Acceptance, Forgiveness, Friendships, Happy Life, Relationships

The Power of a Tiny Dot of Attention, Planning & Communiation

Recently I’ve had a massive realisation with respect to my business life; where there has been a vacuum of attention, planning, and/or communication, problems and issues have not been far behind.

Now this may not be a new idea for most of you, but for me, ensuring that are as few vacuums as possible has really been life changing. I’m less stressed, I feel like I’m achieving more, there’s no guilt, my clients are super happy and no matter how heavy my work load gets I’m feeling like I’m responding actively rather than reactively.

So this morning I got to thinking about how these vacuums affect a person’s personal, social and spiritual life. I started thinking about all of the times in my life when I’ve lost focus and not placed any attention in an aspect of my life, and what I found was shit always got bad. And the fascinating thing about that is how expediential it was, the longer I left giving the aspect any attention the greater the shit.

Vacuums of attention don’t stay vacuums for long. Something or someone is always going to fill that space, and most likely it is not going to be to our choosing.

I believe that pain in our life is caused by the gap between where we are and where we want to be, the greater the gap the greater the pain. In those moments when we are truly present and appreciative and can say to ourselves “There is no where in the world I’d rather be right now” we are truly blissful.

So surely when we lose focus and attention on an area or aspect of our lives the something or someone is always going to fill the space in a way that is not only different from the way we would have chosen for ourselves but is ultimately going to take us further away from who and where we want to be.  Thus increasing our discomfort, pain and sense of suffering.

So if this is a premise that you can believe to be true can we agree that preventing vacuums from occurring is paramount to our own sense of happiness?

If we know it is super important and we know that we can prevent vacuums from occurring by simply giving the space some attention, planning and communication; then why do we keep procrastinating and avoiding the addressing of our issues and aspects enough to keep allowing vacuums to occur?

I’d suggest that firstly we tell ourselves it is because “we don’t have the time” and maybe that is partly true, but I feel the real reason is fear. I believe that the only reason a person wouldn’t chose happiness is because they’re bound by fear. And not particularly massive fears, I believe that even small fears like ‘the fear of not being seen to be a good person’ can bind us just as tightly as our big fears.

I also believe that it’s not just our fears of dealing with the ignored aspect which create vacuums of attention, but also fears around the removal of our attention and time from the aspects that are getting the lion’s share of our focus.

I’d also split the lion’s share into two categories; attention we are giving because we are moving towards something or attention we are giving because we are moving away from something.

And I think that this is an important distinction. Wanting something or someone because we think it would be a fantastic addition to our lives has a very different feel from wanting that same something or someone because we fear what our lives would be like in their absence.

Here is what I think the good news is, if tiny fears can create vacuums then can’t tiny amounts of attention prevent them forming in the first place? To prevent a vacuum forming I don’t think it requires any real action from us; I proposed that all it requires is just a tiny bit of attentiveness.

Let’s say we are super focused and consumed with work and a vacuum is forming in our home life. Rather than deal with the imbalance, what if we addressed it before it addressed us? I would argue that has the potential to prevent a something or someone from setting an agenda contraire to our desires.

What if we gave it a tiny amount of attention, planning and communication?

“My dear loved one, things are out of balance with work right now, I am aware of it and it is my intention to sort it out. Right now though I don’t feel like I have the time or the energy to do so but I am conscious of where most of my focus is and how that can make you feel at times. Are you ok if I take a couple of months to get this sorted out? Would turning my phone off and not working every Sunday afternoon to spend time with you and the kids be enough of a gesture in the meantime?”

Wouldn’t the above example be more welcomed than nothing? ‘Nothing’ doesn’t take responsibility, ‘nothing’ doesn’t acknowledge, ‘nothing’ doesn’t set a plan, ‘nothing’ doesn’t offer small gestures and ‘nothing’ doesn’t communicate. Nothing is that head in the sand thing that we hear so much about. Nothing is nothing, it is an absence, a vacuum, and a void.

Of course there is room in the above scenario for real action, but what I wish to discuss today isn’t the best case solution, it’s a solution in exchange for nothingness. And we can get on our high horses and demand real action from ourselves and other’s and reject the tiny ‘something’ as not being good enough. But what are we trying to achieve here? Aren’t we all just trying to be happy? Aren’t we procrastinating and avoiding certain things because we think it will make us happier than facing and dealing with our fears around it? Isn’t ‘something’ a massive step from ‘nothing’? What’s our rush? Let us remember that we can avoid and procrastinate about an issues for months, years even decades.

What if we took it easy on ourselves and saw the tiny ‘something’ as a step towards a big ‘something’ and something wonderful.

“I’m drinking a fair bit at the moment, more than I’d like.  I know I’m drinking to avoid some stuff that I don’t feel ready to deal with. I want to prevent a vacuum forming and I know that I need to give that stuff some attention to do so.

But I don’t wish to trawl through all of the pain of those issues right now, right now I want to have some peace in my life and some fun. I’m going to plan to let it all-go for now and I’m going to ease up on myself about the drinking. I know that every time I start judging myself about my drinking it only get’s worse. I know that right now I’m enjoying it and it isn’t causing me any issues in my life, I’ve just been down on it because I know that I’ve been using it as an escape and I don’t want to live like this forever.

