Thursday, April 27, 2017

An open letter to Bobbin's favourite day care educator


Dear T,

When I met you for the first time one year ago, I was in the throws of an enormous mental breakdown as I brought my youngest, Bobbin, to day care for the first time.

You knew I was low; it was quite literally written across my face in streaks of tears, red eyes, and a puffy nose. But you don't know that you're one of the people who helped save my life. 

I felt like I was getting "neglectful mother" stamped on my permanent record when I walked in there that day. Not because I was placing my child in to day care, but because my doctors and the government agreed I was so unwell that the public purse would pay for her to be cared for by someone else three days a week for six months. That it was in everyone's best interests; hers, mine, even the taxpayers.

As welcome as financial assistance is to a single income family in a low socio-economic area, qualifying for it under those circumstances was demoralising.

Parts of that time are a tear-stained blur to me, and others I can replay in my mind as if they happened yesterday. One of the things I do remember was that day care was a blessing, giving me time to attend appointments, go to therapy, and focus on recovery. I also clearly remember that you stood out amongst the staff. Not just to me, but to Bobbin. And I believe children are excellent judges of character. 

You were kind, relaxed, and soothed my fears in a way that didn't patronise. You swooped in, a smiling angel in hot pink, and made Bobbin feel safe and secure at a time when she really needed it. At a time when I couldn't do it as well as I'd like to.

The way you cared for her, and helped her transition to having more weekdays away from me than with me was invaluable. On good days you would chat, and on bad days you'd appear as if from nowhere with a cuddle for Bobbin to make the separation easier for us.

Some people might say that's your job, but it felt like so much more. 

Bobbin would come home and talk about you endlessly; telling me stories of painting, playing, and learning songs from you. You quickly learned what she liked and incorporated it in to the activities. I remember one day you made extra playdough in yellow, her favourite colour, because she'd told you it wasn't as fun when it wasn't yellow.  

On the days you weren’t there, the others were capable, but they weren't you. You always went that extra mile. You even swooped in to the kindy room a few times after she’d left your toddler area when you could see either she or I were having a rough drop off, and I can tell you that it didn’t go unnoticed.

Our chats were sometimes the only non-therapy adult conversations I’d have in the early days. To be treated like a decent human being helped me to realise that maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t terrible after all.

As time wore on, those small chats became conversations full of laughs, and littered with our mutual obsession with all things Disney, wild hair colours, and tattoos. Drop off and pick up times got longer and longer as we shared stories. The drop and run was not on the cards when there was an Alice in Wonderland party to discuss! As I recovered and was able to step back in as a full time parent to Bobbin and she attended the centre less and less, the care you gave her continued, and drop offs got even longer as you'd excitedly explain a tattoo idea, or listen to my thoughts on Beauty and the Beast.

I’ve tried to tell you this in person a few times, but I keep faltering. Two words, thank you, just seem too small to convey the enormity of what you did and the depth of gratitude that I feel. You helped teach her the alphabet, got her back on the toilet training wagon, but more than anything you made her feel secure.

You raised my child when I couldn’t.

Your kindness shone brightly through the clouds of my dark days, and I will be forever thankful.

With more thanks than you'll ever know,

Glow x

Friday, April 7, 2017

Trying not to raise assholes


Tricky has his first girlfriend and it is the cutest thing ever. No, really. Cat videos have nothing on this.

Previously he's called his favourite people his "best buddies" whether they be boy or girl. On Valentines he gave little homemade gifts to three girls and one boy, because he loved them the most. But he has never used the words girlfriend or boyfriend.

When he accompanied me to an Equal Love rally he expressed great disappointment that he couldn't legally marry his male friends, and was very relieved when I let him know that by the time he was an adult, I was sure it would be legal and he could marry whomever he loved. (Hey government, don't make me a liar, OK?)

But now, he says he has a girlfriend.

And she says Tricky is her boyfriend.

Her name is Ruby (used with permission), but Tricky calls her Beautiful. She calls him Tricky Eagle. Pet names? Geez. This must be serious. Heh.

They write each other love notes. They chose Easter presents for each other. They steal glances, then ignore each other for most of the day. Not unlike some marriages, really. Adorable.

