Monthly Archives: March 2011

Free Falling

Free Falling


“Grace is the help you receive when you have no bright ideas left, when you are empty and desperate and have discovered that your best thinking and most charming charm have failed you. Grace is the light or electricity or juice or breeze that takes you from that isolated place and puts you with others who are as startled and embarrassed and eventually as grateful as you are to be there.” Anne Lamott


I love almost everything Anne Lamott writes. I discovered her writing by chance amongst the shelves of my local bookstore, just after Sam was diagnosed with Leukaemia. I found ‘Bird by Bird’ in the section of books about writing and went on to order almost every other book she has written.


I have always wanted to be a writer. As a child I had my exercise book wrapped in a ‘freezer bag’ wedged in the highest fork of the backyard jacaranda tree. My writing was safe there, out of reach of prying eyes; and somehow it survived life’s storms for the months that it lived in that place.


After school I would steal writing time by climbing that tree after polishing off half a loaf of raisin bread. On occasion I would also take my opened tin of sweetened condensed milk and my spoon, and balance them in the branch with me as I watched the neighbour’s ferret dash across the fence palings.


After a few moments, the hectic sounds of the traffic on Parramatta Road were silenced as I entered my imaginary world of creative writing. In writing I discovered I could be whoever I chose to be and could go wherever I wanted to go.


I revisited childhood when Sam was diagnosed, because the reality of Leukaemia was too confronting and I needed an escape. In Anne Lamott’s writing I found first a role model and then a friend. Her words resonated with raw honesty and I found a person like me, asking the same sorts of questions about God and faith and humanity.


I decided then that I wanted to be that kind of a writer and committed myself to the morning pages. For more than two years, I have made myself get out of bed to write and as a result I have a complete account of my fears. Somehow through writing you work out what life means and how you are going to get on with it now. It is terrifying to be told that your daughter might die. Your heart stops, your ears ring and denial sets in. You imagine that you fell asleep and that this is just a terrible nightmare. Somehow you plough on. You get on with it. You do whatever it takes but when people ask you questions – you have no answers.


Even now, even though the bloods show there is no cancer, there is so much I do not understand. I look at the asterisks down the side of the clinical pathology report and I wonder what it all means. The asterisks mark abnormalities and the page is full of them, little stars that blink back at me like the nursery rhyme and I walk down the hallway murmuring to myself “how I wonder what you are”. Mostly I do not want to know. By now I trust my daughter’s haemotologist enough to know that he will alert me to anything I must act on. Sometimes the burden of knowing everything is too great for my simple mind.


I am alert, however, and responsive to every physical and emotional need that my daughter has. Even when she says nothing, or makes no complaint, I hear her cry in the pit of my belly. It’s like those first months of breastfeeding when I awoke before the sound of her crying had begun. In those early days of a newborn’s life you discover an invisible wireless connection that is as wonderful as it is terrifying. You awaken to the fact that life will never be the same. You know that this connection is unique to your womanhood and though your husband is caring and kind and loving, there are some things he will never understand. Like it or not, this is one thing that sets us apart as females, that as her mother I will defend her until my death.


Sometimes there are no words to explain what it is like to be a carer looking after an adult child. You don’t even try. You smile and you do what you do. You arrange your schedule to the best of your ability, trying to fit everything in.


You get up early to write because it’s kept you sane these last few years, you arrive at the café with your book so that you can indulge in a little reading. By 8am, you are at work. You are attending a staff meeting, preparing lessons and setting up class for the day. At 9am you are wiping tears, singing and marking the roll. Life rolls on and you delight in the children; but when you check your phone at recess and you see that you have a missed call from a blocked number, your mind goes numb. A weight drops from the back of your throat into your stomach and fear gathers fresh momentum.


This week I was walking with my husband when we came to a car parked by the side of the road. A terrified woman was leaning into the passenger side of her car where her adult son sat. She was desperate and confused as we pulled up beside her, so we stopped to see if there was anything we could do. There in the car was a young man with his eyes rolled back so only the whites were visible and his skin was turning blue. My husband told her to get in the back seat and told her he would drive her to emergency. We discovered later that this boy had overdosed on heroine but it was not late for him, his life was saved.


I can still see the fear in his mother’s eyes. I know that fear. I know that empty desperation when you have no ideas left, when your charm has failed you and all you need is someone else’s light to guide your way. Sometimes in that place no one shows up and you are left with your calloused brokenness. Suddenly the words you have rehearsed on the pages of the morning tumble from your lips unexpectedly. It was just a little push and you find you are over the edge saying the things you had hoped you would never need to say. You have wished for so long that this moment would never come, that things would get easier not more intense, and suddenly you are more aware than ever before that you aren’t really coping with all the expectations of life.


Instead of holding it all together, you opt for free falling. You lean forward, you let go and you roll. You don’t know what comes next. You look for answers in books and you take solace in your reading that “when God told Abraham to leave his country of origin, He didn’t bother to tell him where he was going. He only made it clear that if he was going to fulfil the assignment God was offering him, he couldn’t stay in his old environment. When God only gives us the guidance we need for the moment, it tends to keep us closer to Him.” (Bill Johnson). You decide that if it was good enough for Abraham who became the father of many generations, then God can look after you and your daughter.