Now that I’ve let go of the need to deal with all of the stuff right away I’ll have lots of opportunities for more peace and fun to come into my life and it will come in many other forms than just the drinking. I always drink the way I have been to move away from something, now I’ve given myself permission to ease up on dealing with everything I feel like I am free to move towards something for the first time in ages. I want to give my attention to feeling good and just saying that helps me to feel better already.”

Now here is where this gets really interesting, what if we swap the word vacuum with void? What if all of those deep voids we feel like we have could be filled with a tiny bit of attention, a tiny bit of planning and a tiny bit of communication.

If procrastination and avoidance form a vacuum of attention regarding what we want and where we want to be, then doesn’t even a tiny bit of attention cancel out the vacuum? How can you have a vacuum if something is there? Even the smallest of dots on the largest piece of paper is not nothing; it is a tiny dot on a very large piece of paper.

Let’s be easy on ourselves and give all of those things that we are worried about a tiny dot of our attention, for a tiny dot is just as much of something as anything else.

Leanne xx

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Acceptance, Challenging Beliefs, Family, Friendships, Relationships, Teaching & Learning

“… I’ll give you something to cry about”: How My Father Taught Me to Surf in The 80’s

My father has always had a deep love for the ocean, and in particular fishing and surfing. These were passions which were passed down by his father and upon becoming a father himself it was his great ambition to continue the legacy on to his own children. And what a lovely wish it was.

The day my father taught me to surf was a gloriously sunny day. It was the mid 80’s and I would have been about 10.

Now I know what you’re thinking,

“1985? You would have been pretty cool just hanging out at the beach wearing your Brian Rochford Fluro-Pink Cossie, smelling of Reef Oil and humming hits from your favourite record Choose 1985. But now you’re being taught how to surf? OMG Leanne, for a 10 year old you were really taking cool to a totally new level!”

Choose 1985.

Choose 1985. Was up there with Summer of ’87 as my favourite compilation. I’m pretty sure this was the first compilation that I ever owned that was by the “original artists” and not some povo knock off’s.

I know right! But unfortunately that’s because you are thinking of this….

Tricia Gill  Photo:Simone Reddingius www.jettygirl.com

Tricia Gill
Photo:Simone Reddingius
http://www.jettygirl.com

 …when my reality was actually this.

Waveski "Goat Boat" Rider Photo: www.travelblog.org

Waveski “Goat Boat” Rider
Photo: http://www.travelblog.org

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against a Waveski but they are called a ‘Goat Boat’ for a reason. It didn’t matter that there was no one around for me to impress (my father always sort out remote and desolate surf spots), I still wanted to be a cool surfer chick.

Prior to the surf lesson I was happily shredding up waves on my Moray Mach 7 Boogie Board. Ah, how I loved that board.

Me in my mind…

mach7

…me in Real Life

stregis-boogie-board

So I do understand that as he watched me mucking around in the foam, my father would have found it difficult to imagine that I was possibly having as much fun as he was out the back on the big waves.

My time had come. He grabbed me and told me that he was going to take me “out the back for a screamer”. It didn’t take me long to work out why he called them “screamers”.

My father fully trained me on the use of the made-for-adults device,

“Make sure you paddle as hard as you can.”

And then he went through a detailed safety induction,

“See this clip, if you get into trouble pull it open to get yourself untied from the ski, but only do it once you’re underwater. Otherwise it might smash you in the head and knock you unconscious.”

And then to round out my training he thoroughly assessed my capabilities,

“You’ll be right, stop being a sook.”

So after my comprehensive instructional it was really time to put all that theory to the test. He popped me upon the “fibreglass beast”, strapped me in and then dragged me through crashing wave after crashing wave by hanging on to my little foot strap thingies (which were wayyyyy too big for me).

Note the foot strappy things.  Pic: www.capacitysports.com.au

Note the foot strappy things.
Pic: http://www.capacitysports.com.au

That was it for me, I’d had enough. I pleaded to go back into the shore but it was too late,

“We don’t quit.”

Once out-the-back there was a moment of reprieve from the set which gave me an opportunity to cough up the 80 litres of sea water I had just swallowed.

And then in a mad attempt to either, distract me, get me excited or build some last minute confidence, he alerted me to the wave he had spotted for me,

“See that one? That big one out the back? Whoa, it’s huge. This one’s gunna be a real screamer. Here it comes”.

Things the detailed training program didn’t cover:

  • A check to see if I weighed enough to lift the nose of the ski by leaning back to avoid it nose-diving.
  • What to do when you don’t weigh enough and the “beast of a floatation device” nose dives.
  • What to do when you slip through the seat belt and the “beast of a floatation device” is about to belt you in the back of the head.
  • How to avoid the razor sharp paddle from smashing into your face whilst undergoing a nose dive.
  • How not to panic as you try to un-strap yourself from the “beast of a floatation device” whilst upside-down and under water.

Whilst underwater, thoughts of my beloved 1st Grade Teacher came to mind. I can’t remember his name but he was awesome. He was young and fit and he was a Surf Life Saver.

He told us heaps of stories about the people that he had rescued and there were two stories that I always remembered. The first one was how he had to shovel the vomit out of people’s mouths with his fingers before he gave them mouth-to-mouth, and the second was how,

“After the struggling part ends, drowning is actually one of the most peaceful ways to die.”

