Shiloh 4 – Of daisies, boots and beaches

We grow.

Confession : At times I have doubted my decision to bring Shiloh into our lives.

Here’s the thing about doubt: it’s allowed. It would be so much simpler if these kind of things were black or white. Night and day. Right or wrong. But 99.99% of the time they are on a continuum i.e. shades of grey. And it’s okay to feel things that are at odds – sorrow and relief/ wonder and fear/ regret and excitement, weight and light.

I’m not sure how (previously) I have skipped the weight of responsibility that owning a dog brings. What was that? – Youth? Confidence? Lack of vision? Whatever it was then, I feel the full weight of it now. And at times I think back a little longingly at the simplicity of just wo cats; no early morning loo runs, keeping gates or doors closed, juggling animal meal times, the duties of clearing the lawn and the rescuing of every item known to man! (We are making progress though on the rescuing – seems Shiloh will sit and allow me to remove the bottle of nail varnish/ pen/ mobile phone/ TV remote etc if I move very slowly, using a stern voice and asking him to ‘wait’. He gets rewarded after this for relinquishing his prize. He is always so proud of his excavations or elevations (i.e. floor to sofa to coffee table!!) and it is SO hard to be strict.

Shiloh knows when he has been told off even when you haven’t told him off and it’s quite hard on the heartstrings watching him quietly walk away and lie in the corner after a disapproving tone has been used.

Of course this sensitivity will hold him in good stead in the Therapy Room and I have no doubt about his rapport building qualities.

So we grow.

Shiloh goes from 3kgs to 11.7 – YES – 11.7 kgs at 5 months (we are beginning to doubt that part of his job description : medium labradoodle). He is allowed out into the big bad world (all vaccinations done) so can do wildly exciting things like go to the dog park/ visit Granny/ have Sunday morning coffee and cheese scone at a dog friendly cafe/ get cuddles at the local hardware store from little girls/ walk the neighborhood like it’s wonderland and go shell collecting at the beach (he already know me so well; he knows I love shells and on our very first beach walk he brought me a very beautiful one which he spat out into my hand with a little drool and sand:)

Shiloh offers the kind of love only a puppy can give ; unconditional, vulnerable cuddle filled love. And he’s a chocolate, fluffy, edible rascal. I love him so.

Sometimes we lie on the warm grass and smell the daisies.

We grow. We. Grow.

Shiloh 3 – What’s in a Name?

We were well prepared! I had signed up with Mark Vette Puppy Zen Training online. We had the crates. We had the cuddly beds. We had the cuddly blankets. We had the food, the bowls and the clicker. We had the cat pheromone calming spray! And we already had the name….or did we?

Whiskey seemed so adorable but we had toyed with a few others – including Bailey. I decided to choose once we met him. When I lifted him into my arms for the first time – he felt like a Bailey but we knew him from afar as Whiskey. 24 hours later we were no clearer.

Eventually my son wrote Bailey on one postit and Whiskey on another and we did a surprise vote.

But on the first loud call ‘BAILEY’ our elderly cat thought we had called her (Haydey)…and after a spot more limbo – we decided on Shiloh.

Shiloh ; Therapy dog in training ; future purveyor of places of sanctuary and peace 🙏

Shiloh 2 – The Anticipation

Whisky looked cute in the photos ; no doubt. And according to his breeder he was the friendliest and most outgoing of the litter. He was also ‘chill’ which was not surprising being that he was from her Therapy line of Labradoodles. The decision had been made, and I shifted into a mixture of anticipation and panic! Was I doing the right thing?/Was this a commitment I should be taking on?/Would he be the right temperament??/ Would my much loved two cats adjust?/ Was I prepared for the restrictions owning a dog would bring?

Lockdown threw a giant spanner in the works and I became anxious that if we did not all go down to a level 2, Whiskey would not be allowed to travel to me nor I to him. But Level 2 arrived just in time to book him on Originair from Nelson – and soon we found ourselves waiting anxiously at Palmerston North Airport. It was quite funny really . . .we peered through the glass like anxious expectant parents. And then – there he was….this tiny, fluffy, shy little ball of love squinting out at us through his cage. He was afraid and overwhelmed. He was cuddled and loved.

Whiskey – therapy dog in the making had arrived.

Shiloh 1 – The Journey begins – To Dog or not to Dog.

As I stepped up to the door of the cafe an adorable dog caught my eye. Tethered to a wrought iron chair was quite the most beautiful dog I had ever seen. As it turned out this cream, fluffy, teddy bear look-a-like was a Lowchen.

