Home Learning and Being Okay with Just Okay

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July. Two-thousand and Twenty. The second lockdown in Melbourne had begun. I had no idea how long it would go– the painful months to come of steal rings and five ks. But when our school holidays were interrupted with a call to lockdown, my optimistic and perhaps deluded heart thought that Prep students like my twins would be excluded from any school closures. After all, my boy had already had to restart prep twice. Surely, surely the government wouldn’t insist they do it for a third time?

But they did insist, and I was heartbroken. But more than that, I was scared. Insomnia has never been a particular struggle of mine, but the night I found out I’d be doing home learning again, I lay there for hours in fear and despair. I couldn’t! I just couldn’t.


Why was I so afraid? I done it before and I coped okay. But about an hour into my panic, I realised why I was scared. I didn’t want to let my boys down. I wanted them to have the best education possible and I knew the ‘best education’ wasn’t going to come from me. I didn’t know how to teach kids to read and write. I didn’t know how to be a mum and a teacher together. A few weeks had been ok because it didn’t matter; the teachers would catch them up. But a whole term? That really mattered. I was just okay, and that wasn’t good enough. I was going to fail my darling boys.

And I hate failing.


Fear of failure is the achilles heel of the intellectually competent. I was the academic kid at school, who after a slow start at primary school– breezed through the humanities and the sciences at high school and topped my year level due to my consistency. I’m used to being able to do things really well. And though (like everyone) there is an even bigger list of things I can only do okay, those were the things I avoided. Because if I didn’t do the things that I’m ordinary at, then I’d never fail. 

Of course this is a terrible way to live. It robs you of the chance to try things that take time and effort to master, but which have rewards in both the learning of the skill and eventual competency.

But failure is scary. And the longer you go without failing, the more scary it becomes. Until you inevitably hit something that you MUST do, even if you’re not good at.

Like Home Learning.

Or Motherhood.

For isn’t motherhood the ultimate leveller? When competent, capable women (often) take a break from the jobs they’ve trained for and find themselves drifting on the churning sea of nappies, sleep schedules and contrary opinions. Where every day there is a new failure to pick yourself up from. Breast feeding and sleeping through the night and what-did-I-do-all-day.

Motherhood was good preparation for the ‘I’m just okay at this” world of home learning.

But it didn’t make it any less scary.

So Lockdown Two began, and along with it, the most intense block of home learning I hope ever to experience. Google meets and uploading onto Seesaw and trying to balance my own wish to provide a good experience for my boys with my own exhaustion and needs. Just okay- which of course with my high standards felt like failure. Falling off the bike and getting on it again the next day. And the next. And the next.

A week before home learning started, I’d begun a new writing project. A story where the protagonist’s only path out of heart-break was to grow competent in two skills she was terrible at. I didn’t write it to express the feelings I was experiencing in the second Melbourne lockdown. But boy did they come out on the page! Writing was a cathartic break from stress of home learning time. But it was more than a distraction–it actually made it better. You can’t control your own life, the challenges and even failures you face. But as a writer you can control your characters. Force them into situations where they have to fight their demon’s to get what they want. Make them strong while you are weak. And even borrow some of their strength for real life’s own little unavoidable battles.

My character learnt that competency was not the defining marker of her worth. And I learnt that just being okay wasn’t the failure I’d convinced myself it was.

And so, I pushed on. I was just okay at Home learning. But since I was the only possible teacher, that had to be enough.

Lockdown 2 had a happy ending. Not only did the never-ending lockdown end, but my boys had a wonderful term. When they returned back to school the teachers were thrilled with how they had learnt and grown. But I don’t pretend that was because I was a fabulous. I was still just okay. But it turned out, for that season, their just-okay-Mummy was what my boys needed.

Maybe that’s true for every season.

And now, as I I attempt to once again run home learning- this time with a third child in the mix, I’m reminded that school isn’t just about learning to read, write and do mathematics. It’s about perseverance. It’s about making mistakes. It’s about learning that being just okay, is actually okay.

