Do caterpillars fear becoming butterflies?

Three years ago, I had everything I’m supposed to have: a great house, a husband and pigeon pair of kids, a Peugeot station wagon in the driveway, a huge wardrobe.

I cried myself to sleep every night.

I thought something was wrong with me, because none of it was making me happy.

In among the vast amounts of things that make up what we call a “successful life”, I never felt so completely lonely.

I wondered, Is this IT? Is this all my life is? Is this who and what I am? Shouldn’t it all mean more?

I know a lot of people go through the same processes I did. Some people might call it a mid-life crisis.

I call it my awakening.

Caterpillar

Fearing the chrysalis

Here I am, three years on. My huge house is sold – we’ll be leaving it all behind very soon. I’m taking my first steps into the void.

I’m separated from my husband, and I’ve found a new partner.

I’ve sold, given away, or thrown away about 90% of my possessions.

I have a capsule wardrobe of 33 items, or less.

I’m truly happy, for the first time since I don’t know when.

I feel calm, at peace, even while at the same time I’m scared at where this path of minimalism and simplicity is leading me.

I don’t know where I’ll be living even two months from now. I don’t have a job waiting for me. My life lacks security.

Despite the fear, I’m okay with that. I have faith in myself and I believe that I will work everything out.

Do caterpillars fear becoming butterflies?

Big changes – huge changes – are scary. But they’re necessary in order to grow and learn as human beings.

Becoming a minimalist, where I was a consumerist or maybe even a maximalist before, is a huge change. I’m flying away from everything I know, everything our society teaches: that more will make us happy, that material wealth is satisfying, and that what our neighbours think truly matters.

The truth is, there is no such thing as enough, if you base your joy in things. There never will be enough. Enough doesn’t exist. Never did.

But if we stop, listen, breathe, and take time to reflect on what truly makes us happy – if we face our fears head on – then we might find that our own personal enough is quite a small amount after all.

Monarch butterfly Peter Miller

Monarch butterfly by Peter Miller.

Kids and social media

Kids are going to use social media, whether we like it or not. And sometimes I wish we could go back to a world before teen sexting and Snapchat and Tinder, but we can’t.

So as parents, it’s our responsibility to teach our kids to navigate social media safely. We can hide our heads in the sand, or we can teach them to use it responsibly, learning to be ethical and sensible online citizens.

I know a lot of parents, me included, are wary about letting our kids – of any age – loose on the internet. But we can’t ignore this huge part of modern life, and if we don’t teach our children how to interact safely and sensibly online, they’ll behave online in ways that could hurt them and their future careers, as well as potentially hurting others.

So I think we need to teach our kids, talk to our kids, and educate our kids๐Ÿ™‚ It’s our job, and we need to do it right.

Is there a right age for social media?

A lot of kids are on social media younger than the various companies’ own recommendations. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Musical.ly and Pinterest all have an age requirement of 13. For Vine, Tinder, Kik and Yik Yak it’s 17. YouTube is 18, or 13 with parental consent. Twitter has no formal age requirement. I believe that asking kids to wait until they meet this age requirement is appropriate, because it teaches kids that rules matter.

Talk about why your child shouldn’t have accounts on these sites before the required age and, if you want, make a promise to open their accounts together when they meet the age requirement i.e. on their 13th birthday.

In the meantime, open accounts for younger children on other, child-friendly sites, and step them through safety online so they’re ready for larger, older social media when they meet the age requirement. School websites and games machines are a good place for kids to start with technology, and there are plenty of safe apps and games for kid-friendly devices.

I strongly recommend the site Commonsense media for reviews of apps and social media sites as well as movies and other media. It covers safety as well as age-appropriateness, and is worth a look.

Personal safety and privacy – some tips

The first thing kids of all ages need to learn is to protect their own personal safety and privacy.