Up until then I had been fine with not owning a dog again. The distress we had experienced leaving our Rhodesian Ridgeback in Zimbabwe after we fled the war veterans claiming our farm was burnt forever in my memory. We had believed giving our two year old ‘Hasha’ to another family was the right thing to do. We could not afford to bring him with us. The memory of Hasha throwing himself against the corregated iron gates to get to us as we left nearly broke me and although I don’t know the full outcome, we were told months later that Hasha was still struggling to adjust to town life.

And then there was this bundle of calm and love sitting waiting patiently for his owner to grab her cappucino, and it made me wonder whether I could put my heart on the line once more.

18 months later, after much soul searching I decided that I would. I also decided that I would love to add a Therapy dog to my practice.

Labaradoodles look quite a bit like Lowchens! And by all accounts had the perfect nature for the job. My search lead me to a South Island breeder well versed with providing Therapy dogs to families and other clients. I agitated about the puppies health, their size and even their colour – but ultimately what I knew I needed was the right temperament. A little chocolate boy caught my eye! And there followed a myriad of messages about how he was reacting to people and sounds/how cuddly he was/how calm he was and whether he could be ‘the one’ ! Eventually I put my full trust in the breeder and the decision was made. She had called him Whiskey. And my phone soon overflowed with photos of the puppy I couldn’t touch or see – the puppy miles across the sea – the puppy who could just take our hearts and offer healing to many.

Is your Relationship worth it?

I believe relationships are worth the effort. If there are two willing hearts, who are willing to do the hard work, relationships can be wonderful.

But what does hard work in a relationship even mean?

We think of hard work as ‘putting our back into it’ or working long hours. But I think hard work in a relationship looks a lot more like this :

  • Making an effort even though you don’t feel like it (getting up and making that cup of tea or doing the dishes even though wasn’t your turn or getting up in the middle of the night to heat the heat pack and bring the panadol even though you are in pain yourself or listening to the same old work story!).
  • Feeling, angry, frustrated, misunderstood, unappreciated, unseen and lonely sometimes.
  • Biting our tongue when we know the moment is not right (even though we are!). 
  • Going without what we need at times because we know the other person cannot see what we need or is unable to give it in that moment.
  • Negotiating and renegotiating and giving up some of the things but we would really like. 
  • Giving up a few of our wants and possibly even a few of our dreams along the way.
  • Finding ways to love or accept what our partner loves.
  • Being kind, when kindness is the farthest away from our instinct.

And hard work in a relationship is also:

  • Looking after ourselves (sleep, nutrition, time to ourselves, hobbies and friends away from the relationship).
  • Setting and respecting our boundaries.
  • Knowing our limits and ourselves.
  • Working on ourselves as individuals

And now that I have shared a smidgen of how I believe hard work in a relationship looks .. . Tell me….

Are you ready to roll up your sleeves, jump in with both feet and give it all you’ve got?

If you would like my valued opinion: You reap what you sew. It’s totally worth it.

What if love’s lost behind words we can never find?

Love lost behind

‘What about now? What about today?
What if you’re making me all that I was meant to be?
What if our love never went away?
What if it’s lost behind words we could never find?
Baby, before it’s too late, what about now?’

Words unspoken and words spoken is, I believe, the number one reason relationships fail. And of course, the work that I do is to directly work on this.

Whilst it’s true that hurtful things said can never be taken away, sometimes understanding the motivation for saying them can dull or even remove that hurt. And whilst feeling as if we are getting little response from our partner can make us feel unwanted, when we understand the dynamics of our communication we can better reach each other.

In relationships we tend to mostly exist in a surface loop. By this I mean dealing with everyday stuff and repetitive patterns. We argue about why our partner is late home from work again or how they seem to have two different sets of rules (one for their family and another one for ours). What we seldom manage to get to is how worried our partner is about losing his job or how our partner feels she never feels good enough around her Mother –in-law. Not only do we struggle to get to these conversations but we also struggle to understand the far reaching impact of the feelings underneath on both sides.

‘Shadows fill an empty heart
As love is fading, from all the things that we are
Are not saying, can we see beyond the scars
And make it to the dawn?’

One of the best parts of my job is when I can facilitate a view into the love hiding behind the hurt; when there are experiential moments when a couple can feel the full force of the caring they are longing for. Usually there are tears. Often there is surprise and relief. It’s these moments, fed by an understanding of the dynamics, values, fears and historical role modelling lurking below that provide the fuel to keep working.