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Wordless Wednesday

On Monday the girls in my class were telling me that the tooth fairy used their old teeth to hang as stars in fairyland. I always thought they used them as bricks to build fairy houses. One child told me that fairies lived in mushrooms not houses made from bricks. I absolutely adore the perspective of childhood.

What about you? What did you think fairies did with the teeth?

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Dominoes and Dice

Dice at Narrabeen Beach

I’ve been subscribing to Seth’s email for a while now because I like the way he thinks outside the proverbial box. Today he advertised his new book and the link caught my eye so I thought I would share it with here.

Dominoes and dice seem to be everywhere I look this week, even on Narrabeen beach!

In Kindergarten we’ve been discussing the many different ways to represent numbers so we have played games with pictures, dots, numerals and words. The children are ready to move beyond rote counting and use one to one correspondence. Some can see a group of dots and know, just by looking that the number is five. There are others who already know how to work with the facts of ten to produce more complex equations. Children develop at a different pace but all eventually go through the same stage, building on the foundation of prior learning.

After a week of games and activities I decided it was time to discover what the children have learned and I handed out cards with different number representations. I told the children to find a friend with the same number. It is always entertaining to watch what they do. Some children who were holding the word one, two and six grouped themselves with the children who held a card with three dots or the numeral three. Children holding a word card that said four or five positioned themselves in the group of four and children holding the card that said three put themselves with the children holding cards that represented five. Even though they were wrong, they weren’t really wrong. They had drawn conclusions based on the knowledge they had and were able to explain their rationale for being in the group they were in.

They showed me that they had counted the letters in the word and discovered they had three, or four or five. I smiled and told them that they were correct and reminded them that the card they held was also the word name for a number. It’s confusing but eventually it will make sense.

Sometimes in life it is necessary to explain how you got the answer you have in your head. It enables the other person to see your point of view. It shows that you have thought about the situation and with all the knowledge you have, the decision you have made is the best decision under the circumstances. Sometimes you are not completely right but in your justification you feel satisfied with the answer you gave.

The Bible tells us that by our words we are justified and by our words we are condemned. (Matthew 12: 24 – 27) I’m such a words person, not really a numbers person and I’ve been tossing all this around in my head. The other day my Bible reading was about Abraham when God asked him to take his son Isaac to the mountain and to sacrifice him. (Genesis 22) As I read the story I was trying to imagine what went on in Abraham’s head. Even when Isaac questioned him about the fact that they had the fire and the wood but no lamb for the burnt offering, Abraham seemed unflappable simply answering that God would provide. In a matter of verses, God did just that; an angel of the Lord appeared and said ‘do not lay a hand on the boy.’ There in the thicket was a ram for the altar.

I am discovering that first and foremost God demands our obedience. Even when I am not completely sure why He has me on a certain path, I can hear that he is asking me to trust Him, accept His word and move forward. I know that often I am afraid but I feel Him nudge me forward into faith. Sometimes He wants us to take a ‘leap into the dark, a spontaneous, unpremeditated act without the benefit of experience.’ (Henry Miller) It’s like the kids with the number words trying to explain to me that the word six says three. They haven’t got much to go on and even though their explanation makes sense to me, it wouldn’t necessarily make sense to anyone else.

Sometimes when the children don’t know what to do I hear them asking the child next to them to do it for them. I watch them lean across and write the answer on someone else’s page. Other times when a child is still trying to work out what to record the child next to them leans over and begins to write. They think this is okay. It worked last time. But just like adults sometimes all they want in front of them is a blank page.

There is nothing quite like a blank page. At first you may stare at it, wondering what to write yet it’s emptiness is somewhat refreshing. There is scope for a thousand possibilities or nothing at all. Though you may feel the pressure of the eyes and activity around you, knowing that you are supposed to be recording like everyone else you are enjoying the moment. Your inactivity makes others uncomfortable but for you it is that poignant pause, that musical rest, the silence you’ve craved for so long.

This week when I sent the children to the various activity tables to practise the writing of numbers I discover one little guy sobbing into the crook of his folded arm. His tears are quiet under the conversation and activity of the room so by the time I discover he is crying his page is soaking wet. “What’s wrong?” I finally ask him and he mutters something about the little girl beside him who stares back at me wide eyed. “I was just trying to help,” she explains, “he didn’t know what to do so I did some for him.” I look at the marks she’s innocently made on his page and I hear his little voice anguishing that he wanted to do it his way not her way.

How often in life do people lean across our table and assume they know what needs to be done to fix our problem? How often do we stand speechless not knowing how to defend ourselves as we stare at the marks they have made without permission on our page? When the tears have subsided and time has passed we think about the thousand wonderful things we could have said but maybe our silence is better. Maybe sometimes we have no words to offer, no explanation, nothing to say.

When it comes to your turn to put the next tile down in the game of dominoes, you look at your hand and there is no match. Surprisingly, missing a go isn’t as bad as you thought. You sit back and watch to see who’ll win. There is a crazy maze, a path in front of you on the floor. You don’t know what comes next. The teacher hasn’t rung the bell nor told you to change tables, so you wait and you wonder and you have no words.

You think about Abraham and his willingness to walk the mountain with His son, weighing up the cost it might involve to sacrifice everything but your faith walk has never disappointed you before. You wonder what to say about all the thoughts going on in your head but like Publilius Syrus said, ‘I have often regretted my speech but never my silence’ and you decide to say nothing at all.

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Wordless Wednesday

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