  • Never post their real life name, address or date of birth online. Not ever. Not even for Facebook (even though it asks quite forcefully!) or Google. Not for any form of social media.
  • If advertising and cookies can be turned off, that’s a great idea. Explain to your child the very true fact of the internet: if there’s no cost to the service, then you are the product. Ask them to think about the ways in which social media might be making money from their membership. What do they think of this?
  • For Facebook and other similar accounts, I strongly recommend accounts use the child’s real first name (i.e. “Jacob” or “Rosa”) so their friends can find them, plus a fake family name that is generic and very common (“Smith”, “Jones”, “Peters”, “James”). Their friends will soon learn how to find them online, but a fake name helps prevent identity theft, as well as preventing potential employers from doing searches for them in the future.
  • Profile pics should always be group pictures, so that while friends can identify them, stalkers and online creeps cannot.
  • Use 1st of January as a generic birthdate on all social media that requires a birthdate (even if that is the child’s genuine birthdate).
  • Keep friends and “follow” lists on Facebook, Instagram and suchlike locked down where possible.
  • Ask children to “friend” trusted adults – aunts, uncles, friends, other parents and guardians, and other members of the family that you know and trust, and yourself on all social media they join.
  • Teach kids to keep all social media posts private and locked.
  • Teach kids not to friend anyone they don’t know in real life.
  • Write passwords down in a paper notebook and store in a home safe or locked drawer, so that in case of loss accounts can be retrieved. Keep a separate notebook for each child.
  • Ideally, open the accounts together, so that kids new to the various social media sites can learn with you. If you’re not familiar, you can learn together. If you don’t have an account on any site your child wishes to join, create an account of your own there and become familiar with what the site is and what it does, and what risks it may present.

Family safety and security

Talk about internet security online with your child. Topics never to be discussed include:

  • Family interactions such as disagreements, details about other people’s lives etc. You child needs to learn not to post about other people’s business. Don’t be a gossip – they may get hits and readership, but they’re never trusted or well-liked.

  • When the family is going on holiday or out to dinner, and when the home is vacant. Personal information like this can be used by burglars to plan theft.
  • Where the family lives, including outside photos of the home from the street (identifiers). As above.
  • Never share usernames or passwords with others, and never let others use their account. Make a habit of logging out of all accounts when done.

Being kind – and respectful – to others

  • Discuss trolling, bullying and cyber-bullying, and how being mean online is a nasty and low thing to do. Talk about who to talk to (yourself, other trusted others) should they ever feel unsafe or attacked in any way, no matter how ashamed or threatened they might be.

  • Make your child aware of what cyber-bullying is, and that in several countries, cyber-bullying is a chargeable offence (Article on cyber-bullying laws passed in New Zealand).
  • Talk about how people in other countries are still people, with feelings and thoughts as well. Explain the difference between constructive criticism and plain old nasty comments.
  • Discuss how people with very many different opinions are online. You might not agree with them, but that doesn’t mean you have to be rude to them. If you disagree, be polite and / or say nothing.

Sexting and photo sharing

  • Explain what sexting is, and how it can be against the law to share images without the consent of the originator of the image. Talk about how harmful sharing naked images can be, and how underage image sharing is child pornography, and a serious offence in almost all countries.
  • Explain the “no identifiable marks” rule. If they must share an image, never share an image with their face in it, or with anything that can be personally identified as them.
  • Talk about what to do if they receive a message or image not intended for them – talking to a parent is a great first step, and the parent (you) can then contact the school or local police station if necessary.
  • Talk about what to do if an embarrassing image or text of them gets shared. Tell them they can trust you, and that it is the person who has shared the image / text who is at fault, not them.

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Above all, keep channels of communication open. Keep talking with your kids, and be aware of what’s out there and what is popular. Even if you don’t particularly use the sites yourself, if makes sense to keep in touch with what’s happening, so you can support your kids if need be.

Finally, it’s important for kids to be aware that social media sites have their own rules about what is appropriate behaviour and what isn’t. These rules can include the age of membership, what is appropriate to post, and so on. Some sites do not allow members to delete posts – your child should be aware of how to delete posts before they post anything, in case (for when!) they make mistakes!

