The small things..

It’s been a hot sweaty day at work, you come home and are exhausted. You’re teenager is short and moody at best and your holding your breathe each time you are near her as you are dreading the next argument. Trying not to rise to the occasion or be the ‘bigger person’ or the ‘adult’ as I have been told many times but hey, that’s not always the way we are!

It’s at times like these where we have to appreciate the small things. The things done by others which brighten up your day, your night or even light up your bum…..

Now I know you are wondering what on Earth did you just read, did I intend to write that???

Yes I did and here is why.

It has been one heck of a year and it was a few weekends back where I just felt like I wasn’t managing as a parent. The job was to hard and I began to question myself. I was exhausted, drained and near tears  from the moment I woke up.

My parents, who I had not seen for close to 8 weeks at this stage planned a visit. Arriving on the Friday afternoon and planning to leave on the Saturday.

I couldn’t have asked for better timing. When low, the only cure is family. That night, Friday night, I had to attend the Year 12 Valedictory evening. It was a good distraction and an opportunity to have a break from parenting, even if it was for a few hours. However, I could not wait to get home and have a hug and be reassured by my parents that I was doing okay, that it would be okay.

I was, to put it plainly feeling a little low. Like curling up in the fetal position and just sleeping for a few days.

Arriving home from the valedictory, seeing dad on the couch and knowing mum was upstairs I sighed! All would be okay, I was okay.

I raced upstairs to see if mum was still awake, she was, excited to open her own presents from Peru. I had had them wrapped and on the bed waiting for their visit.

Side note: You are probably thinking, when is she going to get to the point, when will this story relate to the heading of “The small things”.  Well it’s coming….

I was watching mum unwrap her presents and my 13 year old runs in and says, “Mum, go do a poo………..” Yes, those were her very words. I did not understand initially and had to ask her to repeat herself as I feared I had not heard her right.

But no, that is what she meant to say… and in fact, said it again. This time however she added, “or go do a wee, just go to the toilet mum!!!”

I did not think I smelt that bad….. However, this was not why she had said this..

My family, particularly my dad is a prankster. Always finding the humor in all he can and taking every opportunity to prank his children. When I was told, “Pops has done something to your toilet.” My first thought was, has he glad wrapped the toilet?

Instead he had installed a light, one that has a motion sensor and when you enter the room the toilet bowl lights up. Hence, lights up your bum.

It is this small gesture, this small thing, which has made me laugh many a time between then and now. I may be having a tough time, be unable to sleep or settle and without fail, the lighting up of the toilet bowl always makes me smile. It seems easier then to get settled after having an interaction with my glowing toilet!

It was at 3am the other morning, I was struggling to get to sleep and had worked myself into a state that rest was not going to come when I ventured into the toilet. Sitting down, the red glow, slowly changing to blue, green, yellow and white made me smile.

It made me think about how lucky I am to have the family I do. It was this small gesture that reminded me I was loved and even in the tough times it is okay to smile. It is the small things that people do that make everything seem so much less daunting, so much less ‘scary’.

If you do not have one of these toilet bowl light, get one. There is nothing like it. It may seem silly, or will not fit your decor but I can guarantee that those few seconds, minuted and/or hours (depending on your toilet routines) will be done with a smile on your face.

Failing as a parent?

Have you ever just stopped and looked at your children and thought; “am I failing as a parent?” Is this what I have role modelled and is this my fault?

Lately this question has been on my mind. It’s actually the centre of my daily thoughts and responsible for the unease and restless nights!

My parents met when they were young, high school sweethearts in fact. Two people who I have realised I put through hell but two amazing people. I am the strong and determined person I am today because of them. They may have felt like I do now at times I am sure, but I am where I am because of them! Achieving the things I am, travelling the world, Working with underprivileged children, building structures for them that we take for granted. Teaching our parents children to value what they have. Go be thankful!

I am wholesome and appreciative of everything I have because of the parents I have.

I was taught to always open the door for adults, to help clear the dinner table, to eventually pick up after myself. Not to swear, not to talk back (often), to try and not fight with my brother. I was taught to say thank you, to appreciate an education and eventually overtime realise all the money and time that had been spent to give me every opportunity under the sun!