And who better to teach them that than me.

A Letter to Myself for When I Receive Feedback

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Dear Belinda,

First of all- hugs. Good on you for putting yourself out there, for taking your hard work and risking it out there in the world. It’s a big deal and I’m proud of you. But those hugs aren’t just congratulatory ones. I know you’re hurting. And I’m sorry. Know that the tears and the disappointment will happen, and will keep happening. But also know it will pass.

I think one of the hardest things is the shock. You should be prepared for it, you’ve been receiving feedback for years now, and you know what it’s like. You know how much you have improved, and how helpful it is to find out what’s wrong and how to fix it. That a second set of eyes is crucial for making your work the best it can be. Maybe that is why it feels so strange every time. Because you know all these things, but for a day or two, you turn back into that Year Seven girl, crying because your English Teacher wrote “good grief!” on your melodramatic prose.

It isn’t that you thought it was perfect.  It isn’t even that you now think you’re no good. You’ve been doing this long enough to know that the writers who succeed aren’t the ones who have the most talent, they are the ones who keep improving and never give up.

Really it is about the time. You’ve worked hard and you’ve climbed the mountain and got so far. And then you realise that you have only reached a small peak on the side, and the rest of the mountain towers before you, just as high and difficult as before. You’ve given up sleep and TV and all kinds of things to get this as good as you could, and now there is more sacrifice, more climbing to go.

And all you want to do is throw the story in the bin and pick up another one. As if the problem is the mountain you chose and not the reality that getting better requires patience.

So I’m hear to remind you it’s okay. This is a marathon and not a sprint. And you aren’t in this for fame or money or because you are being forced. You made this choice. You decided that the story, that this sacrifice was worth it. That the view from the heights is worth the pain of the climb. And deep down you know it is, despite your tears.

So Belinda, I will allow you to wallow for a day or two, but no more. Work on other things. Why don’t you write a blog post? Expressing your feelings always makes you feel better.

And then in two days pick that feedback up again. It’ll be like reading something new. All those positive comments will shine out, instead of fading to the background. The things that didn’t work will become possibilities. And you’ll see it.  That new peak to climb. It isn’t that much further to go. And how much better will the view be?

Think what this story you love could become. You owe it to yourself to find out. You’ve got this.

Love Belinda

In Defence of the Socialising on Social Media

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Did you know it is only four months until MasterChef Australia?  I know, because I have been counting it down.  Is it because I miss George, Gary and Matt? Sort of.  Or because my life is presently bereft of parfaits, journeys and food-dreams?  Maybe a little.  But the real reason that May can’t get here fast enough is because of a Facebook group.

Last year, two friends decided that out of respect for their Facebook friends, they would start a group to discuss Masterchef, so their friend’s feeds wouldn’t be clogged with in-jokes and fennel fronds.  The title of the group would be regularly changed over the season to reflect incidents in the show (at the end of the season we voted “I just Khanhn’t Even” as our favourite name). And so our little group was born.  My husband thought it was hilarious that I spent more time looking at my phone than at the television, but the banter was half the fun.  We fan-girled over Samira’s bread making skills, and joked about Ben’s ocka lines.  We laughed at the pretension, all the while being brought to tears as the contestants left the competition.  We had our own virtual mystery-box competition (turns out Snow-eggs aren’t that difficult, who knew?). In our Grand-final thread we easily surpassed one thousand comments.

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My Strawberry Snow Eggs with tuille shell, strawberry granita, and ginger fool.

May and June of 2018 would not go down as the best two months of my life.  At it’s peak, I calculated I had 7 different appointments for my kids in the one week.  Sickness cycled round our family, finding it’s regular resting place on me.  A good friend had moved interstate, another was in the midst of new studies, while another planned a wedding.  It was a lonely time, but not a time where the loneliness could be fix by just going out and being social.  I didn’t have the health; mental or otherwise, to do much more than survive.  But my little Masterchef Crew and our Facebook group made that time bearable.