Happy geeking!๐Ÿ™‚

Open inspections and beachy friends…

We’re finally here. Open inspections on our farm next Sunday, and our agent thinks our home will sell like lightning.

It’s been a long road. When we first bought our farm eight years ago, I never imagined ever leaving. I think nobody ever expects to leave a new home, do they?

It’s been a terrific home too. Our children have grown from being tiny (son 4 and daughter 2) to being strapping young people on the verge of being teens. I’m fully expecting our son to shoot past me in height over the coming year, and our daughter to do the same in the next two or three years.

They’ve grown up here, and we’ve all been very happy. But it is time to move on.

We’re staying in Dunedin. After the sale goes through, we’ll know what money we have to buy a new place, and we’ll start looking seriously then.

The house is so clean and tidy now, it feels like all we’ll have to do is move our furniture once we have a sale confirmed. One of the benefits of being a minimalist, I guess, is that you don’t have that much stuff.

I do feel a little like our furniture should maybe be fancier or newer – so many of the houses on the market seem to have “new everything” that I can’t help wondering how much debt their owners have! By comparison, the newest piece of furniture we own is our sofa, which is nine years old. We keep things forever!

I do believe we’ll make a great sale. Our views are spectacular and this is a truly special part of the land that we’re on. They’re not making any more land, and there are very few lifestyle farms like ours, fewer still on the market. Demand is high, and we hope that someone will fall in love with our farm, just as we did all those years ago. We’re also fortunate to have a great agent who has been with us every step of the way, and who I hope will guide us to a great conclusion.

Regardless of how busy it was, I took some time out last week to host a dear family friend who was here from England, and we went to the Moeraki boulders together, among other journeys. Sometimes, no matter how busy things get, you just need friends and the sand between your toes๐Ÿ™‚

Moeraki boulders...a brief respite from selling a home!

Moeraki boulders…a brief respite from selling a home!

Runaway teens…and how to cope

My partner is dealing with a very hard time at the moment. His son has run away from home, back to the ex-wife’s, and we’ve received nothing but hurtful, nasty texts from the boy since he left two weeks ago.

I’ve found it hard to deal with my anger at the situation. I’ve tried to stay calm, but seeing my partner and his daughter in such grief and loss is hard-going for me. It hurts, more than if I were hurt myself, to see the man I love struggling with this.

Neither of us know what to do or how to cope, so instead he’s been saying little in response to the vitriol coming over the phone, hoping that his son will calm down and return to his normal, kind, cheerful self. The boy we know and love.

When this sort of thing happens, the grief can be overwhelming. We’re struggling to stay afloat. It probably comes across to the boy as gruff and silent, but it’s grief and misery. My partner has been hurt. He feels like he’s losing his son. He’s wondering if the loss will be forever.

So last night, when my partner and I were lying in bed, holding each other, and his face was so blank because he couldn’t even feel any more over all this, I suggested something to help us cope.

How to cope with runaway teens.

Find a clean, empty jar. Then, when you’re ready, write down something wonderful about the person you’re missing.

Maybe it’s a memory of a great day you had together. Or something kind they did for someone. Maybe a bad joke that made you all laugh. Or a time you were proud of them.

Maybe it’s the fact that they care for their younger sister. Or that they make great gourmet noodles, with an egg on top and Moroccan seasoning. Maybe it’s that horrible hair style that you don’t understand but you love them for anyway.

Write each thought down on a separate, small piece of paper. Fold it, and put it in the jar.

Write about the fact that you’re the stepmum, and you had such worries that they’d hate you when you came into their life. Write about the first time they hugged you and it was uncomfortable as hell.

Write about being their dad, and how you do everything you can to care for them. How sometimes that means making decisions that don’t make them happy, but that are for their well-being anyway. How being a parent means sometimes saying no, and teaching right from wrong. Write about how you have tried to do that. Write about how you care.

Write about how honoured you felt when they shared a secret with you, When they trusted you. Write about how you love having them in your family. Write about how you miss them. Write about how you worry about them.