Ruby's mum and I were chatting about how they will remember each other's names forever and that it is so lovely.

You remember the firsts. Your first boy/girlfriend. Your first teacher. Your first best friend.

I'm hoping the other firsts Tricky remembers are these first conversations we've started having about consent when it comes to girlfriends and boyfriends.

Shock, horror, she's talking to her six year old about consent?!

You betcha. And guess what? We've been talking about it since he was about two or three because one of my main aims of parenthood is not to raise assholes. Toddlers are assholes by default, I'm talking about when they become adults.

Our conversations around consent started out by letting him (and obviously Bobbin, too) know that he doesn't have to kiss or hug anyone he doesn't want to. We've always respected it when he has refused a hug or kiss, and even when he has declined a high five despite part of me wanting to say "don't leave me hangin', bro!". The exception to this is a game we play called Surprise Cuddle, where you randomly go up to someone in our family and shout "SURPRISE CUDDLE!" (we are not very inventive game namers) while wrapping your arms around them. It's an exception because so far it has been enjoyable for all and no one has said stop.

From there we've also always respected that he hates being tickled, so we don't do it. On the other hand, Bobbin looooves being tickled, so for her we stop when she says stop... which is usually followed by her saying "TICKLE ME AGAIN!".

So now we're talking about what is and isn't OK in terms of having a "girlfriend" which is actually no different to our conversations around how we treat friends, but he kinda likes hearing the word girlfriend so I'm going with it. It hasn't been a sit down, formal talk; it's us, together, having a chat about his day and when he mentions her, I take the opportunity to say a few small things.

Like "You have to ask her before you hug her" and "Just because it was OK to hug her yesterday, doesn't mean she wants a hug today, so you should check again".

I've also said "You're both allowed to say no to having a hug if you don't feel like it, that's OK" and "When she says she doesn't want a hug, say that's OK and find something else to do". I've reminded him that no one likes to be pestered when they've said no, though this usually applies to him asking me to play Minecraft for the 1352nd time in an hour.

Just tiny little things, slotted in to a conversation.

I believe having conversations about consent with kids in age appropriate ways is imperative. Teaching both boys and girls to respect the word no, actions that indicate no, and us as parents respecting their right to say no, even when granny might get upset, will help counteract the rape culture that still surrounds them, where members of my own extended family have said that a boy hitting Bobbin is a sign he likes her (don't worry, that was dealt with very quickly).

Do you talk about consent with your kids? How do you bring it up?

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

A smile to AIM for

This is a C1 post: MG received discounted treatment.
#C1 for full details please see my disclosure policy

If you've been around these parts for a while you'd know MG was involved in a bike crash in 2015 that led to me picking his teeth up off the road (and finding them in my pocket a week later). He had some major dental work done and I was blogging for the amazing Perth dentist who did it for him. I had published two of the three posts when I had my massive breakdown. So this got pushed back. Each time I tried to re-visit it, it would remind me of why I had pushed it back and I'd have a panic attack. So here we are, one whole year after it was due to be published and I'm in a position to actually do it without rocking in the corner. Recovery takes a long time. 

We owe a debt of gratitude to the wonderful team at Aim Dental Group, and their logo will sit on my sidebar for as long as this blog exists. They have taken care of us so well and made sure we got the best treatment and then gave me time to recover from my own health dramas to get to this point. We all get our regular check ups there, and Tricky got his fissures sealed there a few months ago. I simply cannot recommend them enough. 

For now, over to Map Guy:

The Crash 

Like many new-leafers late in the Winter of 2015 I was considering my fitness options as the weather warmed. I felt unfit, wasn’t regularly playing sport and walking with the dog and kids wasn’t really giving me the boost I felt I needed. Enter cycling. My employer upgraded the daggy old showers and change rooms at our office to one of the best in WA a few years earlier. Ever since my cycle crazy boss has been trying to attract other would be pedallos in our team to his favourite sport. So sprucing up the bike, strapping on a helmet and getting moving wasn’t a hard sell on the work side, I just had to will myself out of a heated bus and into a breezy cold saddle for pre-7am starts…

I started slowly in the first week. Day 1 I rode the 3.2km to the train station locked up my bike then rode home again. That wasn’t too hard, so far so good. Feeling a little stiff in those rarely used muscles the next day I rested and returned to my walking/bus/train/walk routine.

