral letter sometime between the GP appointment and specialist appointment (during business hours) and take it to the specialist in the morning.

So, those who doubt that being a parent-at-home gives valid Professional Development and work-experience may be interested to follow around a parent in the process of negotiating a simple annual specialist appointment. They may begin to understand why parents do not find it simple to Reply – YES.

It’s MUCH easier to just respond to a pre-booked annual appointment

SMS REPLY – NO!