Put each and every thought in the jar. You don’t have to do it all at once. Just one thought a day or so, whenever you remember something, when you think of something you miss, and the gap in your family that is empty because they’re not there right now.

Try to add a new thought, or memory, or feeling, every day. Just keep adding. In doing so, you honour the love between you and the bond you share. You help keep it whole. You heal what is damaged.

Ask every family member to do the same. Put their thoughts in the jar. All the things that make the runaway special and loved and wanted. All the reasons the runaway probably doesn’t understand. All the things they’re probably not aware of, or that you haven’t ever mentioned or talked about.

All the family members, all writing thoughts, adding to the jar.

Keep the jar in the runaway’s room. If they ever come back for their belongings, give them the jar along with everything else.

Don’t say anything about it. Just give them the jar.

Healing

I’m not saying this will do anything to heal the relationship. But sometimes relationships get broken not just for the things that were said, but because of the things that should have been said, and weren’t.

It could be that the runaway will ignore the jar. Or throw it away. Or laugh at it. Or get angry and abusive. They might mock it. But they need to know how you feel. That’s what the jar is for.

And those of us left behind? We need to express how we feel too. We’re hurt, and we’re angry, and we’re confused, but we need to remember that we love those who have left us, despite everything, and that our love is not going to disappear even when our children do.

jar

It’s almost Christmas. So let’s give.

I sometimes feel old-fashioned, but I genuinely believe that Christmas – and all the holiday season, no matter how you celebrate – has gotten out of hand.

Didn’t it used to be about giving, caring for others who are less fortunate, and loving our families? Or did that get lost in translation somewhere in time?

These days, there’s so much pressure to spend, spend, spend. Our kids all want the latest gadgets. We seem to never be able to keep up with fashion. We’re told our Christmas decorations are “outdated” and our Christmas dinners are not flamboyant enough.

It all feels a bit crazy.

So I’m suggesting it’s time we families fought back. It’s time communities fought back. There’s nothing wrong with giving gifts to our loved ones, but there’s a thing called moderation that society seems to have forgotten.

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a festive meal either, but there’s this old-fashioned sin called gluttony that does nobody any favours.

It’s time to take a step back, and remember what Christmas is all about.

Giving without thought for ourselves

I remember a scene from the wonderful classic children’s book, Little Women, in which the March girls give their Christmas breakfast to a hungry family. The girls were not wealthy by today’s standards, but they gave generously and were better people because of it.

It was a scene that made an impact on me, because I’ve never done anything so generous myself. Perhaps I need to. Perhaps we all do.

Quote from Lousa May Alcott's "Little Women". Image from The Salonierre's apartments blog.

Quote from Lousa May Alcott’s “Little Women”. Image from The Salonierre’s apartments blog.

Christmas is a time to give. It’s time to remember those who have nothing. It is a time to honour friendships and family, to make amends with those we have wronged, and to create peace in our communities.

So when you plan your gift list, plan your giving list too.
If you don’t have time, give money or in kind. If money is tight, plan to give time. If neither is an option, offer simple, random acts of kindness that will impact the lives of others in small, but significant ways.

princess_diana_quote_kindness

Make a difference to someone you don’t know this Christmas. Make life better for a stranger. Make life beautiful for a child in need, or for a family without comfort.

Is it too early to say it?: Have a happy Christmas.

Children will listen: How to raise a terrific kid

We all want our kids to grow up to be good people.

When I think of the sort of people I want my kids (son 11 and daughter 9) to be, I think of words like these:

Good… happy… kind… honest… trustworthy… fair… generous… hard-working… dedicated… genuine… thoughtful… responsible…

Everyone has their own vision of what they want their child to be as an adult. To get their child there isn’t hard: we just need to be consistent, solid people ourselves who model the behaviour we want our children to possess.

They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree and it’s true. Parents who are responsible tend to raise responsible kids, and parents who steal raise up thieves.

We can say all the clever words in the world, but in the end our kids will practice what we practice. Our children will develop according to the behaviour we ourselves exhibit, not what we spout with empty words.