Day 3 I tested myself and decided to go for it. I live 12km from work as the crow flies, but my first attempt at using the best cycleways available to me was a 17km trip with what seemed like the breakaway pack from Le Tour on a hill climb. You know you aren’t going to be the fittest cyclist out there but I seriously felt like I must have been frozen in stone the way I was swiftly left behind. Strangely it takes a lot of will power to convince yourself to ride your own race and not try to give chase. Shattered, but pleasantly surprised I arrived at work some 58 minutes after leaving home.

I worked up to my eventual routine and refined my route as I became more confident around traffic. The 14km route would get faster and I was so proud of myself the first week I managed to ride every single day. I stuck at it for 2 whole months until one day I didn’t make it home…

By early November I had replaced my mountain bike tyres with less knobbly road tyres, had added new cleats to keep my toes on the pedals and some grippy new handlebars kept me heading in the right direction. Confidence was high. I knew my route, was edging my way up the Strava leaderboard along my route and no longer felt like I was hideously unfit keeping up with the cycle heroes on the road.

10km into my journey home I was traversing one of the trickier sections of the ride. A long, fast downhill quickly followed by a major road crossing with older style raised islands for pedestrians and cyclists. After managing to traverse the major road crossing I was making my way slowly from the final island to the adjoining cycle path when something went wrong.

As my front wheel rolled from the islands to the road I hit something. Or maybe something hit me. Maybe my bike broke. We will probably never really know, but what did happen was the front of the bike went from under me. The wheel buckled, the brakes broke free and I went tumbling over the handlebars in what seemed like slow motion thinking to myself “maybe this is it?”

It felt like it could have been game over. My head, body, bike all cascaded to the ground in between cars waiting to turn between two busy roads, and I was knocked out.

I woke up on the ground and I could taste blood; I could feel broken teeth. My body was sore, grazed, bruised, but still able to function. I tried to get up and someone came up to me and said “are you alright?”

For what seems the first time in my life I thought about this briefly then answered “no” to a complete stranger. I wanted to say “please help me”, but the blood was flooding my mouth and the best I could do was wobble to my feet and take their hand. Another helpful person shuffled my buckled bike off the road and I was sat up against the fence as an ambulance was called. Ambulances come really quick when you’re near a major road in a city and this one was no exception. The Samaritan bystander had helped by calling Glow after I typed her details in my phone and held it up to him. In fact with a mouth full of blood, busted teeth and a blood filled riding glove trying to keep it all in there the smartphone was an invaluable communication device in close quarters even though I was struggling to think straight and wasn’t actually using the network.

The ambulance arrived then my frazzled but comforting wife. She’d shuffled the kids to a neighbour and raced from home following the sirens and flashing lights. Seeing the damage on my face, but relief that I was conscious and okay she had another kind stranger help load the broken bike into our car to take it home before driving on to the hospital.

Ambulances are a strangely intimate place to be in the back of. Much like taxis you feel like you should be saying something or this is going to be one awkward drive across town. So when asked I was trying to tell this amazing paramedic how I was feeling, but really all she wanted was a thumbs up or thumbs down and kept telling me to stop trying to speak. Her number one goal was to stop me from passing out, or at least to have some indication that I was about to.

20 minutes later I was in hospital. On an ambulance stretcher in amongst returning heart patients, elderly people struggling for breath and one guy with a nasty looking broken leg. I must have spent another 20 minutes waiting there with gauze in my mouth, blood still pouring everywhere when a triage nurse decided I was bleeding too much and he had to get me out of there.

I was shipped off to the fast track procedures room where Glow and my sister then caught up with me. My sister works at a public hospital (not this one) and immediately started asking all the right questions. The doctors weren’t too sure where to start with my injuries and when discovering that I’d blacked out during the accident (I couldn’t exactly go into much detail at that stage) shuffled me down the corridor into the Emergency Department proper.