Social Media gets a bad rap.  With Instagram influencers, Twitter-trolls, cyber bullies and our information being sold to corporations, it is understandable.  And there is something beautiful about communicating away from a keyboard. One of the highlights of the year was a good interstate friend deciding it was time to resurrect the phone conversation.  We talked for over an hour and I could have talked for two more. And I know I need to get my head out of my phone and into the world more often than I do.

But Social Media connections can get a bad rap for being fake.  And yet I have some very real, very wonderful friendships that have grown over the internet.

Many years ago I met a friend through blogging, who introduced me to an online support group.  A group who all were going through the same struggles, and who needed a safe place to vent, cry, and enjoy our own macabre little jokes (#TeamShrubberyForever).  I wasn’t going to meet those women in person, they all lived half a world away.  But they were there for me, and my friendships with them are not fake or inferior because we are yet to met in person.

Fiction writing is a lonely pursuit for an extrovert.  Yet I have friends on almost every continent who I interact with daily, as we spur each other on through the writing game. I remember loving Uni, because it was moving from the small circles of high school, into a wider sphere where there were people who really got me.  I found my squad.  And the internet is an even bigger world to find your squad. If you look in the right places you are sure to find those who share your love of crocheting or anime.

Or who love yelling together at the television set “Just put it in the Blast-Chiller!”

The reality for some friends is that socialising face-to-face is a challenge all the time.  It could be because of chronic illness or social anxiety.  For them, social media is where the real friendship happens.  And it is rude to imply that because those friendships are connected by a keyboard, and not a coffee-table, that they are somehow not real.

2019 should (hopefully) be a very different year for me.  I am looking forward to a year where I can come up to breath.  Where I can go to things, and meet people, and hang out.

But I am also looking forward to May.  Because there is a new world of foodie-fun awaiting me, and I can’t wait to watch it with my friends.

Younger

I don’t remember how old I was when the conversation happened.  Probably still young enough to be eating coco-pops in bed with Nan and Pa when we visited.  But I remember where I was standing, by Nan’s dresser, just below the picture of her when she was a girl.  Those portraits that were closer to a painting than a modern snap.  I think I had made a comment that she looked beautiful or pretty.  I don’t remember my words, but I remember hers, as clearly as if she spoke them just a moment ago.  She pointed to that picture and said “I’m still like that inside.  You might look at me and think I’m an old lady, but inside I’m the same as you.”

I did think she was old, which is funny, because my parents are now older than she was then, but they don’t feel old at all.  Maybe parents never do.  But her words stuck with me because they changed me.  I could never quite look at her, or my parents, or anyone older than me in quite the same way

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.

I started watching the television show “Younger”. It is about a women in her forties who pretends to be 26, so she could fake her way into an entry-level job.  She couldn’t get into the industry of her youth after so many years out of the workforce.  The show didn’t grab me, but as I watched the first episode, I had to remind myself that I technically should be relating to the Liza character rather than her young peers.  But I didn’t.  Twenty-six seems not that long ago.  And yet as tomorrow we tick-over to 2019, my fortieth seems much closer than it did even a day ago.

Inside I feel so much younger than I am.  Maybe it’s because I spend my days watching Disney-movies, putting together lego, and taking parts in imaginary ballet concerts on my daughters bed.  Or maybe it is the strangeness of the SAHM world, where people start again, and the only age that matters is the age of your offspring.

Or maybe, like my Nan, I am just younger.  Younger than I look, or am.  Maybe that is how we all are.  Like the story of the man walking down the street, noticing the old guy in the shop window, then starting because it is his own reflection.

A few years ago I found this dissonance troubling, as I realised the “young people” in our lives no longer saw me as a peer.  I am slowly making peace with that, accepting the change, realising that it doesn’t matter how others view me.  That I am more than a number, an aching back or a new grey hair.  That I am a product of experience, that I am wiser, more objective, and less materialistic.  But still myself.  That as long as my legs will let me, I will be the first person on the dance floor at a wedding.  I will still be unable to put down an exciting novel no matter the time.  I will still walk the beach at sunset, and cry at the sappiest things.  Because those aren’t young-people things.  They are just me.