“Children may not obey, but children will listen, and see, and learn…”

Children may not obey, but children will watch and listen, paying attention to all you do. The following song is from the wonderful Stephen Sondheim musical, “Into The Woods”. Please listen.

When your child misbehaves, deal with it at immediately with appropriate consequences. Talk about how their behaviour affects others.

When a child has a tantrum, don’t let them get what they want because it’s easier than dealing with the ranting and yelling. And yes, teenagers have tantrums too!๐Ÿ˜ฆ

Be honest with your children, and create family rules that are fair for everyone.

Expect everyone to get decent sleep, to eat 3 meals a day of healthy food, to do work before play, to share the burden of household chores, to participate in family life instead of spending all time on devices or in front of screens.

Make sure the same rules apply to yourself too.

And apply society’s rules in your own home. This teaches kids that the rules apply to everyone, and that the law matters. Follow DVD and game age guidelines and recommendations, and don’t let your child watch or play dangerous, violent or adult-related content, no matter how “mature” you think they are.

Teach discipline with keeping rooms and common areas tidy, reducing clutter, cleaning regularly. Children need a clean, safe home, and want to be proud to invite friends over when a home feels like a home, not a dump. They feel shame when their home is a mess. Your child should never have to refuse friends a visit because the house is untidy.

Teach kids the value of money. Explain when items cost too much, and question the sense of receiving everything they want. Talk about respect for belongings, the value of work, and the importance of the environment.

Discuss the abuse of natural resources that is taking place due to consumerism. Teach your child to think through what all the stuff in our lives means for wild animals, river systems, wetlands and oceans.

So teach your child consequences. The law of cause and effect.
Talk about how it feels to be stolen from, and why stealing is wrong.
Talk about how it feels to be bullied, and why bullying is wrong.
Talk about safe homes and unsafe people, and how it feels to be safe, to keep others safe, and respect consent.
Talk about sex, and why sex is always, always between people who want to be there and choose to do whatever is happening.

None of this stuff is hard. Not one bit of it. But it’s all the work of parenthood that goes into raising a terrific kid, bit by bit, one drop at a time. Show them who you are, and by doing so you’ll show them who to be.

beachkids

If I had a million dollars…

When I was a kid, I used to sit with my best friend Bernadette, and we’d play the game “If I had a million dollars”. We’d imagine all the amazing things we’d buy, all the stuff we’d own – palaces and slaves (that was me!) and yachts and jewellery. So much stuff.

We had no idea how much a million dollars actually was, only that it was a lot.

As we got older, we remained friends, and the game morphed into “When I win the lottery”. We’d imagine buying nice houses and fancy cars and going on holidays all around the world staying in plush hotels with hunky pool boys serving us cocktails (that was me again!) and all the chocolate we could ever eat (me too!).

We’re still friends after all these years. Neither of us is a millionaire, and we’ve neither of us ever won the lottery.

But I know quite a few millionaires. Including my parents, and several of my old school friends. I even know a billionaire or two. And my uncle won the lottery before he died as well – enough that he never needed to work again.

Funny thing is, winning the lottery never made him happy. And all those millionaires and billionaires, they’re not any happier than me either.

In fact, I’d say I’m probably among the happiest of all my friends.

I’m no millionaire. I own about 30 items of clothing. A five year old car. Half a house. An old box-style TV and a beat-up DVD player. Some books, not even a bookcase full. A few dollars in the bank, enough to keep me going a few months should the zombies come๐Ÿ˜‰

But I’m happy. I have a partner who adores me. I have awesome kids, and solid friends who are good people. I have everything I need. No albatrosses around my neck. Nothing to hold me down.

They say, Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. My treasure is here, with the people I love, and within me, in the memories I hold. It’s in the blue sky above me, in the earth below me, in the wind on my cheeks and the fire in my soul.

I could have a million dollars one day, but so what? It’s just paper.

I’d rather have my treasure.

theorchard_treasure