Here every few minutes someone was now coming up to me asking how many fingers they were holding up (which was annoying as I had to find my glasses again which were increasingly uncomfortable), what day of the week it was and my full name and address. Thankfully the bleeding was starting to cease so I could tell them what they needed to hear, albeit with a toothless lisp.

Some 4 hours after the worst bike crash of my life my face was being stitched up (my chin split and both top and bottom lips badly split apart). The amazing young doctor could even recommend seeing his dentist sister at an inner city dental surgery that worked on many trauma cases.

My dental journey would start there the next day but for now, with much relief I was alive, very tired and ready to go home.

On arriving home, I asked to see my helmet. I’d always been told no helmet, no riding and I’ve instilled this in my kids since they rolled out on trainer wheels. So much so that they show equal bewilderment in seeing grown adults ride by at speed with wind blowing in the breeze.
Save to say, my helmet didn’t survive this crash. In fact it was split from the edge to the centre of the outer shell and closer inspection showed the inner foam had almost cracked through entirely.

On this day a lifetime of helmet wearing meant my children would wake up the next day and still have (a sore and sorry) father, my wife her husband and my worried parents many miles away would still hear from their son. If you’re considering taking up cycling, no matter how or where you intend on doing it make sure you have a certified Australian Standard bike helmet. It may be the one piece of equipment you maintain on your bike that stops you becoming another road death statistic.

Left: in hospital in a gown catching blood in a sick bag, dried blood covering his neck. Top right: what was left of his front teeth after having his upper lip (which was hanging off), lower lip (which was almost split in two from the inside), and chin stitched up. Bottom right: the outside view of the helmet - the inside was cracked through too, and it's not until you realize that would have been skull and brain that you go woah.
The recoveryThe day following my bike crash was literally the first day of the rest of my life. I had a stitched up face and many broken, mostly missing teeth.

The first thing that needed to happen was a trip into town to see a dentist and get X-Rays done and any immediate fixes they could do. I don’t think I’ve ever felt like crying quite so much as I did that day holding an icecream container to catch any blood and spit that was swelling in mymouth (I couldn’t swallow for fear of swallowing teeth fragments) and walking through from a crowded train station car park to the dental surgery.

The visit mainly consisted of removing bits of broken teeth as my jaw and gums were still swollen after the impact. They did some really complicated 3D imaging x-rays which involved chomping down on a bit and staying still for over a minute (not exactly comfortable when you’re missing most of your front top teeth!) then we proceeded with the first of many necessary root canals.

I went home shaken, restless and tired; still wanting to sob after running the second gauntlet across the train station bridge and seeing the estimated cost of just one tooth being $10,000 to fix.

In the following days as the swelling started to recede something amazing happened. Whether from my Glow's Facebook posts or sheer coincidence with their own social media campaign, she was contacted by a local dentist with amazing specialist experience looking to work with local social media identities.

It seems like hours between hearing about this and meeting for a consult with Aim Dental Group's Principal dentist Dr David Beecham, and business manager Christina Claridge on a Saturday of all days. He had his young kids in the room, we had ours and all were being entertained by screens and iPads while the bright lights lit up my empty mouth and he weighed up my options.

David put my mind at ease. He took my hospital and dentist x-rays, did a couple of his own then took his time over the next week or so thinking over solutions.

Two root-canal visits later and I was expecting to come in for a rather painful and invasive procedure to have a screw put in my jaw to hold one fake front tooth and a cap to be placed on what remained of the other. After spinning the 3D images a few more times (it’s awesome, you never get to see your mouth from this angle) he changed his mind and saved me thousands of dollars in the process. What happened next was amazing.

I was asked to wait in the waiting room. Why? Because my new front teeth were being optimised by the computer model, then were sent to the diamond lathe out the back where they were hewn to exacting specifications to fit over precisely what remained of my teeth and gums.

I’m sure I scared the bejeezus out of the kids sitting opposite me in that waiting room. I gave them a toothy smile (how many times in your life do you get to shock kids with a busted up mouth?) and sat reading a holiday magazine for the next half an hour. I sent Glow an SMS saying that my new teeth were being printed and I’d be finished soon, which elicited a very confused response.

