A little cuddle with a marsupial

Yesterday my daughter and grandchildren took me to the zoo. I hadn’t been for over 30 years. We lived in the country for 16 of those years, for five of them Jeff was in college and we couldn’t afford to go and, for the rest of them, I was unable to walk far enough or long enough to stroll around it. Then a year or so ago we bought a wheelchair, so I could attend things that required more walking than I was able to do. With the happy combination of wheels, a pupil-free day from school, a perfect spring day (so, not too hot) and my daughter having a client-free day, we finally got to go. I sat staring at the giant pandas thinking, “I never thought I’d ever see these creatures in the flesh and, oh my giddy aunt, there they are! And, they’re gorgeous.” The zoo people had made enormous changes since I was last there. The awful concrete boxes with iron bars were all gone. Everything was lush and green. There were a lot less animals but they were housed with much more room and things for them to do, so that was great. The keepers obviously care deeply for the animals and are happy to talk about them. I had a very interesting chat with one of the panda keepers. The pandas don’t just eat bamboo, they are also opportunistic carnivores: rodents, lizards etc.  That made a lot more sense, having seen their teeth. Those things were made for more than just peeling bamboo. Sharing the day with us was two bus-loads of school children. There was much squealing and rushing about. They would race up to an enclosure and many of the animals would then back away. A lioness rushed forward, stood and stared while a group of 13/14 year old boys made jokes and carried on in the bravado-display that teenage boys think is cool. Suddenly she bared her teeth and roared. The whole group leaped back as one. It was hilarious. In the “petting area”, the kids rushed in, climbed fences, got told off by the keeper, squealed and rushed out again, having only paid cursory attention to the animals. However, we found a quiet, shady corner. My grandchildren sat down and quietly waited. A little quokka (think ‘miniature kangaroo the size of a small cat, with a delightful smile’) toddled over, gave my granddaughter some friendly kisses on her leg and then climbed into my grandson’s lap. It curled up, gave a little contented sigh and settled in for a nap. We gently patted it and just enjoyed its company. Another load of squealing tourists rushed in and rushed out. The quokka climbed into my granddaughter’s lap and shared the love. Long after the noise had disappeared and we had spent quite some time in that spot, we decided to move on. (The meerkats were calling my name.) The quokka followed us out but stopped short of the gate. I think it enjoyed the interlude as much as we did. And there was the lesson for the day: quietness and gentleness has its own reward....

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Teach your children well.

Tomorrow the Old Boy and I are leading a workshop on parenting teens and young adults, at a church leadership conference. We’re not sure why we were asked – we’re nothing special and we’re certainly not the most ‘spiritual’ – but we’ve decided to run with it. It’s only the second time we’ve done this sort of thing together (we usually fly solo) so it’ll be interesting. Hopefully it won’t descend into fisticuffs. It’s forced me to reflect on how we parented our kids. I realise that we didn’t always get it right. In fact, we often fell short of the gold star standard. But, I reckon we got some things right. After all, the kids are adults now, living in their own homes with their own families, and they still talk to us. In fact, our son still kisses his dad (and me) in public, without a shred of embarrassment – unlike when he was 14. On the spur of the moment I asked our son what he thought we’d got right/what we taught him. He said he’d think about it and email a list. I was expecting just a funny, off-the-cuff remark there and then. However, he took it seriously so I thought, “Hey, it’ll help us work out what to say on the big day.”  (At the time, I didn’t think to ask my daughter so I hope she doesn’t get too mad when she finds out.) While I was waiting for his email I thought of all the things he could say we taught him: How to use the toilet. How to use a knife and fork. How to eat corn on the cob. How to tie your shoe laces. How to pray. How to ride a bike. How to whistle. Polite manners that will make life easier in a civilised society. To apologise when you burp or fart. What to do when someone bullies you. How to drive a car… etc. This is what he sent us: You guys taught me to have patience.  Patient for the things I might want and patience with people.  (Not that I’m not impatient sometimes.) You taught me not to judge people and to be accepting of people. I learnt not to be aggressive or violent towards people (even though I’d like to sometimes). You encouraged me to be who I want to be and didn’t force me down a particular path. You taught me about respect.  Respect your elders.  Respect towards women and others around me. And, you also taught me to have a good sense of humour! Suddenly I feel all warm and fuzzy and rather proud. We got it right far more than I realised. I’m still scared stupid about tomorrow but I don’t feel the complete fraud any...