Convinced that this was the end I remembered those wise words and readied myself for my inevitable demise. How poetic it would be, being taken at sea.

Yes even as a youngster I had a flair for the dramatic. Apparently the reality was much closer to me be under for only 30 seconds in about 3 feet of water with my father right beside me.

Never the less, I had now tasted the far and distant fringes of a near death experience. Rather than see my second chance at life as an opportunity to “Carpe Diem” I was instead determined never to take a risk again.

My father knew that if he left me to sit on the shore and ponder the big questions of life, like why Corey Hart wore his sunglasses at night, I would always have a fear of the surf.

Corey Hart: "I wear my sunglasses at night So I can, So I can  Watch you weave then breathe your story lines."

Corey Hart: “I wear my sunglasses at night
So I can, So I can
Watch you weave then breathe your story lines.”

So right about here my father figured he had two choices,

1. Quit

  • He would have to “give in” and let me have my way by leaving me on the shore.
  • He would have to admit that maybe his way of teaching me things wasn’t the best or the only way.
  • He would have to trust that I would overcome my fears to try something out of my comfort zone without being pushed to.
  • He would have to leave the beach that day knowing that I’d had a “loss” that he’d created and hadn’t helped me to overcome.

2. Don’t Quit

  • He would have to continue on and drag me out the back and then literally throw me in the deep in.
  • He would have to trust that he knew what was best for me more than I did in that moment.
  • He would have to believe that he could help me overcome my fears and that I would leave the beach that day with a “win” under my belt.

When you look at those two choices it is no wonder that my father chose the latter, he knew, after many years of throwing me in the deep end, that if he pushed me to persevere that I would get there.  He also knew from experience that with his help I would overcome my fears and learn this new skill.

A few weeks ago I wrote an article about our loved ones wanting us to change or else. The two options that my father had perceived above are also underlined by the perceived need for change below.

 1. I Quit = I Need to Change How I Do Things

2. I Don’t Quit = You Need to Change How You Do Things

With the benefit of hindsight my father would now argue that there was indeed an option c) available to him that day. I could have quit my whining a bit and understood what he was trying to do, and he could have quit his disregard for my fears a bit and we could have met in the middle. We both could have changed how we were doing things.

But today I am just focusing on the sentiments of option b) you need to change. And what I am really interested in is when the “or else” part is added to the end.

To be clear I bring with me no judgement of the path my father took, not just because he is my dad and I love him, but because I would argue that the “or else” part offers us a choice. At that point we can either get-on-board with the change that is being requested of us or we can choose to accept the “or else” part of the deal and refuse to participate.

So my father made his choice, whilst I was still in tears after the first wave he grabbed me and back out into the surf we went.

He put me on another screamer, I got dumped and then I was really screaming. This cycle of dump/screamer/screaming would continue to go on. The more I got upset the harder I made it for myself and the more frustrated he became.

My father was stuck; I was obviously ill prepared but he had also greatly miscalculated the risks regarding my chances of failure. He needed me to overcome my fears and he did that the best way he knew how. He created a new fear which he thought was greater than my fear of the surf. So out came the old,

“If you don’t stop crying I’ll give you something to cry about”

So here we were, “change or else”.

I had a choice; I could have accepted to have received the “something to really cry about”. Having taken the “or else” option plenty of times growing up, I knew that a smack (it was the 80’s) and a time out on the sand would have been much easier to cop than to have to face my fears. And I also knew that the chances of him “giving me something to really cry about” were minimal in this context, I was 99% sure he was bluffing, which are great odds as a kid.

Through all my carry on, my tears and my pleas not to go out the back any more; I knew that I didn’t want to take the offer of the “or else” that day. I wanted to try and therefore I consented to change and I can’t imagine that I would have faced my fears to that extent without someone beside me who was relentless in their belief that if I stuck at it I would get there.

That day I did catch a wave and not just any wave but a real screamer. Only this time I was finally screaming with joy just as he had hoped I would.

In that moment, the entire struggle was justified by my father and forgotten by me.

So the question I ask today is, “Can we really force our loved ones to change if they don’t want to?” Aren’t they consenting by not choosing the or else part? Just as I did as a kid, is it possible to consent whilst pretending that we don’t?

Now I get that this is a really grey area, I’m not suggesting that it is acceptable to threaten children with corporal punishment to do things against their will. This beach story was nearly 30 years ago and even my father’s stance on smacking children has completely turned around.

But in our society we do threaten children all the time with an “or else you won’t be able to play on your iPad”, “or else you won’t get dessert” etc.

And have you noticed that a lot of the “or else’s” are left really vague? I would argue that this is the case because so often what we mean is,

“you need to do this thing or else, I will get upset”.

We don’t really want to add an actual consequence because we aren’t really interested in following through with our threats. We just want our point of view understood as one that we are really serious about.

It is such a common criticism of parents that I hear,

“No wonder the kid is out of control, they never follow through on their threats”

And I do see parent’s threatening misbehaving children all the time with,

If you don’t behave we are going to pack up and go home right now, I don’t care that we just got here.”

I would argue that this “not following through” is a good instinct, it’s an evolution from the way our own parents reacted by cutting off their noses to spite all of our faces.