Then, half an hour later I hopped back onto the dentist’s chair (complete with the US version of The Office playing on his ceiling mount TV screen as it always is) and was shown two brand new front teeth complete with matching colour to my existing teeth ready to be polished before insertion.

By this stage I’d had so many anaesthetic needles in my mouth I’d gotten past all fear of that pain and was just anxious to have my smile, my bite and lisp-free speech back. Incredibly I walked out of Aim Dental on that day with a full set of teeth and a very grateful family.

The transformation! Smash face to brace face to smiley face. You'd never know he'd smashed those four front teeth!
David and his team did an amazing job helping my recovery. He made every effort to charge the costs to my health provider where possible and in turn every member of my immediate family has been back in the intervening months for general check-ups, scale and cleans.

Today I have my appetite for steak back, I’m not afraid to bite into an apple without cutting it up first and I’m even considering returning to cycling as my transport to work. No matter where you live or what type of bike you ride I implore you to ride with a helmet strapped on firmly. My story involved repairable broken teeth, if you ever have a crash story to tell I’d like to think a helmet will have saved your brain and you’ll have the rest of your life to share it.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain


It's almost a year since my life got flipped-turned upside down.

But this isn't the Fresh Prince, and a stint in Bel Air wasn't what was needed. Unless Bel-Air is code for all expenses paid psych hospital. In which case, sign me up, baby.

If I could share one thing about this whole time, it is that while I may seem perfectly fine these days, there is a lot going on behind the scenes to make me appear that way. Like the old man standing behind the curtain, furiously pumping levers and spinning dials to keep up appearances as the Wizard of Oz, I'm behind my own curtain squashing down negative self-talk and assumptions that everyone hates me, that I don't deserve to live, to look somewhat 'normal'.


And I tell ya, all that behind the scenes work is fucking exhausting. It's a daily run uphill. Through quicksand. With concrete boots on. (My knack for hyperbole seems unaffected)

The 'spoonie' theory of chronic illness (which I'm well familiar with, thanks to a chronic pain condition I've had since primary school) can be applied to chronic mental illness, too. I only have so many spoons of energy to use on a particular day and some days, just existing takes up all of them.

Some rare days, I have spoons to spare. Sometimes I'll save up all my spoons, and even do a sneaky borrow from the next day to have a night out. It means I will spend most of the next few days in bed, and parenting with the help of Netflix parental controls, but you gotta do what you gotta do.

If I talk to you and seem distracted, or I don't remember something you said a few days ago, it's because at the same time as trying to focus on you, I'm trying to ignore my own automatic thoughts that pop up. I'm working away behind the curtain. These shoulder devil thoughts intrude on the most mundane of conversations.

Chatting with a school mum about the weather:
"She doesn't really like you. She is just talking to you because she has nothing else to do."

Tricky or Bobbin become upset at something minor:
"You are a terrible mother. Your kids would be better off without you."

I forget to defrost meat for dinner:
"You suck. You are the worst person to have ever lived."

Filtering those messages out isn't easy, but I'm getting better at it. I do a quick fact check (all the while hoping I'm not missing too much of what you're saying): Does it matter if this person doesn't like me? Am I shit mum if my kids are fed, bathed and loved? Am I the worst person to have ever lived? Really? Have I considered genocide? No, then I'm not the worst person, let's move on.

I can feel myself coming back more and more in some areas, but not in others. The urge to write again has been stewing for a while, but so far every time I sit down and bang out a few sentences on the keyboard those intrusive thoughts come back.

"Why do you bother to write when no one will read?"

"This is terrible. You can't form a sentence."

"Just don't bother. You can't fuck up if you don't try."

And I've been listening to those thoughts a lot, as the dozens of half finished blog posts languishing in my drafts folder can attest.

But this shit is not linear. Just as everyone has ups and downs, so too does this recovery process. Don't say journey or I'll vomit.

So I keep trying. Pulling the levers. Spinning the tops. Pushing the buttons. Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain, it's still me. I'm working hard.

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