When I found out I was having a child I vowed to be just like them. To bring her up with morals, teach her manners, teach her respect and to be thankful. To appreciate how truly lucky we are to have what we have and be where we are.

Today I question if I have failed as a parent?

Life has not been easy since she arrived. A surprise she was, but a wonderful surprise. Her father and I young and with nothing did the best we could with what we had. However, it was not enough. Single parenthood here I come. This was hard, you learn that you have to be the mum and the dad. You are the one they take it out on, the one who they cry out for at night and the one who is their centre when the world around them is just to much.

You never get a break. There is no such thing as ‘time out’ from parenting, but we get through it, the daily grind… we survive.

Was it that her father and I didn’t work out that I feel like I have failed?

No, that was not meant to be and for many years we co parented wonderfully.

New man on the scene a beautiful wedding but a ‘touch and go’ few years. Counselling, courts, tears, anger and more. I was again a single parent, the better decision, and time has and will continue to be spent rebuilding us both.

Was it this? Did I fail her again?

Today I sit hurt, angry and it feels like always on the verge of tears. The constant back chat, the entitlement and the lack of respect, the teenage years are upon me and again I am doing it alone.

No longer is her father in the picture, nor the man I loved for 6 years. I am again doing it alone. This time there is no co parent relationship, this time there is no one to ask for a break or a night off. No adult to converse with or to debrief after a hard day. Being invited out with the ladies and having to continually say ‘I can’t make it’ as there is only you. Knowing to leave for a night or take a break has to be organised, takes forward planning and organisation and at times you’re to tired to even think about doing it, even when you know it’s exactly what you need.

This time I am truly doing it alone and again I wonder if I have failed as a parent?

I have watched as the children at school have lost respect, lost manners and certainly lost the ability to be thankful! I have watched them grow more entitled and think at the age of 13 they are equal to us as adults. That our life experience means nothing. I have watched them push boundaries I would have been scared to even think of pushing.

I watch this all filter into my home! Is this what I had thought parenting would be like? Certainly not!!

Working two jobs to keep a house over our heads, spending the last cent I have to ensure she has what she needs and there is no thanks. Their is no gratitude. Is this because I have failed as a parent?

All the decisions I have made have been for the betterment of her. Does she understand? No at 13 she doesn’t. Will she ever? Maybe, one day.

All I know is I question if everything I have done and continue to do is failing her as a parent?

Is this parenting? Questioning what we are doing and if we are doing it right? If so parenting sucks and I wish to resign! I wish to put it on hold or get an ‘extension’ as the kids do at school on an assessment when the going gets tough.

We can’t though! We have to wake up, paste a smile on our face and keep going. Hoping that as a parent who works, provides and continues to teach those valuable life lessons will one day be enough. That these hard times and lessons will set up our children with the skills they will need when they leave the safety of our own home.

From the moments when they refused to leave you, huddled between your knees on that first day of school, the tears and the fear in their eyes. To the fighting and arguing as they learn to be independent. You watch as they learn to fail, have friendship issues and go through hard times and have to think it’s going to be okay. That’s all part of life, isn’t it? Part of parenting?

I guess I am not failing but doing what people have done for years. I am parenting to the best of my ability. Putting everything and all I have into it.

One has to hope that’s enough!

Make every second count!

The phone rang this evening, my uncle from South Africa who I rarely speak to was after my father. My mum and dad were in the states, as far as I knew asleep, but unfortunately sad news doesn’t wait.

It was a phone call I never expected, one that rocked me to the core. A parent should never out last their child no matter what.

Just a few days ago I was messaging my mother, again who was in the states, a massive 13 hours behind me asking for advice on how to manage my 13 year old. We were at loggerheads, I was not coping with the attitude and overall ‘teenage hood’.

Never has the thought crossed my mind until tonight that ‘what if I was still here and she was not’.

Throughout the past few years I have been through the family courts, the criminal courts and so much more. Psychologists here for me and my daughter, an abusive relationship which we both were released from, but… I never imagined being without her….. not once did I ever imagine me without her.

That may sound selfish but that’s what life is all about. I will grow old as she does, isn’t that what we all expect?

When we have our children we picture a life full of laughs, tears, anger and much much more. We imagine grandkids running around and ourselves growing old watching this all happen. Worrying about how they are growing up, yet being the most important person in their life.. never do we imagine them passing before their time, before us! That’s just not how it goes!

