Dear Daughters and Sons – The Things that Haunt Us

Many times in my life I have curled up into a ball and wanted to disappear feeling that I just can’t do it – life that is.

About Half the Time:

If I could talk to my younger self in these moments I would like to shake myself and say – Listen Younger-self – half the time when people are judgmental towards you – It’s Them – Not You.

Because people can be judgmental shits.

You just need to read the comments section of online newspapers to see that.

About a Quarter of the Time:

I would say to my Younger-self – It’s Not You – you’re just in a shitty situation. You’re working in the wrong place or hanging out with the wrong group or you were born to the wrong parents (if they were abusive) and you just need to find the people or lover or work place or church or playgroup or gym or café or whatever – where you will be appreciated. Because quarter of the time It’s the Situation and Not You.

The Other Quarter of the time:

I would say to my Younger-self – Yes you were an idiot sometimes – probably about quarter of the time. You can’t avoid it. You said stupid things and did stupid things; you handled situations and other people badly. You could have done sooooo much better.

And in my darkest moments these times come back to haunt me.

Interestingly it’s not the big things that haunt me. It’s not the decisions about who to marry (it took me two goes but I got that right) it’s not where to live or how many kids to have. It’s not the affairs I had (pre-marriage) – though one was regrettable because he was an idiot and another was iffy because he was married. But in my defense he had devised an elaborate con including an apartment, red satin sheets (which should have been a tip off) and a colluding relative to convince me he was single.

It’s the little things that haunt me. It’s where I missed friendship because I didn’t think I was worthy and so I mistrusted what was being offered or didn’t even see it. It’s the harsh words I said without thinking or when I didn’t see something from someone else’s point of view and stomped over their feelings without realizing I was doing so.

But of course curling into a ball and beating your head doesn’t change or help and leads to drinking too many whiskeys so the only thing you can do as mundane and cliché as it is – is to pick yourself up, forgive your own mistakes and other’s mistakes too and try to do better. To remember that at least:

Three Quarters of the Time:

It probably isn’t your fault when things and people go wrong so don’t beat yourself up. And you are worthy of friendship and love so grab it and run with it.

Dear Everyone – The right kind of Slackness

When I had cancer people said the most outrageous things to me. Theses included such wisdom as ‘Oh its Karma‘ and ‘I know exactly what you’re going through because my 94 year old father has cancer‘ and ‘Good things will come out of this‘. Worse and less was said to me. And because none of us know what to say to people in difficult situations like death or cancer these efforts to be supportive were not what I needed

There is nothing good in cancer. I don’t believe in Karma or evil people wouldn’t continuously get away with doing evil things and because your 94 year old father has cancer that doesn’t mean you understand what its like to be 40, with young children and being told you may have 3 months to live.

But none of the people who said these things said them with the intention to hurt me. In fact the opposite was true. All these things were said in love, with the intent to be helpful, to empathise and to be supportive.

So I learnt it is not what people say that should be judged but their intent. I could choose to be offended or I could choose to look at the real meaning which was usually an effort to be kind.

So now I try not to hold unrealistic expectations of others. I try not to judge their words but their intent and I try to cut other people some slack.

Of course I fail often and then I emotionally beat myself up and my husband Pete says, ‘Hey Robbi cut yourself some slack.’

An Embarrassing Confession

Dear Daughters and Sons,

I have a confession to make.

If I think about my life I can straight off think of many books that have changed the way I think or the journey I am on. Lady Chatterley’s Lover showed me that I didn’t have to stay in a marriage with no tenderness. Langdon Gilkey’s Message and Existence showed me new ways to think about God and Life. C.S Lewis showed me that we can imagine and live in other worlds. But there are many, many other books that have had an impact on my life. And here is the confession –

I stopped reading books.

When I got a mobile phone.

It didn’t happen immediately but over the years I started lying in bed at night reading what I can only describe as crap or worse playing games, on my phone even though I soon realised this was impacting negatively on my sleep, my thinking, my brain. And none of it was life changing.

So a few months ago – desperate for decent sleep, I decided that I would put down the stupid phone and buy real books with pages you can feel between your fingers. After all a book costs no more than a few coffees and less than a cafe meal.

