Last year I celebrated a significant birthday. As much as I tried to bury it in a marathon effort and fundraising for refugees, there were friends and family who still snuck in some gift-giving.
I received some wonderful presents from people who clearly know me well. The generosity of my work colleagues blew me away and also their perspicacity in choosing a gift that happened to be on my bucket list – a session in a flotation tank.
Birthday gifts that also made me happy were the many friends and members of the family who generously supported my bid to raise money for the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre. Surely the best birthday presents help someone else in need.
However, the birthday gift that touched me most deeply and for which I was most grateful did not come wrapped in colourful paper.
A few weeks before my birthday, a friend asked if I could babysit their baby son so she and her partner could go out for a date night. I eagerly agreed. With three now-grown sons, time with baby boys is always a joy. With an arrival time set on 6pm, my friend insisted that she provide me with a meal. I argued that it was ridiculous to be going out for dinner and still have to provide a meal and I was more than happy to provide for myself. She insisted again and stated she already had it planned. I reluctantly agreed.
I arrived at the appointed time and was surprised to see her mother and brother there but then inwardly shrugged and decided it must be a family dinner out.
As I stood there, waiting for them to leave, my friend looked at me, smiled and said, “You’re not babysitting.”
“What?” I said.
“You’re not babysitting. My brother is babysitting and we are taking you out for dinner.”
“We’re taking you out for an early birthday dinner.”
I stared at each of them trying to comprehend. Then it dawned on me. And then the tears welled up.
In a year when my trust in friendship had been badly shaken…
In a year when I wondered if my worth lies only in what I can do and not in who I am…
In a year when I felt so confused about how to read people’s motives that I have become increasingly socially reclusive…
…Such a gift was unexpected.
More was in store as I arrived at the restaurant to find other friends part of the secret. More emotion. More confusion and joy.
I received some wonderful gifts from people who took time to think carefully about what I would like and I will treasure them always.
But, in the end, all any of us really wants is to know we are loved and wanted for who we are and for others to want to spend time with us. That is a gift that truly counts.
What is the gift that truly counts for you?
An Ode to PMS
“You’re a shitty human”
Say the voices in my head
They often make me wonder
If I’d be better dead
Men don’t understand
And neither do the boys
They sigh and roll their eyes
And then return to all their toys
They’ll never understand
The monthly torment that I feel
The anger and depression
How nothing feels for real
“Wow, you really screwed that up!”
“You’ll never have real friends.”
“They all find you annoying.”
“You’ll never make amends.”
They mutter and they scream at me
From when I wake til bed
So often I just want some peace
From voices in my head
Supplements and therapy
Have helped just now and then
But mostly I just stagger on
In search of something Zen
I wonder how long will this last?
How long until the change?
How long ’til I stop feeling like
They all think I am strange?
But then I can’t help wondering
If what I’ll really see
Is not that it was PMS
But really it’s just me
I turned 50 recently. Crikey, even writing that phrase feels weird. I’m still 23 in my head.
Yep. I reached the half ton (if you’re a cricketer), the half century (if you’re an historian) and I can no longer deny that I am middle aged (if you’re an anthropologist).
So I have used this somewhat significant milestone to do a bit of an analysis of the previous decade.
I’ve just been through possibly the most life-altering time of my life since puberty.
In my forties… (in no particular order)
I had my nose pierced. (Since given up.)
I travelled with my husband and three boys to 15 countries in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
I coloured my hair for the first time and proceeded to dye it a rainbow hue of various colours over the next ten years.
I went back to theatre and found lifelong friends.
I found a new community singing group and a musical home and family in the process.
I took up running and ran in three half marathons and the Scotland Run in Central Park in New York City. And I got to train with Olympic marathon runner, Steve Moneghetti.
I began writing my own songs. (You can check out some on my Songs page.)
I completed two community projects with World Expeditions, building a bridge in Peru and a school in Nepal.
