Monday, 27 September 2010

Washing the Dog

Do you ever notice things have changed through some task that you do repeatedly?

I had this experience on the weekend. It is part of my household role description to wash the dog. We've got a West Highland Terrier named Sno-Joe (my daughter wanted to call him Snowy and my son wanted to call him Joseph!) He is approaching ten years old. Still pretty fit and well but definitely getting older. So the first thing noticed with this regular task is that Sno-Joe didn't flinch when I asked him if he wanted a bath. The words 'bath' or 'wash' tend to see him get up and find a hiding spot. It is terrible teasing but we always get a laugh from our dog's antics - please don't tell me that dogs aren't intelligent creatures.

So, Sno-Joe was up for a bath. He walked towards me and seemed to be saying... "Yeah, I am a bit pongy. I'll take the wash!" (Yes I know I'm anthropomorphising him - but I challenge you to convince me that dogs are not people.) The big thing I've noticed over the last few washes is that when I tell him he is good to jump out of the bath, he is now really struggling to get out. As a sprightlier hound, he always cleared the bath-tub edge on the first attempt. Now it takes him quite a few goes. There will be a point in the not too distant future where I will have to lift him out. But my heart is saying 'not just yet'.

The thing for me with this is that my kids have grown up from being real little people as Sno-Joe has gone from being a puppy, to a dog in his prime to the beginnings of an 'old man'. I want our dog to keep being fit and independent... but with my kids, I want time to put the brakes on their independence just for a little while yet. I want my kids to hold back on growing up. My daughter is seventeen, my son fourteen and every week, there are signs that those little people are disappearing. My daughter had a friend over last week and got out some old school photos - her first year in primary school... just eleven years ago. Then she found another class photo of her in Grade Two - the year we brought Sno-Joe home as a puppy. How quickly does the time go?

The rhythm of household routines and everyday rituals that we practice can pique moments in time and enliven the memory. I am proud of how my kids are growing up but part of my 'dad-DNA' worries for them just like I'm sure my mum and dad felt for me. Repeated activities have a meditative dimension that invite our attentiveness. I notice these feelings attached to the shifts in time as tiny bits of grief that have their melancholy, their bitter-sweet edge but there's stacks of love too, in the mix of all this. That attentiveness maybe helps us to invest small pieces of extra trust in our kids as they make their journey towards young adulthood.

I guess that the challenge is to enjoy every moment. It is 9.46am in the morning here in Melbourne - my teenagers are still fast asleep (on school holidays). Who knows what time they will wake up? They need their sleep... but old man Sno-Joe is up and sitting at my feet as I write. Time to sieze the day and take him for a walk. It is certain that he will he will be deleriously happy about this simple invitation. It is great having an appreciative dog when you have teenagers in the house!

What are the everyday tasks and rituals that give you a subtle measure of the steady movement of time? Feel free to write your answers below. Also - have a guess at what time you think my kids will wake up today! I'll let you know in the space below!

Thanks for taking the Time & Space to read this.

Bill Jennings

Monday, 20 September 2010

Making Good Decisions

Murray described what was in his hand as something that, at first viewing, is a fairly unremarkable collection of metal. At a Time & Space expedition, we bring along, and share treasures around the campfire. People bring a tangible item that they value and share the stories that are attached to that object. It doesn't have to be something of significant monetary value - just something that is valuable to the story teller.

In one of the sessions leading up to the camp, each participant shares their own story. Who have been the influences for good or bad in your life? What are the big events and experiences that have shaped who you are? Murray looked back on a life that had had a lot of twists and turns along the journey. I've been privileged to have heard many people in this mode (telling their story to a small group) over the years. It is a privilege because everyone has a unique story, everyone is different and it is precious to hear because people are giving themselves the time and space to take stock of their life to that point. Quite often, the person is telling their story in this way, for the first time. This was the case with Murray and he was a having a real crack, digging down to the things, the people, the events that had shaped him. A lot of stuff had happened in Murray's life and a lot had happened recently. That's all I can say... we respect the confidentiality of the small group.

Murray was happy for the story of the handful of metal to be told. Pretty simple connection he made but simplicity can be poignant and it was, in this instance. Murray was holding in his hand, his dog tags. He had experienced active service as a peace keeper in the Australian Army.

As Murray held the dog tags he said, "these represent a time when I made a good decision. I could have gone off the rails as a young bloke and joining the army gave me stability." Then the wisdom emerged... Murray shared that, "whenever I have to make a big decision I get my dog tags out... I sit with them in my hand and say to myself, 'I made a good one then, what's the right one now?'"

What helps you to make a good decision? Feel free to write your thoughts below.

Thanks for taking the Time & Space to read this.

Bill Jennings

Monday, 13 September 2010

A Piece of Teenage Wisdom

A colleague, Michael Grose, tweeted a question to prepare for a presentation he is doing this week.

"Why do teenagers binge drink? What's the motivation?"