‘The sun is breaking in your eyes
To start a new day
This broken heart can still survive
With a touch of your grace
Shadows fade into the light
I am by your side, where love will find you….’

Find the words. I can help.

 

Lyrics from the song What about now by Daughtry.

We don’t need more Good Sorts Jacinda

courtney-clayton-352896-unsplash

Today was a good day. Someone had my back.

Twenty minutes into a couples session I realized that there were some details that sounded familiar.

I paused and looked at the young man in the room. He smiled and said warmly,

“I called you two months ago on a dark day”.

I re-ran the call in my mind a little; his story had overflowed into the phone; his confusion and sadness palpable. I had answered his call just five minutes before my next client appointment and felt out of time but I had done my best. I told him things would get better and that there would be a way through and then I gave him a number. I told him that if they didn’t answer or couldn’t help him today he needed to call me back and I would find someone for him. I told him I trusted him to do that.

I knew I had to hand it on; the ‘it’ he was dealing with: the confusion and fear. Because I am not a super human. I have limits. But my heart sank as I did because the truth is our mental health system is in severe trouble. And people in real need get answering machines or get told the next appointment available is in 3 weeks. Real people. Sitting in the corner of their room clutching the phone and struggling to breathe.

So I said a little prayer. I prayed that the people at the end of that number would step in; that they would do their job and do it well. I prayed that they would have my back.

And my prayer was answered.

They answered the phone. They made it a priority to see him. And within a few hours he was sitting in front of someone who steadied the ground beneath his feet, normalized his fear and helped him plan his next move.

So here he was some weeks later, in my room, with his wife; seeking the specialty I offer (relationship counselling). They had some work to do to pull things together but they were on their way to better days; days filled with more certainty, trust and connection.

I’m not sure how it has become acceptable for Doctors to refer a patient for counselling – and 2 months later it still hasn’t been ‘processed’. I don’t know how these delays have become accepted as the norm with seemingly little fight to change it.

We don’t need 100 Good Sorts going above and beyond and burning themselves out to patch up the few people they can reach. We need a few thousand professionals (and more); Trained, confident, equipped, paid and receiving decent professional supervision. We need to get face to face with the people who need us within hours not months.

Today was a good day. Someone had my back. That’s what we mental health professional need.

The Resilient Parent

aron-visuals-322314-unsplash

Most of us who have flown anywhere will recognize this -“If you have  a child or person next to you who requires assistance please ensure you place the oxygen mask on yourself first…..”.

As a parent this goes against instinct. It also goes against commonly held societal expectations in many families and cultures. We give up a lot for our kids and if it came to it – we would give up our lives.

Of course there is an essential need for the instructions above. If you pass out for lack of oxygen, you are no help to your child at all.

The quality of our parenting is directly connected to the quality of our well being. A tired, ill, stressed or gloomy parent is in danger of producing tired, ill, stressed or gloomy parenting decisions and attitudes. In contrast a parent who feels energetic, healthy, calm and happy is more likely to reflect this in their day to day relationship, attitude and decisions with their children.

Exhausted and at the end of your rope, you walk in at the end of an overloaded work day to discover your 10 year old has been stood down from school. Frazzled and frustrated from a day at home with 2 kids under 5, endless piles of washing and no adult company, the final straw is when you discover your 2 year old got into your make-up. Juggling bags of groceries you realise you forgot to collect your prescription at the chemist but only have 20 minutes to get the tea ready – you choose the tea over your prescription and get no sleep that night.

Life happens. The best we can do is, well…. the best we can do. A wise person once said to me (with regard to decisions I had made as a parent) “You can only do the best you can , with the information and knowledge you have at the time”. This is true. It is also true that at the times I believe I could have done better, there would have been something impacting on me. Something life threw at me – or something I threw at myself.

If we as parents take care of our own needs first, we are wisely parenting. We must take what we need in order to give what we would like. Eat well. Get some exercise. Feed your mind. Feed the part of you that isn’t a ‘parent’. Fill your emotional tank. Get some quiet, some fun and some interaction with peers. Choose commitments well. Paint. Dance. Take a drive. Fill up so you have something to give out. It’s not good enough to say “I’m too busy for me”. It’s not good enough because if your kids indeed come first, they deserve the best you can give.