And now my parents are young and in their sixties, and my Nan is in a nursing home.  But she keeps a box of toys under her bed for the Great-grandkids, and her face lights up at the sight of a baby, the way it always has.  We are both a great deal older than we were.

But not so different on the inside.

The Power of Food in Writing

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My Mum, sister Sandy and I were sitting at a table at the Lake House.  Once a swampy marsh, Alla Woolfe Tasker and her husband decided to buy a block of land in Daylesford to start a Country restaurant using local produce, many years before that was a thing you did.  Now it was one of the top restaurants in all of Australia.

It was in the early days of the Masterchef revolution, and it was like walking into a paradise. The waiters gave a detailed description of every dish and drop, and you didn’t even notice your glass of sparkling water was empty, before it was filled.

Every dish was a production, every sensation on your tongue was carefully orchestrated perfection.

But the most memorable moment was the lamb broth.  It was completely clear and smelt divine.  Mum, Sandy and I slipped our spoon’s into our broth and took a sip.  We all looked at each other, wondering why it was that the taste was so familiar.

“It’s Nan’s soup!”

I don’t know who was the first person to say it, but we all thought it.  The delicate clear broth might have looked world’s apart from Nan’s hearty lamb soup, but they tasted identical.  And in that moment I was transported away from the white table clothe’s and matching wines, and was back at Nan’s dining room table, the fire cracking in the corner, eating soup out of a mustard-coloured bowl, elbow to elbow with my cousins.

Taste is a powerful sense.  Your Grandma’s chocolate mousse, your Dad’s stir-fry, that one perfect coffee.  You taste it again and you are transported to another time and place.  You remember.  And for a reader of a novel, it is an instantaneous trick for getting them into the moment.  A character bites an orange, nibbles on some chocolate, or licks the icing off the cake.  Readers will know those sensation, and it will help them to slide into the mind of the character they are reading.  We might not know what it is like to live in a world of dragons, to run a country, or to climb a mountain range.  But we know what it is like to hunger and to feast.

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Why don’t we use it?

Why doesn’t food get used more in writing?  Partly I think it is because we don’t think of it.  There is so much to do when it comes to putting together a narrative, it is easy to let eating and food slide off the list.  But food is such a key part of human life, and it can be a wonderful addition to your writing tool-box.

So how do you go about using food in your writing?

Food helps you build a World

Food is a powerful tool for world building.  One of the great challenges for writers, particularly of fantasy, is to get facts and information across to the reader without ‘dumping’ the information in a great, dull heap.  But food can quickly communicate various aspects of the story: How poor a family is, how a party works in that world, or the economics of a society.

One of the most powerful examples of this is in “The Hunger Games” series, where Katnis has spent her life desperately hunting to feed her family (as well as putting her name into the reaping lotto extra-times in exchange for food for her family).  Then she goes to the capital, where the food is plentiful and excessive.  The nature of the two communities is highlighted by that contrast.  And when Katnis is asked what she loves most in the capital, she says the Lamb Stew, because for someone who has fought every day of her life to put food on her table, a beautiful dish she doesn’t have to hunt is a miracle.

(BTW, here is a recipe for a Lamb and dried plum stew like the one Katnis loves so much, I’ve made it and it is delicious!)

Food has such a huge influence on a society, it is a wonderful way of communicating a different world.

Food can help you develop character

Food can also be used to show what a character is like.  My Mother tells of her Step-Grandmother, who would never use her hands to eat. Mum remembers watching her eat a chicken wings and drum-sticks with a knife and fork.  With just a little piece of information, you can tell something of who she is.  Is the person health conscious?  A sloppy eater?  Does a family all rush to put as much food on their plate as they can, as if it could all disappear in a moment? Watching a character eat can give you a window into their personality and heritage.