It was a wake up call, a moment to reflect on just how important the time we have is!

Even when we are annoyed, disappointed or even at a loss we have to take that moment to enjoy what we have. It’s a life lesson, be thankful, be appreciative that we are being challenged, that we are in demand as a parent, as who knows when we may not be!

We only get ‘life’ once, and yes at times we question, the why, the what, the how, but at the end of the day when we wake up whole tomorrow we have to remember it’s a new day. Another day. A gift!

That liberating feeling! (Part 2)

It is surreal to think about where I was not only two weeks ago. Being back in the normal day to day activities of a school teacher, I find myself day dreaming and looking out the window expecting to see the snow capped mountains I became so accustomed to.

I wake with a start hoping, yes hoping, to find myself on the thin mattress, my clothes and hiking pack strewn all over the tent floor beside me.

But, no, I am in Australia, at home, in a bed and my clothes, while still possibly strewn on the floor are not half as dirty as the ones I was dreaming of!

The second half of this amazing journey was completing the Salkantay Trek. This trek is one of the many pathways the Incas took to get to Macchu Picchu. However, the Salkantay is less traveled by tourists and the general public.

“Why you ask?”

Well it is because it is dam, hard! Its a mental, physical and emotional challenge!

It is 5 days of waking early, constant walking, sometimes for 8 hours or more, over mountains, through snow, rain, sleet, amazonian heat and humidity and bugs…. lots and lots of very large bugs!

We talk about Melbourne weather here in Queensland being temperamental but man this was unreal!

Let me take you through the days one by one!

Day 1, the start…… a puffed out 15min walk from the bus and I was thinking to myself, I am already puffed, how am I going to survive the next 5 days…. A bead of sweat on my forehead and the heart rate increasing……..

It was okay though, these were all an effect from nerves and of course the altitude, as we were now sitting at 3800m above sea level. After breakfast in one of those amazing igloo shaped buildings, which mind you are quite warm and are part of the accommodation available for those who wished to rest prior to the trek, we set off……

The main section of day 1, and by far the most challenging section, was passing through the Salkantay pass, bordered by Mt. Salkantay herself. She is one astonishingly beautiful mountain who frequently disappeared behind the clouds only to reappear a minute later!

This is her, a majestic snow capped mountain!

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It took us approximately 5 hours to get to the top of the pass. We had already climbed a number of false peaks, at the top of which we thought, no more! But of course we kept going. Slow and steady, the altitude making it slow and steady!

It was cold, the lungs were burning, the hear rate was up and the legs were protesting, not wanting to take another step!

Finally, as we topped the 4800m crest we started getting wet with rain. The students commenting on how they hoped it would snow! We had mentioned snow was unlikely and we would have to be extremely lucky!

Well within a few minutes this rain turned to sleet and the sleet to snow! For one of our students this was her first time seeing snow, let alone having it thrown at her. It was such an amazing experience.

Lunch in freezing temperatures, huddled in a make shift thatch covered sleeping area, we admired the mountains as they disappeared under a white blanket, completely in awe of where we were and what we were seeing. I was wearing everything I possibly could and was still cold.

After lunch we left the snow capped mountain and began the decent through the pass and into the valley below where we spent our first night, a very cold night.

DAY 1

Day 2 was totally different, we entered the Amazonian forests. The heat, the humidity and of course the giant bugs that come with a rain-forest environment surrounded us. The mosquitoes were the size of small birds, okay a small exaggeration, but the holes they left in us were and still are quite large and very very itchy! We could not believe the change in climate!

Day 2 was 27km of downhill! This may sound easy, but let me assure you it was not! Camp was hot and humid however, a beautiful place to finally make at the end of a long 8.5 hours of walking. Again, something that had become the norm, we were accompanied at the campsite by a number of dogs. The dogs are everywhere. They line the city streets and all the public campsites even on the trek!

Apparently there is no control over their breeding and in some ways are appreciated by the locals as they deter the native wildlife when in camp. Most were clean enough, others were walking rabies infestations. Note to travelers – maybe consider a rabies vaccination!