I bought and learned to play a banjo and ukulele.
I took up crochet for the first time since my mother taught me how when I was a kid.
I became a special education teacher, a job for which I was not previously qualified or experienced but that I found I was good at. And I love it with a passion.
I discovered I can draw. (There’s a whole gallery here.)
I broke six ribs and punctured a lung falling off a wooden box after trying to kill a tiny moth. (That story never gets old.)
I completed the Oxfam Trailwalker 100km challenge twice – in 2012 and 2014. And raised thousands of dollars for Oxfam in the process. (That’s what it’s really all about.)
I took up rowing and then dropped it again.
I lost my father to mesothelioma.
I learnt that I can sing. No, like, really sing.
I became a Great Aunt. (Not that I wasn’t already one but now it has capital letters.)
I started a blog.
I’ve already started building a bucket list for the next decade because I know anything is possible.
Related posts about some of the things in this list that may be of interest:
(Plus any post starring the Flying Beetroot. Use the Search function.)
I’ve been conspicuously absent (or inconspicuously depending on how much you missed me) from the blogosphere this past year. Some of that is due to gaining a part time teaching contract and having my brain preoccupied with how to teach a subject of which I have no real knowledge (Physical Education – wot a laff!). Mostly, though, it is due to a special project I decided to undertake this year that somewhat consumed me not only physically but also mentally and emotionally.
The Mad Wannabe Marathon Woman Project
Since I was reaching a big UH-OH birthday this year, I decided the best way to celebrate it would be to take on a massive physical challenge. Because that’s more fun than a party, right?
Yeah, well, anyway…
Some time last year, I mused to a friend (my Spreadsheet Enforcer of earlier years) that I was thinking maybe of trying a marathon for my 50th birthday. And then I forgot about it. Until January this year when an email arrived in my inbox with the subject line: “Are you really sure???” (three question marks would seem to indicate that the Spreadsheet Enforcer certainly wasn’t) and a training spreadsheet attached.
A part of me was not sure. The rational part. Luckily (or unluckily depending on your view of marathons) most of me is completely irrational so I wrote back “Let’s do this!”
And thus began nine months of training.
There were good times – like gaining back the fitness I’d lost after the GMI (Great Moth Incident).
There were bad times – like the times I would run and cry at the same time as the Inner Critic stuck the boot in telling me I was not a real runner and I had no hope of running a marathon.
There were the highs – like shaving 10 minutes off my previous time for a hilly trail half-marathon I took on as one of my training runs.
There were the lows – like the foot injury that people took an unseemly delight in telling me they hoped wasn’t plantar fasciitis but that it probably was and in which case my running career was over. (It wasn’t and it was fixed with a new pair of shoes.)
Number One Training Moment
Through the wonders of Facebook, I was convinced by a couple of friends to attend a running retreat weekend they were organising on Magnetic Island. Gosh, a weekend in Queensland away from the freezing September weather in Victoria so I could run with Olympian marathon runner Steven Moneghetti? Tough. Tough, tough choice.
It changed my life. Literally. You can read about the impact here.
To add incentive to my completion of the marathon, I signed up as a member of the Run 4 Refugees Team, raising money for the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre. It was something I’d wanted to do last year but realised that if I could save it for a full marathon, I’d be likely to raise more money.
I’ve always found it more motivational to complete a challenge for someone other than myself.
Thinking an early drive to Melbourne with the whole family sounded like not much fun, we booked into a hotel apartment not too far from the start line the night before. It also had the advantage of being able to walk some of the course before the day to determine the best vantage points for the family to cheer on their mad wife and mother.
Marathon Day started early and alone. Seriously, it was less stressful to leave a husband and three boys in bed and get only myself to the start line than have them accompany me. Besides, there was something peaceful about hopping on that tram in the early dawn light with only other runners (and the occasional party-goer just heading home).