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Food can make you want to visit a fictional world

I am sure I am not the only person in the world who is still waiting for my Hogwarts letter.  And I think part of it is just for the food.  Right up to the point where I realised that enslaved house-elves made the food, I was entranced by those big tables in the great hall, and the piles of deliciousness that appeared every night. And again the food is made all the more tempting because Harry has never had enough to eat up to that point.

The same thing happened as I read Crazy Rich Asians.  Everything, from the elaborate culinary production at Tyersall Park, to the Hawker-market Satay, made me want to go to Singapore.  I made Asian food for weeks in response to all that deliciousness.

Good, interesting, exciting food can draw you into a world, and make you want to be part of it.

A note for Fantasy writers Or How I got thinking about this.

I have always used food in my writing, mostly because I love food (I am one of those people who will be in a good mood all day because I know there is a particularly nice meal coming for dinner).  But I got thinking about this again after a writing dilemma.

A character in my novel was making balls of dried fruit and nuts.  Now, I could do one of two things.  I could give those fruits and nuts completely new names from my world.  That would give the reader a sense they were in another place.  But if those balls are made of almonds and dates, when a character takes a bite, most readers can imagine the sensation of what they tasted like, and it will help them get into that world.

It is a difficult line.

In the end, in discussion with some of my fantasy writing buddies, I decided that ‘made-up’ food should be used occasionally and sparingly.  Yes it can give a sense of other worldliness, but because the reader doesn’t know the food you are talking about, it wretches them out of the world and doesn’t give them that ‘sensation on the tongue’ memory that is so immersive.

But one little technique I’ve notices authors use, is to give familiar food an other-worldly feeling.  You might have a in-world animal cooked into a familiar dish.  You might have food eaten with different utensils, or have the simplest meal of the day in the evening.  In Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight books he has ‘men’s food’ (meat cooked in spicy sauce) or ‘women’s food’ (meat cooked in sweet sauce).  You can taste it as he writes, but you are still convinced you aren’t in Kansas anymore.  Or you might explain a dish without using its our-world name.  You can’t use a term like Boston Bun or Black Forrest Cake in a place without a Boston or a Black Forrest!  But you can eat a Fruit bun with icing or Chocolate and cherry cake!  If a character eats sushi, that might seem too specific for a reader, but they will understand what it tastes like to have rice-balls wrapped in dried sea-weed.

So, if you are a writer, why not think hard about how food and taste can be used in your writing.  It is a small aspect of writing that can make a big difference.

I highly recommend if you are a fantasy writer (or even if you aren’t) that you listen to this Writing Excuses Podcast on Fantasy Food with Elizabeth Bear and Scott Lynch.  It is extremely hilarious as well as informative on this topic.

Also K.M. Allan has an excellent post on writing with the five senses here. Well worth a look!

 

Why do I write?

Why do I write?

As a little girl of five, I decided I wanted to be a famous Author.  I wasn’t sure I had the talent to be a famous singer, actor, or ballerina.  And I loved books.  So being an author seemed like the only avenue I had to fame and fortune (Ha!).  But though the reasoning changed, the dream never did.

Why do I write?

Because I love to imagine.  I still remember the time (I won’t tell you how old I was!) when one of the boys next door caught me pretending I was riding a horse through the ‘Secret Garden’ by our house. It was embarrassing, but it was a profound moment.  Because maybe I was too old to be prancing around playing imaginary games.  But I realised then that I wasn’t going to stop dreaming up stories, no matter how old I got.  Writing lets me hold onto the best bits of childhood.

Why do I write?

I write because that is how I process this world.  By expressing.  Some of that is done verbally, as I figure out what I think by percolating over it during a phone D&M, a cup of Earl Grey, or even as I pray.  But some thinking can only be done by words on a page. I write to think clearly.

Why do I write?

I write because this world is so beautiful and interesting and so are it’s people and when I write there is this extra shimmer to everything because my eyes open up and I see the beauty that is right there.

Why do I write?

I write because this world can be brutal and hard and sometimes it is nice to go somewhere else for a change.

Why do I write?