Threatening less or ceasing to make threats that you don’t have a desire to follow through on in the first place is what is missing from the new model of parenting.

But equally I get how hard it is not to reach for this old faithful when the kids have spent the day winding you up and pushing your buttons. It is really hard to parent differently from our own parents, it’s hard wired into us.

I also think it is important to ask the question “Do our loved ones really need to change in the first place?” What would have happened if I was left to my own devices that day on the beach? What if I had never experienced a screamer out-the-back? Would I have been any worse off?

For the record to this day I do feel very confident in the water as well as oh so respectful of the power of the ocean, but would that have happened anyway because of my heavy exposure to the beach?

The path that my father took me on did come at a cost; he no doubt would argue that it was a very small cost and this many years later on I would tend to agree with him.

But I have strong memories of always being scared to try new things with him. I was never able to trust that he would listen to me when I told him that I was terrified. But in his defence, I kept coming back for more even though I knew what was likely to occur.

In essence I was saying,

“Dad, I’m happy for you to show me how to do this new thing but you need to stop ignoring me when I tell you I’m scared, or else.”

My father always chose the “or else” option.

I’m guessing that for him it was more important to push me through my fears once I’d started something then to worry about if I’d come back for more down the track. Or maybe he was super confident that his ends would justify his means and I’d keep lining up to be pushed out of my comfort zone.

The ideal is obviously a position of compromise in relationships and a two-way communication style that omits ultimatums. I would also be so bold to suggest, and you’ll disagree with me here but just let me plant a seed,

“that we need to reach a place where we can accept that our loved ones know what is best for themselves no matter their age or their circumstances.”

I know, it’s a hard one to swallow, and it’s a concept that I’ve only just come around to and often I do the opposite with my loved ones. The “I know what’s best for you” drum beats very loudly within me.

But until we reach that place, then I would argue that we can’t get this stuff wrong.

By being able to refuse our loved ones suggestion to change and by having the option to take up the “or else” part we can hold just as much power as our loved ones in that moment.

Or conversely if we chose to act then surely we take on just as much of the responsibility for the outcome as they do…maybe more?

Relationships are growth machines and they constantly plant seeds for us to develop, grow and change; it is because of the magic of the “or else” part, we get to choose the when’s, if’s and how’s.

Leanne xx

NB: To be very clear I am in no way speaking about the forcing of our loved ones to change in ways that are defined as emotionally, physically or mentally abusive. Such behaviour should never be tolerated and you should seek immediate help and support if either yourself or a loved one are at risk. Google “Domestic Abuse Help” in your local area.

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Acceptance, Challenging Beliefs, Friendships, Relationships

What Baby Gammy has Taught Me about the Freedom of Difference

Photo Credit: Damir Sagolj, Reuters.

The other night Four Corners aired a report by Debbie Whitmont about the Surrogacy Business in Thailand with particular respect to Australian families.

The future of surrogacy in Thailand has been well and truly rocked by the alleged abandonment of baby Gammy. For those of you unaware of the story; it was alleged that Gammy, who was born via a surrogate in Thailand to Australian biological parents, was abandoned and left with his surrogate mother due to being born with Down syndrome.

There has been a tremendous outpouring of support for baby Gammy and a continued interest in the case as there is still so much that is unknown. Baby Gammy’s story has raised so many important questions with respect to how children are born and raised in our modern world.

Inspired by baby Gammy; today I wanted to push all of the legal and ethical questions aside to focus on our societies’ perceptions of children with special needs and the freedom that comes with the acceptance of different points of views.

Baby Gammy’s birth has raised many questions in me and made me reflect deeply upon my own beliefs, thoughts, fears, misconceptions and behaviours. I put my hand up to say that “I freak out when I see a child with special needs in a supermarket”. I don’t want to stare or make a fuss, I don’t want to seem uncompassionate or disinterested and I often find myself awkwardly smiling and trying to gauge the response of the parents. I am genuinely unsure of how to respond in a way that doesn’t make anyone feel uncomfortable or unseen.

Then I got to thinking about how I respond to children without special needs in supermarkets. I never seek the interaction; I interact naturally and when the situation calls for it. If they speak to me I speak back, if they stare at me I smile, if they bump into me I make a joke about it.

I’m also guided by the parents, if a parent is in a bad mood and dealing with a misbehaving child I don’t think,

“Oh I better interact with this family somehow otherwise they’ll think that I am disenfranchising them from our community.”

If I’m coming up an aisle about to walk past a family who isn’t paying any attention to me; I don’t think,

“What am I going to do once I get to them? They are standing in-front of the frozen peas and I don’t want to appear rude by asking them to move. Should I talk to the child first before I ask the parents to excuse me? I don’t want them to think that I don’t care about their child. Maybe I’ll just come back for my peas.”

I would never behave in such an awkward, calculated and conspicuous way; I would just be myself, I would act naturally and I would take my cues from the situation.

This all got me thinking about how we respond to the birth of children without special needs and what would happen if we behaved the same way upon the birth of children with special needs? What if we let the situation and the context dictate our responses?

In the past I haven’t shouted out any loud messages like “special needs children are born perfect as they are!” I’ve no doubt taken pity, offered sympathy and sentiments of commiserations; I’m sure behind closed doors I’ve made broad generalisations about how a special needs child “would ruin your life”. And if those words didn’t come out of my mouth directly then I have definitely allowed them to be spoken in my presence unchallenged.