We  ‘choose’  consciously and unconsciously in every moment of every day. We choose to stay in jobs, relationships, courses or clubs – or we choose to stay out of them. We choose to work through lunch or let friends slip to the bottom of our to do lists. What we don’t always realise is that a ‘selfish’  5 minutes in the garden or lunch with a friend may be just enough fuel to take us through the next parenting moment in our day more joyfully, calmly, gratefully or sanely than if we had never made those choices at all.

“““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““`

This article was originally written for The Guardian Newspaper and Parentline.

Glue for your relationship

pablo-heimplatz-382459
glue  /noun  /   
An adhesive substance used for sticking objects or materials together.
If I could manufacture relationship glue and sell it online, I’m sure I would be an overnight success story. I may even get to retire my imaginary magic wand!
And here’s the thing…….there is a glue for relationships. It’s not available in supermarkets or health food stores. Nor is it available in your favorite hardware outlet. But it is readily available wherever a human being exists.  And here are some examples of that glue in action:
Crossing the divide in a tense discussion and rubbing your partners neck (because he had complained about it earlier)
Or
Saying the cheese toast ‘just hit the spot’ even though it was soggy.
or
Stopping and listening to your partners complaints about the traffic and his boss – even though your day was pretty horrendous too.
Or
Getting up silently and loading the dishwasher, even though it’s not your turn (because she looks tired tonight)
or
Telling him you appreciate him putting the kids to bed (even though he didn’t do it quite the way you would have liked)
or
Saying she looks beautiful (even though she is running 20 minutes late for a night out)
Have you worked out what the glue is called yet?
Its called kindness.

 

It’s so underrated isn’t it? Being kind? But being kind can fix a host of ills. Being kind can build a bridge. Being kind can foster a connection that will weather irritations and ill matched values.

Being kind can turn tense discussions into resolutions just because you reached out – touched her hand/rubbed his neck/ told him he was appreciated/gave her a loving look etc

Kindness is communication. It says ‘I care’. I may not agree. But I care. And in the end. Isn’t that the thing we most want to hear?

When we are treated with kindness it fills us with warmth and gratitude and we feel blessed and we want to give some of that back……………and hey presto……..glue invisibly but with certainty pulls us closer together and tells us there is no other place we would rather be; we see the relationship as a soft place to fall.

Create some glue.

 

Good cop – Bad cop – Wanna swap?

christin-hume-316558

So the kids know right? They know it’s Dad they ask when they want to have a sleep out, in a mouldy tent, on the back lawn, with weather forecasts of 5 degrees and steady rain. And they know it’s Mum they ask at 6pm on Sunday night when they need help with their social studies assignment which is due on Monday morning.

The kids have got you sussed! Whether it’s through ‘personality analysis’ (!) or smart timing our kids are pretty on the ball when it comes to asking for things that they want.

Years back after visiting a friend my son spoke candidly about what he thought she should have done when her child mis-behaved! I remember sitting in silence the rest of the journey a little ‘freaked out’. If he so clearly saw the dynamics of my friends parenting skills – what did he think of mine!

Have you ever wondered how it is that your child ‘sees you’?

We all have a uniqueness that influences the roles we play. Dad might be ‘the emotive perfectionist’ while Mum is ‘the laid back stabilizer’. Mum might be ‘the  soft touch negotiator’ whilst Dad is ‘the firm layer down of the law‘. In all relationships we make space and find our niche. Generally, when this is respectfully done between parents, the push and pull, light and shade of their roles weaves the unique dynamic that makes up their family. Sometimes though we can find ourselves cornered into a role that we no longer want.

The expression ‘he was angry enough for both of us’ explains well how a partner might influence our behaviour. When one person is so proudly the organiser it might not leave anyone else (including their partner) room to be this. Feelings of frustration or inadequacy can step in. Even, as a single parent we have a certain ways we see ourselves – a certain ‘parental identity’ that can disallow us ways of being we might prefer.

How might it be to step away from ‘planned and organised’ and into ‘we’ll go where the breeze takes us’ – even just for an afternoon? Or how might it be for ‘the timekeeper’ to take a break sometimes and be able to hand her watch over to Dad? Likewise it might be good for Dad to come home and find that consequences have already been metered out and he is free to cuddle by the fire with the kids and be ‘just loving’ tonight.

Is there a part of your parenting role you would like to play more often?

Good cop -Bad cop….wanna swap?

—————————————————————————————————–

This article was originally written for The Guardian newspaper and Parentline.