During University I was writing a novel about four friends.  And one day I picked up an orange, and I found myself wondering how my book-girls would eat it.  And I realised that Mae would peel it and spend a few minutes removing all the pith before she ate each segment, and Kaye would just chop it with a knife, and Annie would peel it and bite off the tip of a segments and slowly slurp out the juice, and Ella didn’t like oranges, but was too polite to say no when someone handed her a slice (and only Annie and the boy-next-door Matty knew the truth).

Those characters became real people to me.  They lived.  That is why I write.

Why do I write?

Because it is the most glorious hobby I have ever experienced.  It feeds my soul.  It makes me a better person.  There are moments of difficult and struggle, and I know I have only touched the surface of the very scary world of writing rejection.

But the highs?  Those moments when a plot idea sails into your head like a gift.  When the characters you love have a moment of insight or triumph.  When a phrase just sings. When an idea becomes a scene, and a plot becomes a story.  When I go to bed early, just so I can lie under the covers and go to my new world for an adventure.

When I tell people I am a writer I often say that reading a book is like watching a video of someone visiting an amazing place.  Writing is going there yourself.

And that is why I write.

 

6 Senses of my Mum

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Taste

There are a thousand tastes, so many years and meals and memories. But if I had to settle on one, I would have to say croissants.  Buttery and flakey and straight out of the oven.  The pastry made the night before, then up at 6am to form it into it’s perfect little crescents, ready to rise then finish baking just before we arrive for morning tea.

“Who makes their own croissants?” My husband asks.  “My Mother.” I answer with a grin.  Mum who plans and kneads and crisps her love into every meal she offers.

Smell

Lady Grey tea.  Not that she drinks it, she prefers the smokiness of Russian Caravan.  It is me who loves the bergamot with a hint of citrus.  But I associate it with her, because whether it is home or on a family holiday, she never forgets to make some for me.

One day she arrived just as I hit my peak state of panic, overwhelmed with one hundred jobs and no clue where was the logical place to start.

“I’ll make you a cuppa.”

“I don’t have time.”

“Sit down.  Have a cup of tea.  It will help.  Trust me.”

And I do.  So we sit, two steaming cups between us, and as we talk the mountain becomes a hill and the impossible is possible once again.

Touch

This is the hardest one to narrow down, but I think it is the brush of a warm scarf around my neck.  Mum aways carries a folded scarf in her bag just in case, and I’ve lost count of the times that she has pulled it out when I have once again mis-diagnosed the Melbourne weather.  Nice to go out in the cold with someone who is always prepared, when your mind is permanently positioned in another realm.

When I was in hospital, ill and trapped and wondering when my tiny twins would enter the world, Mum would visit.  She brought along a half knitted scarf, and as we sat and talked she would work her way along another row.  Now it sits on my shoulders on the coldest days of the year, a happy memory from one of the hardest times of my life.

Hearing

Music.  No one song.  Hundreds of songs.  Ones that played on the CD player while we cleaned the kitchen in-between our dance steps.  Breaking into song half way through a sentence when we recognise a line from a song.  Even my son’s singing, because he is like his beloved Grandma, a sponge absorbing every tune he hears.

Sight

Red.  Bright, exuberant red.  For both of us.  Not just because it suits our identical colouring, but because it is us.  Enthusiastic, optimistic and occasionally a bit too loud.  Like Mother like daughter.

 

But there is a sixth sense.  Not telepathy.  A feeling.  An emotion.  A sense that comes when I see her smile or when I hear her voice on a phone.

Peace.

 

The State of Grace by Rachel Lucas

I am an unreliable narrator when it comes to reviews.

I love things too much.  I have a natural ability to get lost in a world and sucked into a story and it means I sometimes enjoy things more than they deserve.  And while this adds to my enjoyment of life and its experiences, it means you can’t always trust my opinions on things.