I can’t speak to the realities of raising a special needs child, and that’s kind of my point. I would argue that none of us could understand the complexities until we were in that situation. I wish to be clear that I am only speaking of these ideals to the context of our collective society.

A close friend of mine gave birth to a normal, run-of-the-mill, healthy child yesterday. When we all heard the news her Facebook wall was littered with sentiments of ‘congratulations’,‘ how wonderful’ and ‘how exciting’.  I wondered if we would share the same sentiments if she gave birth to a child with special needs?

Raising any newborn child is difficult, I don’t wish for the sleepless nights and total upheaval that my girlfriend is about to experience upon myself, but I certainly wouldn’t think it appropriate to offer my sympathies to her. I strongly believe in her ability to be a mother to this child and I know that she has the support that she needs to do a good job.

If in a few days, weeks or months time she comments to me on how difficult she is finding it then my sympathy and support would be offered, but it is in a context of her seeking it. There are so many variables in how someone raising a child with special needs, or without, is going to be able to cope. The family and support networks available, access to medical care, education, practice, experience etc. Surely these things would make the journey of caring for a special needs child different from family to family?

So what if we offered special needs families the option to have us offer our excitement, our congratulations and our joy from the beginning? If it wasn’t appropriate because they told us they were struggling then we could offer them our compassion and support. But ultimately it would be their context and their needs that would guide us rather than our hypothetical projections of what it must be like for them.

I get that in practise this is awkward stuff, this is why I’d encourage us to have those conversations with our friends and families before such a situation arose. We are so good at asking the question “Would you go ahead with a pregnancy if you found out the child had special needs?” but rarely do we ask “If it happened, how would you like me to respond?”

To ease some of the awkwardness we could start having a different type of conversation behind their backs. What if when we were having those discussions with our mutual friends about their ‘situation’; we focused on the positive aspects that our loved ones were not yet able to see? What if we started to tell stories of hope and appreciation rather than pity?

“I heard about Bill and Jenny’s poor bub. Isn’t it dreadful? I can’t even image how difficult it is going to be for them. Their lives are never going to be the same; it must be so stressful for them. I don’t know how they are going to be able to cope.”

 What if we offered something similar to these sentiments as a new response?

 “Yes I don’t think I could cope but who knows how’ll they’ll find it. They are amazing people and I’m sure they’ll surprise themselves. I’m excited for them because if any family can thrive with a special needs child it’s them.

I know this is not the child they were expecting but what a blessing and joy he has been. I’ve already learnt a lot and I’ve had a lot of my misconceptions challenged, and he’s only 3 months old. This child could possibly be the greatest thing that has even happened for all of us, I am really looking forward to being a part of his life.”

We don’t know how things are going to turn out for Bill and Jenny, but the same is true for all families. Their family could break under the strain or they could thrive. As their friend what service do I offer them by focusing only on their potential future struggles? It’s not like if I don’t point out the potential difficulties to them that they’ll never know they exist. Why do we feel like “telling it like it is” is a helpful approach? You can’t “tell it like it is” about the future because there is no ‘is’ yet.

This is a really complex issue and I’m not suggesting that having a child with special needs is something that every one should choose or even consider. I have no judgement about the choices that parents make, every family is different and every set of circumstances is unique. Even as this story about baby Gammy unfolds it is appearing that his life has taken a much better turn than if his biological parents had taken him.

I’m simply suggesting that as a society rather than focus on the struggle as our first point of call that we allow space for an alternative more hopeful viewpoint for families. Surely we can offer optimism to others even in situations that we would find undesirable for ourselves?

Isn’t celebrating the birth of every child something that as a society we would want to aspire to?  Maybe this is a moot point; maybe upon the birth of a special needs child within our sphere of family and friends we would extend our congratulations and appreciation very naturally. Until that moment comes we are only speaking in hypothetical’s.

We’ve all over heard or participated in a conversation with friends and family behind closed doors that has been sparked by a prenatal Down syndrome test. During these hypothetical’s, declarations about “a zero desire to raise a child if the test came back positive” as well as “abortion being the only sensible option” are made. I don’t think for a minute that the decision would be so cut and dry if ever that choice had to be made for real. But maybe it would be, I’m not judging either way.

What is there to judge about people making decisions about what is best for them based on their own personal situation, needs and beliefs? I dream of living in a society that is able to do just that. Because the more capable we are of pursuing our own happiness free from guilt and shame the sooner we’ll stop caring about the choices that others make that are different to our own.

It is the allowance of a different point of view that I am arguing for. When those hypothetical’s come up; I can voice an opinion that for me the experience of having a special needs child may be one I see as difficult and unwanted, but I can also offer an acknowledgement that this wouldn’t be true for every family.

The truth is also that some families are thriving and have found it to be the greatest blessing of their lives. Why not tell those stories with our family and friends in front of our children as well?

It is the blanket belief that we hold as a society hold that “special needs children are always less desirable than children without special needs” that I am rallying against.  For some people the statement may be true, but equally for others it won’t be. So let us only declare which statements are true for us and let others decide for themselves.