It got me thinking and, as I live in a household with two teenagers, I posed the question to my daughter this morning. Always best to ask these questions in the car. She drives to school most days, racking up her hours in the Learner Driver log book, 10 minutes at a time. So I pose the question... she fires back a brilliant straight answer... well actually, it was a return question.

"Why do adults binge drink?"

I think in her return question, there lies an answer. What do you think? Feel free to write your thoughts below.

Thanks for taking the Time & Space to read this.

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Monday, 6 September 2010

The 'Tim-Tam' Journey

If you are reading this outside of Australia, how do I explain Tim-Tams to you? Have you ever met an Aussie travelling in your country? We are prone to more than a little home sickness. This usually applies most acutely to the foods we can't get easily overseas. Perhaps the traditional foodstuff that is missed the most, and gets the most attention, is the famous 'Vegemite'. Nothing like the taste of that distinctive bitter, black yeast extract on toast, melting in with the butter. However Vegemite does have a younger sibling that can spark tears of home-sickness in even the most unemotional travelling Aussie. The Tim Tam.

The Tim Tam is a beautiful combination of biscuit, chocolate cream centre with another outer layer of chocolate. It is delicious on its own but combined with a hot beverage or a glass of port, it takes on even greater powers. By biting opposite diagonal corners off the biscuit, it becomes a drinking straw... dip one corner into the cup of coffee, suck the coffee from the other corner through the biscuit and as soon as the liquid hits your tongue, pop the whole Tim Tam in... it melts in your mouth. This ritual, called 'shot gunning', has been taken to every corner of the planet. If an Aussie has shot-gunned fermented goat's milk with you in a yurt somewhere in outer Mongolia, with their rationed supply of Tim Tams, then you are considered to be an OK person!

Alright, have I sufficiently built the premise on just how sacred the Tim Tam is to the Australian people?... my point is?

If you recall, the last blog post promised a 'Part 2' to the wonderful experience of sharing a recent Time & Space canoeing weekend with Simonds College. Some Vietnamese families participated, one of the Vietnamese boys is called Tim and his dad's name is... you guessed it, Tam!

Around the campfire we had so much fun, laughing and enjoying some friendly cultural rivalry. Tim and Tam were the only father and son team not to capsize into the Yarra River that weekend. So to us, ‘Tim Tams’ were now, not only Australia’s greatest biscuit… our ‘Tim-Tam’ canoeing pair were the undisputed champions on the water. Michael, the other Vietnamese dad, raised his arms triumphantly, declaring, "We are the boat people!" Laughter... great Australian humour with its special brand of irony, is delivered perfectly. The irony of course is that ‘boat people’ is a term in Australia that evokes images of fear and mistrust. Yet Michael turned that mistrust into a moment where all around that campfire, shared delight in his quick wit.

Tam’s brother-in-law was a ‘boat person’, a refugee. He made a risky journey in a leaky boat from Vietnam to Australia. He sponsored his sister, Tam’s bride then of one year, to come to his new country. Tam had to wait five years until he could rejoin his young wife. Imagine that? What's important is that Tam and Tim got an opportunity to share significant parts of their own stories with each other. Some special things happened at this camp. Dominic, one of the other dads of Italian background is a mad follower of the AFL team Collingwood. He taught Tam how to kick an Aussie Rules footy. Tam skews a kick off the outside of his boot and laughs and claps. It is just a beautiful moment.

Tam explained to me that he took up the weekend as, "an opportunity to learn another way to be close to (his son)... another way of communication." In Vietnam, communication is often one way. The older generation give instructions and the children respectfully listen. Extended families live close together. Uncles, aunties, grandparents pitch in, collectively parenting, if mum or dad are busy. This is how it happened here in Australia with Tam and Tim. Tam has been busy working. Only, they didn't really have enough of that old country extended family to step in. So, Tim has felt that absence over the years but in the course of the father-son program, these two had a wonderful chance to explain each other's perspective. I watched Tim respectfully explain how he felt that absence through his childhood, not really knowing his dad as he was growing up. However, Tim also acknowledged that his dad had put his hand up to participate in the canoeing weekend with him, and he considered that a great achievement. Another beautiful moment.

So what do I learn from this story? Firstly, that when we come together with good intent, like trying to be a better parent as Tam and the other dads did on that weekend, we share more in common with each other than what makes us different. I’m in awe of the determination of Tam to learn ‘another way of communication’ with his son, having journeyed far away from his country of origin and a culture that was familiar to him. Isn’t that the challenge that leads to growth in any relationship? I am honoured too, to have witnessed Tim not shy away from the truth - he told his dad what had been tough but then affirmed him as well... masterfully, he combined kindness and courage. The boy presented himself as a young adult before his father.

Well done Tim and Tam – just like your biscuit namesake – you make our world a better place.

Thanks for taking the Time & Space to read this.

Bill Jennings