Day 3 was a massive day. Whilst only 14km long,  it took us just over 8 hours to crest the mountain our camp was resting on top of. From this camp we could see Machu Picchu, so far away, yet so close. There is no better feeling than seeing your end goal, the reason you are doing the trek, the final days reward as you fall asleep exhausted from the days trek.

We still had a way to go yet but it was a sensational feeling.

Playing UNO while we sat inside a small building atop the mountain, thunder, lightening and torrential rain outside. The mist covering the mountains, we as, as a group came together enjoying each others company and relishing in our individual accomplishments.

The conversations often ‘interesting’ and the topics discussed deep and meaningful. This is what I treasure the most, watching the team push through the hard times, smash those mental, emotional and physical barriers and come together on the other side! There is no better reward.

Day 4, we descended the mountain and followed the train tracks which never seemed to end arriving at our base camp after a mere 17km and 8 hours of walking. Again!

Machu Picchu looming ‘very’ high above us, almost unreachable at that point in time. We all took a moment, stopped and said to one another; “How do we get up there tomorrow?”

Accompanied by 9 wild dogs. Each of which were given a descriptive and amusing name. We enjoyed our final camp dinner, cooked by our very own chef. The chef, who had managed to erect a make shift kitchen using a tarp and three wooden pylons. A hot drink and the maize specialty dessert were had before we retired early, knowing we had a 4:30am start.

Day 5, the day we had all been waiting for!

We set off up the 1876 steps to the summit, or the gates of Machu Picchu.

Joined by thousands of others from around the world we entered these gates and immediately, were breathless. The sheer size of the ruins, atop the mountain and in the clouds was unbelievable! Seeing it from below or the side will never truly reveal how amazing the ruins and the expanse they cover until you are looking at them from above!

The Incans were truly astounding people and what they were able to build and construct without the tools we have now is hard to believe. The stability and precision something we do not see today! They used the boulders atop the mountain to build their places of worship, their houses and even a sundial. The wealthy and the workers separated by the vertical gardens all terraced and now covered in plush green grass.

Splitting from the group and taking the time to move in and out of these amazing buildings, look down the sheer cliffs from their windows and interact with the Lamas was something special. The ruins are tightly supervised by a number of locals who all have whistles. You are not allowed to be loud, jump up and down, eat or sit on the ruins. If you do they will blare their whistles and wave at you wildly. The reason you are not allowed to jump up and down is they have had multiple deaths from people doing this and falling off the side and to their deaths. Who would have thought!

For a lot of people, myself included, life can seem to move to fast, be to hard and feel so unsatisfying. Well this was a moment where it felt all to overwhelming for me! As someone close to me said, “Shelley your cup is never half full, it is always overflowing!’ This was an overflowing moment and boy did I feel it in my bones. How lucky was I to be where I was and to have done what I had done. Even better I had done it with other peoples children and given them an experience I had waited 33 years for before they had even left high school!

Was it even real?

It’s funny how something so life changing as a 6 year relationship and a 2 year marriage can feel like it never happened. Never even took place.

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Was it even real?

It happened overnight, and yes a marriage and a relationship, even a long one can literally disappear overnight.

No I am not crazy, nor do I have amnesia and no I am not the only one who thinks this but was it even real!

It’s been 5 months since it all ended and probably just as long since we spoke.

Going from 100’s of messages and phone calls a day to absolute silence!

Deafening silence at times! Lonely silence even!

The only memory of what was are the random Facebook posts that remind me where I was at this moment in time 6, 5, or even 1 year ago.

How weird!

Still to this day people ask me ‘What happened?’, ‘It just ended’.

My reply, I do, and don’t know what happened but it feels like it wasn’t even real!

Life moves past us so quickly, at this moment in time I don’t even remember being married, or what the days were like, the nights and the in between. Maybe it’s a trauma that my brain has decided to file it away so deeply that it’s just a distant memory.

One my mind still tells me may or may not have been real!

It’s sad as well, to lose 6 years, to lose a partner, a step son and all that time but at the end of the day is it sad?

I look at what I have achieved in those 5 months. Where I have been and what I have seen. I look at how my soon to be teenager has blossomed and become the amazing young woman she is today. Almost like she was also trapped. Maybe I was to??