Let us create a space where parents with special needs children can celebrate all that their children have enriched their lives with without us projecting our hypothetical fears upon them.

The reason we find it so difficult to muster hope and optimism for others is because we are searching for solutions to what for us is a hypothetical problem. We cannot possibly predict how others are going to rise to challenges or the amount of help and support that becomes available to them until we witness them in the situation.

We can never know the wonders or challenges that lay ahead in the future, just as we cannot know what drives the decisions of others and nor do we have to.

But to allow for a broad spectrum of difference in those decisions, and to offer people real freedom to make decisions that are different to my own which are free from my projections…well that’s a world that I’d like to welcome baby Gammy into.

Leanne xx

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Challenging Beliefs, Forgiveness, Friendships, Relationships, Romantic Relationships

Is it Me? Do I Need to Change?

Hi Leanne,

Last night my brother sat me down and gave me a long list of the faults that he saw in me and now I have no idea what to do with it all. I feel like he read me like a book, being my brother he knows me inside out so he hit on some pretty big home truths.

He said if I didn’t change then he was done with me, that he has reached the end of his patience.

His list was long; I try to be a good person but I know I have a lot of demons and I don’t even know where to begin.

I have my own a family and a partner I love, a job that I’m good at and close friends who I also want to keep happy. 

I’m feeling really hurt and confused but also pretty helpless as I want to fix this but I don’t know how to or if I even should try. I really love my brother and want to do what I can. Where do I start?

Regards,

E.W

Hi E.W,

The reason you don’t know where to start is because this isn’t your journey. Your intuition can’t guide you in this situation because your intuition disagrees with the entire premise that there is anything wrong with you.

The negatives that your brother is seeing in you are his discomforts, they are about him. The uncomfortable feelings that you are experiencing from receiving his message however is all about you. (I’ll explain this part a little later on with an analogy about scruffy hair.)

Now I wouldn’t recommend confronting him about the mechanisms behind why he is striking out simply because it may just add fuel to his fire rather than help. What you need to know is that all he is attempting to do by having this conversation with you is to feel better. The way he has gone about it though clearly needs some work, but ultimately this is his journey. The one thing that you can do which may help him to feel better in the interim is just to listen and be open to hearing what he has to say.

This doesn’t mean that you have to agree with him, or that you have to commit to making any changes. Just listen to him and let him know that you’ve heard him by repeating his concerns back to him. Ask him to clarify anything that you don’t understand and then let him know that you appreciate that he has been able to share this with you and that you’ll have a good think about it.

And this will be the truth, because from the tone in your letter I’m guessing that this is all that you have been thinking about. So this is where I come in, my wish is to help you move past this E.W.

Firstly I want you to understand that the qualities that your brother is seeing in you which are causing him so much discomfort are the qualities that he doesn’t love about himself. The really interesting part is they are also the things that you are unsure about within yourself too. So by attempting to soothe him, the process will bring comfort to your own insecurities as well.

What is going on here is you are a mirror to all that your brother is struggling with. And here’s the thing, if you changed for him as he has asked you to do, and stopped reflecting what he doesn’t like; then he’d go and find another mirror which is identical to what you are reflecting to him now.

He is looking for answers and help to soothe the way he feels about the aspects of himself that he doesn’t like. He wants to find someone with the same “faults” as him who isn’t being hurt by them; he is looking for someone who is using these “faults” to their advantage so that he can follow the same path for himself. He is searching for the answer to the question,

“How do I feel better about myself?”

The “faults” that he has chosen to address in you are things that you don’t love about yourself either. That’s where so much of your pain comes from; it feels like he is telling the truth because you’ve had those same thoughts about yourself too. But it’s not the truth.

The truth never hurts, the truth always feels good. Other people’s truth about us hurt, never our own.

Blog Quote - The truth never hurts

There are probably other “faults” that he’s raised in your lifetime together but you are so disconnected to them that they didn’t hurt so you didn’t pick them up.

Let’s say you’ve got really short hair and your brother who has long unkempt hair said, “I hate the way your hair is so messy and untidy all of the time. You don’t take any pride in the way you present your long hair. It’s embarrassing”.

It’s doubtful that you would take that criticism on board or be hurt by it because it’s not something that you have said to yourself. It’s not an insecurity that you carry because you are so confident in your belief about yourself that you don’t have long hair. It is much easier to pick at a scab that is already there than cut a new wound.

You love your brother because of all you know him to be. You love him because you choose to look past the things about him that he would deem to be “faults”. Now it’s time to do the same thing for you. If you can look past your own “demons” and faults” to love yourself the way you love him; then you’ll show him how to do the same thing for himself as well as heal your wound.

Loving himself is the ONLY thing that is going to give him any relief. There is never a time when we are thriving, feeling awesome and kicking goals in all aspects of our life when we bother to stop and notice the flaws and shortcomings of those we love. Never.

Thriving & Flaws

Sure you can take on board his suggestions if they are things that make sense to you as areas that you wish to grow and improve in. But there is nothing you need to ‘fix’ about yourself because you are not broken. How could you possibly know just how amazing you are in certain moments if you didn’t equally know yourself as not-amazing in those same moments?

You will never be perfect and the great news is you don’t have to be. You will continue to change, develop, improve and grow. But you will also continue to stumble, yearn for more and find the need to try again.