And horror of horrors I found I couldn’t focus on more than a few lines without drifting off and losing concentration. I was trying to read Maestra by L.S. Hilton and I gave up after 3 chapters because I couldn’t follow it. This is sad but true. My brain was no longer accustomed to reading. I had always heard people say, ‘Oh I can’t read’ but I never understood what they meant until now. Obviously they weren’t illiterate so I assumed what they meant is ‘I don’t like to read’ which was just as confusing to me. But now it was me.

But I stuck at reading and forced my way through several well (Voltaire’s Calligrapher) and not well chosen books and within a two months I was back where I used to be – unable to put books down and rediscovering the incredible bliss that reading is. I picked up Maestra again and devoured it and despite it not being life changing it was still a rollicking though nasty, nasty yarn.

So my request is this – don’t lose the art of reading and don’t waste too much time on your phones. Reading broadens your mind and the possibilities in your life and if you too have stopped reading to sit on your phones you can reverse this and rediscover the wonder of reading. Or perhaps discover it for the first time.

Dear Daughters and Sons – why I am an Atheist who believes in Church

My Sunday mornings are sacred. This combined with the boringness of singing hymns, listening to sermons, a lack of concrete belief in God and the churches archaic attitude to women and gays is why I no longer go to church. But mostly because my Sunday mornings are a sacred family time, spent in discussion over long leisurely breakfasts with several pots of darjeeling.

In my childhood I spent all day Sunday in church. This included two church services, one in the morning and one in the evening, christian endeavour in the afternoons and Sunday school.

I haven’t been to church for twenty years. But these are the two things I miss most about church. Sermons were a weekly reminder that we are not alone in the human struggle – that no matter what we are going through others are also struggling and weekly sermons encouraged us to be the best we could be in these struggles. Church was a place of community. I honestly hardly know my neighbours but when I went to church I not only caught up with my neighbours, I shared meals with them and was aware of any crisis going on in their lives as the church members rallied around those in need.

Now nothing on gods green earth would get me out of bed early on a Sunday Morning but it sometimes feels that if we could find a way of re-defining what church is, it needn’t be thrown out with the bath water.

Because I know I need reminding each week that I am not alone, I need reminding to care about others before myself and to be a better person and I need a place of community where our family extends beyond just us. I just don’t need religion.

Dear Daughters and Sons – how to not become a hermit in a knitted beanie.

Dear Daughters and Sons,

All my life I have been ’emotionally fluid’ you know – like waves, large ones that roll and crash about without direction. Its gotten worse as I’ve gotten older which is a bummer because I expected to grow wise and become able to control my emotions. Not just grow older. I used to wonder how those older people who lived like hermits with big overgrown gardens and spooky houses became like that. Now I know that over a life – life’s experiences can wear you down, erode away your sense of self worth and faith in others until you want to hide. I could easily be on the road to being the strange hermit, behind the rambling roses, with the tumbling down house. I have been hurt often enough, I have hurt others often enough that I find it easy to drown in waves of self loathing.

I have searched for self worth in many places. I searched for it in my appearance and true, when I was in my 30’s the decade where everyone is beautiful, I felt great walking down the main street of Daylesford in my short short dresses and knee high boots. But now I am too old for short short skirts though never too old for knee high boots. We all will look older one day (unless we are Nicole Kidman) and can no longer rely on youth for self worth. I searched for self worth in sex and I had some fun sex on tables and by rivers with gorgeous men with long flowing hippie hair and even better forbidden sex with men I shouldn’t have been with. But then I met the man I wanted to grow old with and my relationship with him became more important than sex – which was lucky because nothing ruins sex and self worth like getting aggressive cancer and I got that when I turned 40. I searched for self worth in social media even though I don’t really get it and hashtag all the wrong words and send messages to the wrong people. But I realised I felt happy when people liked my posts and became distraught when a men’s vigilante anti feminist group in the USA latched onto me and swamped me with hate mail and I ran and hid.

Lots of things make me want to hide. I could easily be on the road to being the strange hermit, behind the rambling roses, with the tumbling down house. I have been hurt often enough, I have hurt others often enough that I find it easy to drown in waves of self loathing.

But I choose not to become the strange hermit in a hand knitted beanie.

Because what really gives me my sense of self worth is the relationships I have with the people closest to me. These aren’t relationships where we exchange a couple of texts or like each others posts (though these are useful ways of staying in touch on a daily basis with those you love). These are relationships that exist in real time, spent in the real world, with food and drink and old fashioned breaking of gluten free bread. This is sitting every morning with my husband over a pot of tea and coffee. This is knowing what is happening in my kids lives and hearing their voices every few days. This is being honest with my friends about how much they mean to me even if they think I am a soppy loser who might be too dependent and intense.