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One boob or two.

I recently read a post on the Breast Cancer Site by a lady who said that when she was diagnosed with cancer, she was worried about how her husband would take it. (Quite understandable.) She said that she was a slim, blonde, independent woman and she was concerned that the treatment would alter her looks and make her more dependent. (This happens to all of us – male or female – when we have cancer treatment.) I had the same concerns: would my husband still be attracted to me, when I only had one boob? Would he find my appearance too freakish; after all, I had a hard time adjusting to the new me, so how could I expect anything less from him? I didn’t lose all my hair but it got very thin. The drugs messed my metabolism up even more than it already was and the weight stacked on faster than I could handle. I’d hoped that the one blessing from the process would be that I would at least get ‘thin and interesting’ looking. I was sadly disappointed. Towards the end of the chemotherapy treatments my husband was giving me anti-nausea injections and helping me to the loo. Not what you’d call the height of romance. So, reading this lady’s post I could empathise with her and her fears. Then she said that during the time she underwent chemotherapy, and was losing her hair, her husband was trawling dating sites, looking for a younger woman. They are now divorced. (The mongrel!) This isn’t the first time I’ve heard of this sort of thing. When I was undergoing radiotherapy, I met a lady whose husband had left her because he thought she was now ugly. (She still looked gorgeous, to me.) I met another lady whose partner had abandoned her because he was scared he could catch cancer from her! True story. It’s so disappointing to realise just how many jerks are out there, seemingly normal and well-adjusted, seemingly happily married and a great dad/partner/wife… And then something unpleasant happens, something challenging, something not pretty and – boom! – it’s time to run. True love conquers all things. True love lasts. Real men and women hang in there for the long haul. The Old Boy told me that he’d rather have me alive and well with one boob, than dead and buried with two. I’m sure he was just as distressed as me, in the early days, but we found ways to laugh about it and life went on. He stuck by me through every doctor’s appointment, every blood test, every chemo dose, every attack of diarrhoea (eeewww!) and every attack of self-consciousness. 20 years later, we’re facing round two together. You see, when we got married, we promised we would love each other for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, so long as we both shall live, and we meant it. It’s been 41 years and it’s working well, so far. Every now and then, I’m reminded of just how blessed I am to have the fella I have. Thanks,...

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Cats and dogs

As a change from the deeply-emotional-life-can-be-terrible-why-do-people-have-to-die sort of blog, I’ve decided to take a slightly different tack today. I’ve been blessed to have both cats and dogs share my home at various times in my life. They’re different in so many ways but they’re the same in the important ones. A cat: Very well, you can scratch me under the chin for four seconds; that’s long enough; now leave me alone for the rest of the afternoon. A dog: Yes, yes, yes! Scratch me, please, anywhere you like, for as long as you like; no, don’t stop…what have I done wrong? Why are you walking away? A cat: I know I enjoyed the tuna yesterday but today is Saturday. I scoff at your tuna. I sneer at your chicken. Where’s the caviar? A dog: FOOD! A cat: I’ve brought you a mouse. You should be pleased. Of course, I refuse to eat it – eewww – and I’m not entirely sure it’s dead, but it’s your responsibility now. A dog: Mouse? Where? What? A cat: You were out all day? Really? I didn’t notice. A dog: You’re home! You’re home! I know you only went to get the letters, and it only took five minutes, but you were gone!!! A cat: These are my humans. I am free to ignore them, or scratch them, or drive them crazy by racing around the house in the middle of the night but I will be deeply offended if you upset them. So… don’t. A dog: These are my humans. I would die for them but, if you hurt them, I’ll make sure you die first. Cats and dogs and things they have in common: Fur (and, sometimes, fleas); love. Cats and dogs: the yin and yang of the animal world....

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