At the start line (after a successful last minute visit to the portaloo – only other long distance runners will understand the significance of this achievement), I heard the starter chat to Steve Moneghetti. It was somehow comforting to know he was there. ‘I must make sure I find him at the finish’, I thought.
I stood in the marathon runner crowd towards the back. It was a tactic to ensure I started slowly and didn’t get over-excited and run too hard at the beginning.
The start gun went and we were off. Which meant walking for those of us at the back. I think I got up a jog just after I crossed the start line. Just as well I wasn’t trying to qualify for the Commonwealth Games.
For the first kilometre, I was struggling not to cry. I know this would be normal for the last kilometre, but for me it was the start of the race that reduced me to tears. I was finally here.
I settled into a steady pace, telling myself regularly ‘Slow down. Don’t go too fast early.’ At the 3km point I passed the hotel where we were staying. I looked up at the windows of our apartment, half expecting to see some familiar faces and an encouraging wave. Half expecting because, really, it was only 7.20am. Sure enough, not a sign. Waaaay too early for my male household to be stirring. 🙄
They did make an appearance eventually. Conveniently at the 22km mark at a bit over halfway, just when I needed a bit of a boost. A wave and a cheer and I was off along the waterfront for the next down-and-back leg.
It was on this leg that I met a man attempting the same feat but in his case he was celebrating an UH-OH birthday ten years more than mine. This was an aspect I loved about the marathon – meeting new people, having a chat, mutual support.
The family appeared again around the 30km mark, another point at which a boost was appreciated. I called out, “Feeling pretty good!” and I was. Then. A couple of kilometres down the road, things changed.
My calves started cramping. I ran for a bit and then thought, maybe it would help if I stopped for a minute and stretched. So I did. Big mistake. As soon as I stopped, my whole thigh cramped badly. ‘Uh oh,’ I thought. ‘Nope, just gotta keep moving.’ I hobbled off and once I was moving the cramp in my thigh eased although my calves and feet were still cramping.
For the last 10km of the race, I ran with my calves and feet cramping on and off. I had an interesting running style when the calf cramp would set in but I kept moving, even running up the ‘hills’ they threw into the mix in the last 5 kilometres. I was in pain but still managed something of a grimacing smile for the photographers.
The finish line for the Melbourne Marathon is on the hallowed turf of the Melbourne Cricket Ground. It would be almost impossible not to feel uplifted and excited entering the ground and running a lap of the oval to the finish line. And I did feel it. But I was also tired and I was hurting so my pace remained mostly steady. Until I hit the final straight to the finish line and then could not ignore the Need for Speed. I moved onto the grass and shot past the man running in front of me to fly over the finish line. I suspect I may have spoiled his expected finish line photo but a girl’s gotta do….
Remember how I thought, ‘Oh, Steve’s here! I must go find him after I finish to thank him for helping me complete my first marathon!’?
Yeah. I forgot.
I was so emotional about actually finishing my first marathon, all I really wanted was to collect my finisher’s medal and find my family which is exactly what I did. (Well, after a little incident on the staircase outside the MCG while I was on the phone to my husband to work out where they were. My legs cramped up and I was hanging onto the rail trying not to swear. People were wonderful. Someone gave me salt tablets, another gave me water, another offered himself for me to lean on while his friends spoke to my husband on my phone and then they helped me up the stairs and waited until my family found me. Runners are lovely people…)
And that was it. I’d done it. My nine-month-long Mad Wannabe Marathon Woman Project was completed.
And I was no longer a Wannabe.
I finished the marathon in 4:27:37. Since my main aim was to finish and then secondly to do it in under 5 hours, to have finished just under 4 1/2 hours was more than I could ever have dreamed.
I raised $2384 for the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, by far so much more meaningful to me than the race result.
I met another Run 4 Refugees runner at a 10km a few weeks later (we were both wearing our shirts). I will always feel part of a special community.
I discovered Steve Moneghetti at a trail run recently and was finally able to say ‘Thank you’ for his part in my finishing the marathon.