Maybe it’s okay to feel like it wasn’t real, maybe it’s okay to let it go and forget?

Actually it is, it’s okay to let it go!

I have, and boy how life has changed in such a short time!

Life throws us all sorts of curve balls, we have to start acknowledging them and taking from them the life lessons we are meant to have! There is no use being bowled over  by them as we don’t learn how to get back up. Instead, lay down take a moment, asses the bruises and the damage and then begin to plan how to overcome them, how to repair oneself and get up!

REMEMBER to get up! There is no better reward than learning from it!

That liberating feeling! (Part 1)

It’s weird to think that a week ago today I was finishing the final day of the Salkanty trek, ending up at the base camp of Machu Picchu……

Now I am sitting in my all to familiar little abode with the spring breeze floating through the house, the suns out and I feel liberated, free and totally self satisfied!!

The South American trip was two years in the making! It’s hard to believe now that it is over.

I am still in awe of what we did as a team! I mean who can say they have built three fully functioning toilets for a small kindergarten class that were using the small patch of dirt behind their classroom as their toilet??

Well I can and the 8 students who came with me can!

It’s amazing what hard work, being a team and basically pushing through the mental and physical barriers of being exhausted, adjusting to altitude and an overall lack of sleep can produce.

Arriving at the camp, day 2 of being in South America, our view snow capped mountains that stretched for days! Tents, our accomodation.

I was totally overwhelmed with where we were and what we were about to undertake. Would we finish our project in time? Would we all adjust to the altitude? Would anyone get sick? All these thoughts, racing through my head.

I laugh now as all it took was looking out at the view and we had to realise that we had already achieved so much! We had arrived! The rest was easy!

Waking each day at 6:30am, breakfast in the small hall built by a previous team using mud bricks called Adobes, we fuelled our bodies for the day ahead. The hike down to the school was always a quick and easy one! As downhill always is!

When we arrived it was straight to work. Mixing concrete, sifting sand, walking to get buckets of water…. the list goes on! We all became brick layers, sifters and concrete mixers. We watched the wall start to grow, the first line of bricks already down! We worked alongside a local ‘Mistro’ named Sisilo! He was so amazing and man did he work. He NEVER stopped!

Here in the first world we have no idea what hard work is! These guys do!

Nothing happens quickly in a third world!

Over 6 days our toilet block started to take shape! It was extraordinary! Each day we would pack up, dirty, exhausted and sweaty ready for our warm bucket showers.

These showers though, were at the top of the hill we walked down every morning. Now as I said downhill was easy! The uphill was crazy! We felt the altitude when we started the climb! It was only a 1.16km walk, straight up mind you, but it felt like a mountain! Your heart pumping faster than ever before, your breath stolen from you, your legs burning and the sounds of blood pumping in your ears! Altitude is an amazing thing! You can’t see it but you can feel it!

It took us 47minutes on day 1 and I am proud to say by the end of the 6 days we managed to get it done in under 26 minutes! Booya!!!

When given the chance we can do amazing things! From start to finish here is our progress!!

How amazing is that!!!

I have been asked a few times before why would you pay, or make students pay to go overseas to build a toilet. Why make them pay to work?

Well it’s easy! Look at what we achieved! In the first 6 days of this amazing 17 day adventure (see part 2 coming for the second half of the trip), we flew 33 hours, went on 5 planes, discovered the airports, came together as a team, shared stories, discovered the sights of Cuzsco, hiked up and down a hill each day, watched our project transform from one row to ten to over 20!

We watched the small local kids smile as they themselves saw their toilets transform! Our gift to them! This strange group of white ‘Gringos’ who has flown across the world to build something just for them!

We pay to help as without us they would still be going to the toilet at the back of their classroom, in the dirt and the dust.

We pay to show our over privileged children just how lucky they are!

We pay to give back to those less fortunate.

We pay to find ourselves and to build on what we have already!

We pay to build resilience, grit, patience and awareness!

We pay because the benefits far outweigh the costs!

(Stay tuned, this is only a snippet of what was a life changing, mind altering and liberating 17 days!)

Back of the toilet door

Toilets – something we all need, use often and in fact spend a lot of time in.

I wanted to find out on average how long we spend in the toilet so I used the most trusted website – ‘Google’. Here’s what it said.