Your brother is seeking your help so that he can stop feeling the way that he does about himself. Not consciously, but deep down he has chosen you because he thinks that you are capable enough to help him. In a really messed-up way he is saying that he believes in you.

It is twisted but the only reason he has struck out at you is because he’s desperate for relief. He’s not a bad person; he just didn’t know what else to do. He really wanted your attention on this and it worked, he got your full attention.

There are positives and negatives to every situation. You simply can’t have one without the other. There are people who have said that prison was the best thing that ever happened to them and there are people who’ve said that winning the lottery was the worse.

So start looking for the positives in all of the “faults” that your brother has pointed out to you. You know what the negatives of those traits has been for you, but what were the positives every time you “let him down”?

And they will be there; if you look hard enough the positives are always there.

Let’s say you didn’t pick him up from the airport when you said you were going to for example. He then felt really let down and like he didn’t matter to you. A benefit may be that next time he’ll make more of an effort to let people know how important things are to him; so you’ve helped him become a better communicator.

There will be many silver linings; I’d say that you could find at least 10 once you start looking for them.

In the meantime saying this affirmation every morning and night is really going to soothe you and diminish the hurt that his words have brought which are spinning around in your head.

“I release the hurt that I’ve been carrying because I know that my brother is struggling right now and his intention is to feel better. The most important thing I can focus upon is how I feel about me rather than the opinions of others about me.

I send him love and I chose to focus on the wonderful aspects of both him and myself. I release myself from the burden of taking responsibility for how my brother is feeling, his emotions and his feelings are his concern.

When negative thoughts about myself pop up I’m going to put my attention to how those perceived negatives aspects of myself have benefited someone in my life.

I’m a good person, I am doing my best and that is more than enough.

Everyday I become wiser, stronger, more open and more loving. I have nothing to protect myself from and nothing to be confused about because I’m clear that mine is the only opinion that matters.

I’m going to follow the path that feels good to me, and if it feels good to me then I know it is my truth and it is going to best serve the people I love.”

And E.W, every time you see your brother you can think quietly to yourself “I don’t have long hair brother, you do. And I love you no matter how scruffy it gets.”

You deserve all the happiness, love and joy in the world. And I’m sending you a big cyber hug right now.

Lots and lots of Love

Leanne Evelyn-Charles xx

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Acceptance, Challenging Beliefs, Friendships, Relationships

The 3 Beautiful Lessons that I Learnt About My Beliefs from Picking Zucchini

Before the beginning of my final year at university I spent the summer picking fruit up north in a little town near the state border of Queensland and New South Wales called Stanthorpe.

The lovely little town Queensland town of Stanthorpe, home of the Apple & Grape Festival.

The lovely little Queensland town of Stanthorpe, home of the Apple & Grape Festival.

After some difficultly finding jobs, my girlfriend Michelle and I finally got work picking zucchini’s at a local farm. To get our jobs we had to convince and then promise the farms owners, a husband and wife team, that we were reliable and that we wouldn’t quit. We were told that the work was back breaking that they’d had a gut full of employees letting them down by quitting within the first week.

By the end of our first day I knew what they were referring to, I could barely stand up I was aching that much. But as we soon realised, there were other reasons that they had such a low retention of staff. Away from his wife, the husband’s behaviour was horrendous.

We were very young and his sexual attentions were very unwanted and they were constant. At one point he gathered the male employees together to watch us bending over picking zucchini’s and declared,

 “We should make them wear uniforms hey boys? Short skirts with no underwear.”

Our local pub which we conveniently lived 400m from. We were so broke that we couldn't afford to drink the $1.50 wines all night. So we would buy one and then refill our glass from a bladder of goon that we had stashed under the bushes near the back car park. #yeahIamabogan

Our local pub which we conveniently lived 400m from. We were so broke that we couldn’t afford to drink the $1.50 wines all night. So we would buy one and then refill our glass from a bladder of goon that we had stashed under the bushes near the back car park. #yeahIamabogan

I’m pleased to say that he was on his own, the ‘boys’ found him to be just as abhorrent as we did. We had no idea how to deal with something like this, we just tried to ignore it and hoped that it would go away, it didn’t.

After 6 days working there we had a day off. We travelled to visit a friend’s place that was on the other side of the border. On our way back we stopped and had a drink at a pub and we talked about our predicament.

For Michelle it was an easy decision, we couldn’t go back to work there, we’d find somewhere else to work. For me it was a massive struggle.

Firstly there was my fear about getting another job. We were living in a one-bedroom cottage with 8 other people; our combined weekly budget after we paid our $10 a week for rent was $50. Things were tight; between us we were down to our last $20.

Our beds on the lounge room floor of the 1 bedroom house that we shared with 8 other people.

Michelle demonstrating our comfortable beds on the lounge room floor of the 1 bedroom house that we shared with 8 other people. The only couple of the house got the bedroom and the bed frame above is missing a mattress because the guy sleeping on it vomited on it the night before.

But the even bigger reasons for my struggles were the beliefs that I held to be true of myself,

 “I can’t call home for money and admit that I’d failed at this, I’ve never failed.”

 “I’m not a quitter, I’ve never quit anything in my life.”

 “I promised them, my word is my bond. I’ve never gone back on my word.”