I spent nine months saying, “This is my one and only marathon. I just want to do one and cross it off my bucket list.”
I’ve just signed up to do the Gold Coast Marathon next July.
Some people are hopeless….
What is left?
When the things you want to do are hampered or denied
by lack of time
by lack of space
by lack of money.
What is left?
When those you love are absent
the one who remarries and moves away
the one who lives on the other side of the world
the one who moves away in search of work
the one who would have understood you best but is gone forever.
What is left?
When the friends you had have been driven away
by hurtful words
by thoughtless actions
by irrational emotion
by a lack of attention and time spent.
What is left?
When the structures that held you up and held you steady
the community of faith
the community of theatre
the community of song
the community of writers
are damaged or gone from your life.
What is left?
When you see yourself failing
as a partner
as a parent
as a child to an ageing parent.
What is left?
What is left?
Only to try and remember
you have a roof over your head and bombs will not fall on it
you have food in the cupboard that will not vanish with the next drought or flood
you have a home and a place to belong instead of languishing in a refugee camp
you have education, healthcare and technology readily available.
What is left?
Gratitude. Wherever you can find it.
Yesterday I wrote a post about being someone who always instinctively wants to help people. I call it the ‘servant gene‘.
Someone left the following comment on my post:
I had to read it several times to be sure it was saying what I thought it was saying. Is it just me or is this person accusing me of bragging about having a servant gene and that I think I’m better than everyone else because of it?
It upset me. A lot. Because one of the key things about those with a very active servant gene is that they never think they’re superior to anyone.
I started going over my post. Was it braggy? Did I sound like I was making out I was better than other people? Admittedly, I’d ended with the comment that those with servant genes are an important part of the community but it had actually taken a lot of effort to include that. If it sounded like I was putting myself above other people, I hadn’t meant it.
I’d never seen this person on my blog before so I clicked through to their blog to try and understand where they were coming from. There was nothing there. It’s a nothing blog. They just have a profile.
So this person just came by and threw a grenade at my house before driving away.
What is it with these people?
You see it too often these days on Facebook posts and online newspaper articles and the like. People say whatever they want, often inflammatory, and then disappear. Drop a nasty bomb and take cover.
If I had presented what was in my blog post as a speech somewhere, I’d be willing to bet that person would never have come up to me afterwards and made that comment to my face.
I just wish people would have a little common decency and stop detonating bombs wherever they feel like it. Not all of us are bulletproof.
Postscript: Amazingly, I’d already considered writing a follow up post about how much this comment had upset me and then the Daily Prompt landed in my inbox. It seemed meant to be.
Post-postscript: I feel better now. 😉
I was born with a servant gene as were my mother and father before me and my siblings beside me. We have met and married other genetic servants and produced children with the same gene.
What does it mean to have the servant gene?
It means that helping others is as instinctive and integral to our being as being right- or left-handed. It means always putting our hand up when volunteers are sought. It means always looking for ways to relieve another’s burden. It means always seeking ways to be of assistance to others whether near or far, loved ones or strangers.
Why do you do it?
Not for gain, that is certain. A quid pro quo or obligation to repay never enters a genetic servant’s head when offering a service. Indeed, the very act of serving, the satisfaction that brings, is our payment. Any offer of reward or payment for service is viewed with embarrassment.
Do you ever tire of it?
No. Never. We may feel tired, as we are often trying to meet many demands, unable to say no to any request, but we never tire of it. In fact, it is often the opposite. A request for help from a friend and the ability to then fulfil that request is likely to be the highlight of the day and leave us in a positive state of mind for the rest of the week.
What are the downsides?
It’s true that we can become over-stretched as we try to meet as many demands as possible. This does not lead to resentment at the imposition but only sadness that we are not fulfilling our full service by being an effective servant to all who need us. Some people do not understand the mindset of a person with the servant gene and will reject assistance or refuse to ask for help for fear of imposing. This also makes us sad because being of service is what fills our hearts and souls with happiness.