So daughters and sons, in a noisy noisy world with skinny skinny actresses and models plastered everywhere – don’t find self worth in your appearance. And in a world where thank god it is becoming more acceptable to be pan/trans/bi/gay/straight/binary/non-binary remember that in the end sex is just sex and please remember that texting is not a heartfelt letter, posting memes is not sharing your soul, likes and follows do not mean you are loved or not loved.
What matters is the relationships you are building with those that will accompany you through life and stop you becoming a hermit.

Dear Everyone – Happiness only exists because of Sadness

In my last letter I said that I was starting Day 1 on my road to happiness.

Somehow I got stuck at Day 1 and didn’t get to Day 2 for a long time.

And when I got to Day 2 I didn’t realise I’d got there until I was looking back and was able to say ‘Oh yeah things have got better.’

So have I found happiness on Day 2?

Maybe.

Nothing has really got better – not in a practical sense. I am still struggling to pay my bills. I am still 57. I am still invisible when I go out unless my uber cute 19 year old daughter is with me and then some of the shine on her settles on me just because I am standing within her shine zone. My body is still ravaged by cancer and makes me cry and I still pester my gorgeous doctor Gavin with irrational fears of cancer in my left little toe nail. I still feel crap almost every day from the affects of the treatment. There are still crap drivers on the road that make me use language I tell my kids off for using. Alcohol still makes me fat. Avocados, chocolate, bubble tea and cheesecake still make me fat. In fact anything I really like to eat makes me fat.

But we look for Happiness in all the wrong places.

Because Happiness is not to be looked for. Happiness is not to be found – it’s to be made.

And it can’t be made for an entire life time.

Happiness is only happiness in contrast to Sadness. Otherwise it’s nothing.

Happiness, (and its only taken me 50 years to realise this) is made of moments, some are fleeting moments, some last the length of a holiday.

It is still moments of happiness that fill a life.

The rest of the time we rail and struggle against whatever life sends us just trying to survive and trying to find one or two other people who will bare themselves to us so they can stand beside us as we rail and struggle together.

And then the moments of happiness remind us that life is not just struggle and railing and swearing but it is something else, something we can’t put our finger on that we call spiritual or meaningful or …..happiness.

I have realised that for me my true happiness comes from the moments of connection and sharing life and food and celebrations that I have with those I love, my kids, my husband and my friends or even people I don’t know who drop a line to say they are standing beside me.

And no matter what shit happens to me – those moments keep happening.

So I do have happiness.

Dear Daughters – finding a perfect man – Dear Sons – why you can never be one

Yesterday my husband Pete forgot about my strict baptist upbringing and thought he would try a little role playing with me.

He walked into the kitchen, swaggering in a singlet and shorts and said, ‘G’day Lovvie, I’m Big Bob from Big Bobs massage palour for professional women.’

He didn’t get the response he wanted, I reached for my favourite tea pot, laughed and said, ‘Nah thats never gonna work on me.’

He walked out and a few minutes was back, ‘G’day Love,’ he said, ‘Mick the plumber here to fix your ah plumbing.’

‘Nope – not working,’ I said and kept pouring the hot water onto my darjeeling leaves.

‘Ahh,’ he sighed, ‘what do you want then?’

‘Try – Hi I’m Aiden, I have a PHD in Women’s Rights, I’m super kind and sensitive but also really witty and I work out and I can mend fences, do electrical work and any other tradie jobs you need doing. Got any housework or handiman work I can do for you,’ I said.

‘Wow you don’t want much in a man hey?’ he asked.

SPECIAL NOTE: To all the men who keep writing me hate mail about this post – STOP! This post is NOT about men. It’s about women and the sometimes ridiculous expectations we have of what men can be (mainly instilled in us as little girls by disney movies and alpha men in hollywood movies). Like wise men often have ridiculous expectations of women –  and if we aren’t gorgeous and slim and under 35 we simply don’t exist. And for the record my husband is not slim, nor handy with any tools, he can’t do electrical work, or fencing and he doesn’t have a PHD but he does have a really kind heart, he knows when I want protection (because he is physically bigger than me) and he respects my abilities and encourages me to achieve all I want to achieve in life as I hope I do for him.