“Now research has proved that women really do spend longer locked in the bathroom – the equivalent of one year, seven months and 15 days, a month longer than men.

It found men spend an hour and 45 minutes every week going to the toilet – whereas women get everything over with in a mere 85 minutes a week.

The poll of 2,500 people revealed that going to the toilet accounts for the biggest chunk of time spent in the bathroom – an average of one hour and 42 minutes a week, or almost 92 days over a lifetime”

(https://www.google.com.au/amp/s/www.scotsman.com/news/how-long-do-we-spend-in-bathroom-1-189-years-1-1072528/amp)

Is that not mind blowing or what!

Not only are there a variety of shapes, sizes, colours and layouts of toilets but even more interesting is what can be found on the back of them. It seems this is a place where we ‘used’ and I say that now as more often than not we are no longer staring at the back of the door but rather at our screen.

In saying that, I spent time looking at the back of toilet doors and I found them the most interesting places and it was quite an experience.

The back of toilet doors, water closets (WC), Dunny’s, lavatories, loo’s, home offices, big hole and more, are wonderful places! They are places which may enable one to gather knowledge and find out about the area you are living in or visiting. They can be a source of inspiration or motivation.

What you read and see, on the back of the toilet door can vary from articles, photos, newspaper clippings quotes and comments.

I did some asking around. This included adults, children, colleagues and also some randoms. I must say I did receive some weird looks, but these were the most common things found, seen or remembered in or more importantly on the back the toilet door.

1. Calendars – Some of us need to be assured what day or month it is. I have never seen a calendar on the back of a toilet door as of yet. however, one of the things I think about when i visualise a calendar is more the pictures that may come with the dates. Who knows the actual date anymore? That’s what our phones, computer watches and other devices are for! It may be useful for birthday reminders? You can send of a quick text while on the loo. Saves time later, or even forgetting!

2. Times tables chart or even a periodic table – to help educate our young ones. In this age of technology we would need to pry the phone or Ipad from their hands for this to even be remotely effective! I don’t think I ever heard my daughter reciting the times tables when she was on the loo. There is hope though and I think as parents we do hope the small things will make the bigger difference!

3. Historical posters – for example one teenage girl mentioned her father had historical war posters which included images and history of war tanks. This may mean you spend longer in the toilet reading them and I myself would need them to be changed or updated to be informative. Maybe this is to much to ask.

4. A book review – apparently these can be found on the toilet doors at a school. What a cool idea.

5. Signs, more often than not written in different languages, which highlight cultural expectations – such as please do not stand on the seat or how to dispose of sanitary items. These used to be mostly in English. The one I see frequently is written in five languages!

6. How to squat, the right way to do this. These signs usually include weird little stick figures or images which show the correct posture and then the cleaning process which should follow.

7. How to use a ‘bidet’ these are the small fountains which send cold rushing water into weird places! These are cultural and can be found in;  European countries, South American countries,  Middle Eastern countries and throughout East Asia, especially in Japan. They are more commonly found or as a separate structure anymore but have you ever wondered what the ‘hose’ is adjacent to the toilet.

8. Graffiti – this is where you find out who loves who and also who has hurt who. You can also generally make out the differences between being in a public toilet, a workplace toilet and the of course the high end building toilets. I mean if you take the following. One is the back of a public toilet, another from a popular food chain which has lots of people pass through it and the final one is of a toilet door in a high rise office building where your heels click on the marble as you walk in. You can spot the differences.

9. Motivational sayings and life goals.

10. Mirrors – hmmm I might leave that one alone and let your mind wander 🙂

Not only are toilets such an interesting place, where, face it, we do spend a lot of time but they can also when visiting something send our noses into overdrive or make us feel like we are living it up.

Rather than describe them I thought, as the saying goes, a picture tells a thousand words.

Enjoy, these are toilets from across the globe.

A ‘bommy’ or bush toilet used on Outward Bound. A bucket with a plastic bag. These can be interesting, especially when there are 18 people using it!

A public shower and toilet block built by volunteers in Kenya, Africa. This is luxury!The toilet, a long drop. Built by volunteers in Kenya. If you left the light on at night it attracted wildlife you did not want to share your time with.A toilet in Nairobi, I don’t think it was useable.