How do children exhibit the servant gene?
They are always the ones to attend events to support their school, club, a charity or friends. They take on the bulk of the grunt work in group projects. They make friends with the otherwise friendless kids and invite them to their birthday parties. They stay behind to help clean up. They always help when asked and offer help unprompted.
How do I know if I have the servant gene?
Are you always looking for ways to help, especially when attending events? Do you usually find yourself in the kitchen doing the dishes or staying behind to help clean up? Do you notice when your friends may need help and offer a practical way to be of assistance? Are you always on the lookout for ways to participate in events to raise money for charities or awareness of important social issues? Most of all, does doing these things bring you great joy and satisfaction?
I used to sometimes think that I was cursed with the servant gene but I have come to know that it is indeed a blessing and that we are an important part of any tribe.
Do you have the servant gene? Is it a blessing or a curse for you?
What makes the best of friends?
The best of friends stick with you through the good times and the bad.
The best of friends do not abandon you when life changes.
The best of friends forgive your mistakes, thoughtless words and careless actions. Time and time again.
The best of friends are there for you when you need them even if you haven’t spoken in a year.
The best of friends receive an offer of help with joy and not a sense of obligation because they know that helping them makes you happy.
The best of friends can pick up where you left off no matter how much time has passed.
The best of friends let you know where you stand and tell you to your face when you’re being a pain.
The best of friends celebrate your successes and mourn your losses.
The best of friends never leave you hanging.
The best of friends take a genuine interest in your passions even when they are not their own.
The best of friends can live close or far, see you every day or only once a year but are always your friend.
The best of friends can read between the lines and respond to what has not been said.
The best of friends know the worst sides of you but love you anyway.
The best of friends are a rare and precious gift.
What makes the best of friends for you?
A MOSY News exclusive
Southern Australia, 8 January 2017
Meteorologists are warning the public of a large testosterone cloud that has emerged in a small area of south-eastern Australia in recent weeks. They are unsure of the reasons for the development of the toxic plume but it is assumed to be caused by the cessation of normal activities in the area.
It is not known what health impacts are likely from exposure to the testosterone cloud but medical experts have issued a warning to anyone living in the area who is genetically female and carries the motherhood gene that there could be moderate to severe psychological effects. Such persons are advised to exit the area whenever possible to reduce exposure. Some relief from symptoms is possible through contact with other genetically female persons not affected by the cloud.
Non-residents are being advised to steer clear of the area.
While climate experts cannot yet fully account for the emergence of the cloud, analysis of historical data would suggest that this is not an entirely new phenomenon and there has been evidence of similar developments in the past. In these cases, the cloud has dissipated by early February which would indicate that the reduction in normal activities in the area is the probable cause of the toxic cloud.
Based on such evidence and despite the unusual size of the current development, it is hoped that this testosterone cloud will dissipate by mid-February. The Bureau of Meteorology advises that the cloud should hold no immediate danger to the wider community but that those living in the area should exercise caution at all times in the coming weeks.
There were empty chairs at the Christmas table. Some temporary, some permanent. Some have been empty a long time. Some we are still getting used to.
Others might think thirteen around the table to be a grand-sized party. The table was full and crowded. But the empty chairs were obvious to me.
I sat in my father’s chair. It made sense, as the only one of his children present. But the burden of taking that place felt heavy.
The party was congenial but I missed my natural allies.
Little things were difficult. A discussion of family likenesses to those not there. The bottle of wine my father always bought for Christmas. Traditions replaced by new alternatives.
The grief has been hard this year.
Things were wrong and there was no way to make them right.
I went to the ocean. I felt the cold water on my body, the sting of salt in my eyes and I let the ebb and flow of the pounding waves carry away some of the pain.
But still next year there will be empty chairs at the Christmas table.