I remember watching “The Muppet Movie” with my husband.  The Muppet character was singing “Am I a Man or am I Muppet” and the actor who played Sheldon Cooper appeared in the mirror.  And I began to laugh hysterically and my husband laughed and whispered in my ear “It was funny, but it wasn’t that funny.”  And I grinned back because for me it was that funny and it was one of those times when I thought “I am so glad I am Belinda Grant.”

But even with that caveat I think you can trust me when I say that “The State of Grace” is a superb read.  I cannot recommend it enough.

Grace is a nearly sixteen year-old girl who is on the Autism Spectrum.  She loves horses and Dr Who, has super smell and hearing, and finds everyday interactions incredibly draining and hard.  She likes routine and predictability.  So when her Mother and sister start acting weird,  and the cute new boy at school starts paying attention to her, she finds it difficult to cope.

This book is written from Grace’s point of view and has a real “stream of consciousness” feel to it.  I found her voice so addictive I keep having to stop myself writing in the same style in this review!  Her emotions are very raw and there were lots of both “aha” moments but also moments of guilt when I realised how little I understand of the Autistic experience.

From the very first page you get a sense of what life is like for Grace.

“I’ll be mid conversation and listening and responding in all the right places, then someone will say something on the other side of the room- a snatch of something that my brain will pick up.  I’ll lose the thread for a second, and when I tune back in I’ve lost my way.  And then the other person might- for a split second- look at me oddly or scratch their nose and I’ll start thinking, No Grace you’ve lost it, and by then I’ve fallen even further behind, and I remember that my face has probably stopped making the appropriate shapes (interested, listening concerned, thoughtful- I have the full repertoire, as long as I don’t get distracted) and then I panic” (page 1)

The hardest thing about reading “The State of Grace” is that we are in her head and everyone else is not. And because communicating is so hard for her, and social norms so confusing, she is unable to express what she is feeling.  We are sitting in her head, knowing she likes this boy, but she doesn’t know how to make that obvious, so he is confused.  Or she is sitting in class and can’t listen because of the smell from next doors construction work, but she can’t tell the teacher that and so the teacher is yelling at her and I want to scream “Don’t you get it? She isn’t naughty, she is overwhelmed.”

And that is the power of this book.  I didn’t just get to see inside Grace’s head, I got to experience a tiny taste of what it would be like to be a girl on the Autism spectrum.

One aspect of the book that surprised me is how positive it is. Grace has a team of people who are on her side.  The owner of the stable where she keeps her horse.  Her best friend Anna.  Her sister.  Her Grandma.  And they aren’t just on her side, they love and appreciate her for exactly who she is.  And that isn’t surprising because she is awesome.  This meant that amidst the cringe-inducing mix-ups and challenges there is lots of feel-good “awws…” moments that make it an incredibly uplifting read.

Her Mum is both infuriating and relatable.  She is going through her own drama, and despite trying to do all the right things for her daughter, she is dealing with a teenager she doesn’t understand and she is always letting Grace down.  Her entire life revolves around her daughter’s diagnosis, and Rachel artfully explores her mother’s experience without disrupting the story or taking away from the fact that this is Grace’s tale.

There are some not-so-subtle digs at societies failed attempts to care for the Autistic community.  There are references to her inappropriate therapy experiences, and how there are so many more materials and support for her Mother parenting a child on the spectrum than there ever were for her.

Rachel Lucas, who had previously written adult fiction, wrote this book after both her and her daughter were diagnose as being on the Autism Spectrum.  I heard about the book from an excellent interview in the “So you want to be a Writer” podcast.  You can listen to it Here on episode 166 (it is the second half of the podcast).  In the interview Rachel talked about how there weren’t many books that fit her or her daughters experience and how one day she just heard Grace’s voice talking in her head and the book came very quickly after that.  This is part of the power of the book.  There is lots of information out there about Autism, but the voices of the Autistic are often left out of the discussion.  It is important to hear those voices and that is what this book does.  And as society is only just starting to acknowledge the significant difference between girls and boys experiences of Autism, and having a book that acknowledges the particular struggles and strengths of girls is timely and important.