Homeland

farm023
A copper dust swirls like a wake from a boat as the 4×4 pulls in

The sun burns my skin as the breeze cools it
Dust rushes to the back of my throat and I close my eyes
I breathe in the smells, the sounds and the feel of Africa
My son rolls on the lawn with the Ridgeback
And points to a Kingfisher sitting on the electric wire
A swallow sweeps over the veranda diving up into her nest in the thatching
It is a long, lazy, African day on the farm
I hear guinea fowl in the distance and the Ridgeback runs off to chase them
My ginger cat scavengers some sadza from the dogs bowl
The strawberries glisten from the garden spray
I pop one in my mouth – warm from the sun
Damp from the spray – fresh from the plant
Big black African clouds gather on the horizon and
The hot earth begs for a cooling……..I close my eyes…….
…………It is cold and I’m in a rush – I cannot find my keys
The kids on traffic control are wearing bright orange raincoats
A boy drops his ball on the pavement and his Mother reprimands him
Frost sits upon the grass and the sky is dull
We rush into a heated classroom already frosting it’s windows
The children laugh at something said I am greeted with
“How are ya?”
I reply in kiwi talk “Good”
I walk back out into the cold, past the cherry blossoms fighting the wind
The tulips a cacophony of color – the mountains disguised by the mist
Suburbia chatters in voices of traffic, skateboards and dogs..
I stop a moment – gasp in cool crisp air and close my eyes…….
……………A hornbil sits on the telephone wire and a Kudu barks in the distance
A pikanin stands – dusty and barefoot clapping his hands together as I hand him a penny cool
The tractor pulling a trailer of singing women disappears in the dust leaving wisps of voice and beat
The sun beats down and bleaches the red earth 
As rain – like an invisible wall approaches through the maize
I can hear it before I see it
Heavy drops begin to fall and a clean, dusty, choking smell hits my nostrils
The fields rejoice………………..

Like a sound that wakes you; confused and startled in the night
Like the sense you get when you are being watched
Like the image of a bright light that remains imprinted as you blink
Like an echo that rings in your ears long after the sound is gone
We are there
On the grass a boy rolls….into the yard a truck pulls
The sun warms my skin and the breeze brings dust
Dust to the back of my throat
In the long lazy hours
For the rest of our days
We are there
          We are there
                         We are there                                                                                                Boo 2005

Teach people how to treat you

It’s Tuesday morning and you wake. You remember that you have agreed to meet someone for coffee at 8.30 but cannot remember if it is Sally or Melissa. You kind of hope in that split second that it’s Sally. Good old Sally. Relaxed, laid back ‘don’t you stress about it’ Sally. Because here’s the thing… You have an urgent parcel to send off and the post office only opens at 8.30am and if you go to the post office first it will make you late for coffee. Possibly only 10 minutes late. But late. You could (at a stretch) post it at lunch time, but this might mean the parcel will miss its’ deadline.

Getting out of bed you traverse the stairs and imagine being late for Melissa.

You visualize her sitting pertly in the stainless steel and leather dining chairs in the center of the café her eyes darting around at the café counter, the chair beside her and that mark on the table cloth. You can almost hear her tummy rumbling for that un-ordered coffee. You don’t want to keep Melissa waiting….

You have arrived downstairs and your diary sits closed in front of you. Just to tease yourself you visualize Sally. She (conversely) is sinking back into the leather sofa in the corner of the café; a woman’s weekly in her hand; her eyes scanning the recipes section, then travel or perhaps the article on how to write a done list. Two steaming cups of coffee sit at the wait in front of her (one with the chocolate already scooped off) and a large caramel slice with two forks sits obediently in anticipation. Laid back Sally!

You open your diary.

8.30am – Melissa – Café Brie.

Meticulous Melissa. Driven, organised completely reliable one of a kind Melissa.

You smile. You love Melissa; have amazing conversations with Melissa. And she is the first one you would call in a crisis.

That parcel is going to be late!

You see – you love and respect both Sally and Melissa and they have both taught you how to treat them.

Melissa taught you she highly values punctuality. Sally taught you she doesn’t.  You like neither of these women more or less than one another. It’s just that you would have felt quite comfortable keeping Sally waiting but not so Melissa. Interestingly, you would not feel comfortable bringing shop bought Pavlova to Sally’s afternoon tea but wouldn’t blink an eye doing that to Melissa. (Melissa understands you may have priorities beyond a few hours in the kitchen. Sally would say nothing but you know she would feel hurt that you hadn’t put the effort in for her).

Acknowledgement of the day……………you teach people how to treat you….so give that a tweak if you like!