 

One reason you will find me an unreliable reviewer for this book is because there are people in my life who are on the spectrum and anything that helps me to understand and care for them is like the most precious gold for me.  But that is another reason I recommend it.  I don’t care if you will enjoy the book (though you probably will).  I don’t care if it is beautifully written (which it is).  I just want you to read it, because I want you to experience life in Grace’s world.

And maybe if you do, you can make this world a little more bearable for all the wonderful Grace’s in it.

 

Where you are

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Reflections on a Day at “the Prom”

He is up on his toes, his eyes looking forward at the waves ahead.  His stripy undies sag with the weight of wet sand and water.  “There is another one.  Let’s jump!”  So we do.  My legging are drapped over my shoulders and I’ve stopped worrying about the waves lapping against the hem of my dress.

I’ve stopped worrying about most things.

It didn’t occur to me that the water would be this warm, or that he would want to be in it.  But here we are.  There is no wind, so it doesn’t matter that we are half in and half out.  The sun sits low over the rocks and sends it’s perfect yellow light over the two Oberons.

He is happy and brave.  When the wave knocks him to his seat he stands up and calls out “never-mind”.  As if he is a wave-jumping veteran and not the same boy who barely touched the retracting waves over Summer.

He is getting tired, now he wants to jump up into my arms.  Normally I would say “No, Mummies back will get sore.”  But today I want to hold him as much as he wants to be held.

That night the three guitars come out.  The first few choices are obvious.  “The Boxer”. “Fire and Rain”. I look around the room.  You can spot those with Clarke blood.  Those who married-in might nod and smile and hum the eighties tunes.  But those of us raised by a Clarke brother can’t help singing along.  Seventies and Eighties folk was our childhood bread and butter.

We do Annie’s song.  The words are so simple, and yet always make me a little teary.  Particularly here, where nature is just on the other side of the cabin door.  You fill up my senses, like a late-night wombat hunt.  Like Squeaky beach in autumn.  Like the view from Telegraph Saddle.

We end with Paul Kelly’s “How to make Gravy”.  We can’t go on after that, we are all in tears, thinking about that poor imaginary man stuck in jail as his family celebrates Christmas.

So much of life is looking forward or back.  Waiting until we get to go to this place or experience that adventure.  Voyerising those who are currently where we want to be, or who are doing the things that we long to do.

But not always.  Not this weekend.

Because sometimes where you want to be is exactly where you are.

Four Kids

When people ask me what it is like having four kids under five, I tell them that it is like being a Triage Nurse in an Emergency Department.

You know the one.  S/he is the gatekeeper who decides which cases are the most important.  So when my son broke his arm, the Triage nurse sent him straight through to the Emergency Doctor.  Even though he had only just arrived, the nurse decided his case was more important than Mr Forty with an unexplained rash or Ms Seven with a pea up her nose.

That is my life at the moment.  I am an Emergency room Triage nurse.

Let me illustrate.

I am sitting on the couch feeding my youngest.  Child A says he’s hungry.  Child C says she wants a drink of milk.  Child B wants me to read a story.

I triage and read the story while feeding the baby.  The others must wait then I get child C her milk (because thirst trumps hunger) and then get Child A their snack.

Or the house is a mess and one child is wearing no pants but another child is crying from a bump and the baby needs a change and another child wants to tell me about a bug he just found.

I first comfort the crying child, then change the baby nappy while listening to the bug story, then I find the pants and assist the child to put them back on.  The house remains a mess.

Or One child wants a push on the swing while another is wearing no pants and another wants a drink and the baby is awake.

So I get a drink for the thirsty child and put the baby on the mat outside while I push the other child on the swing but wait I forgot the pants just wait a minute darling I’ll be back in a minute I just need to dress your brother/sister.

And of course, different things take precedent at different times.  If someone is coming over then tidying and wearing pants goes straight to the top of the triage list.

But then sometimes one child is reading a story while another is singing to the baby and another is telling me the names of all the train stations from Belgrave to the City.

And then it is just the best.