No doubt there were plenty of times that I’d failed, quit and went back on my word in my young life. But the way I would have justified it in my mind was by never declaring that I was ‘trying’ in the first place.

Unknowingly or not the ‘Farmer’ had tapped right into some of my most tightly held beliefs. I had made the commitment not to quit, I promised them I wouldn’t let them down, and I gave them my word that they could trust me.

These beliefs were further exacerbated in me by them also being tightly held by my family. Going back generations our family culture has been very clear about who we are and who we are not. We are ‘not quitters’, ‘we don’t let people down’, and ‘we don’t break our word’.

I still believe the attributes of determination and resilience to be fantastic ones, but that day at the pub on the border with Michelle planted a seed that changed me. Until that conversation it had never occurred to me to ask the question,

“To what end?”

What was I hoping to achieve by sticking it out at a job that was providing me some of the most uncomfortable and confidence crushing moments of my young life? I had failed to look at the context in which I was displaying these character traits that had always served me so well in the past.

At the pub Michelle told me that her father had always given her the advice,

“If it isn’t making you happy then change it, do something else.”

My struggle came about because I couldn’t see how her family’s beliefs could possibly align with my own. I saw her father’s advice as flakey. I remember thinking to myself that it all sounded too easy, what if everyone just went about and did what made them happy?

What if everyone did what made them happy? Good question isn’t it?

It was at that moment that I also realised I held a pretty strong belief that struggle was good. When I looked at why I thought that, it was because in my world struggle meant hard work, dedication and determination; and to me that always led to success. That belief had always been true for me whilst studying or on the sports field; but there was no ‘success’ to be had in this context.

At that pub I was gushing with tears. ‘Where I wanted to be’ was happy and safe, and ‘where I was’ was trying to hold myself in an environment that was making me miserable and unsafe. My two wants were in direction opposition which caused me a heavy internal conflict, my head was saying ‘stay’ and my heart was saying ‘go’.

After our drink we left the pub and we crossed back over the border, which became a metaphoric precipice for me. We quit our jobs the next morning and picked up work at another farm sorting green beans on a conveyor belt.

The conveyor belt. I often recited the entire script for Pulp Fiction whilst sorting the beans...it was the 90's.

The conveyor belt. I learnt to recited the entire script from Pulp Fiction whilst sorting the beans to break up the tedium. It was the summer of 1996 and I freakin loved that movie.

The work was much easier, we were paid more, and I loved every minute of it. The people we worked with, including our new bosses were some of the best people I have ever met in my life. They were impressed and appreciative of the hardworking, determined attributes that we demonstrated. I look back on our golden summer in that little town as one of the happiest times of my life.

Left: Me  Middle: Our beautiful new employers, Kim & Peter Slater Right: The most awesome picking buddy a girl could have, Michelle.

Left: I dyed my brunette hair blond myself after being warned by a hairdresser not to. She was right about it not turning out well. My hair was orange for a week and then after a couple of attempts I got it to a lovely shade of yellow. Middle: Our beautiful new employers, Kim & Peter Slater. Right: The most awesome travelling buddy a girl could have, Michelle Waples.

Michelle’s father was right, but so was I.

‘Get yourself into a safe and happy context’ and then try being ‘determined and tenacious’.

Over the years I’ve had many struggles when my tightly held beliefs were challenged, but every time the struggle has brought me a new perspective, a new ease and a new wisdom.

I’ve learnt three really beautiful lessons about my beliefs:

1. Beliefs are stubborn and hate the ideal of being changed. So we don’t need to change them when they are challenged if we don’t want to; just looking at the context is enough.

We wouldn’t hold it as a belief if it didn’t serve us in at least one context, so in that respect all of our beliefs are true and useful.

All that we need to bother ourselves with is it’s ability to function harmoniously in the context of our desires. If our beliefs are working in opposition to what we want then maybe it is time to put them aside for a bit until the context changes.

2. Beliefs are powerful and wonderful things but there is even more empowerment and joy to be found when we combine them with another’s. Not just anyone’s, but the one’s that align with the perspective of our heart.

3. Without even knowing it our beliefs can reach out well past our sphere of influence and out past our lifetime.

Michelle’s father will never know how his beliefs contributed positively to my life. Who knows how many thousands of people this one belief of his has, and will continue to bring joy to. Isn’t that cool?

Leanne xx

Post Script:

Unfortunately I’ve lost contact with Michelle, I’m unsure of her married name so have been unsuccessful at tracking her down. On the off chance that anyone reading this does know Michelle (nee Waples) I would greatly appreciate you getting in touch with me below.

Last day of our Golden Summer before returning home.

Left to Right: Michelle and I on the last day of our Golden Summer before returning home.

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Acceptance, Challenging Beliefs, Friendships, Relationships

Why I No Longer Think My Sister Is Perfect

I have long thought that my sister is perfect.

I was going to provide you with a big long list of reasons why she is awesome, but she doesn’t know I’m writing this and she would rightly crack it if she saw that list posted on the World Wide Web. But for the point of the story all you need to know is that I think she’s perfect. Perfect because of the person that she is and because of the type of life that she is living.

So here’s why I no longer think she’s perfect, the 1st reason is because she’s asked me not to; numerous times.

The 2nd reason is, that to call her perfect diminishes the hard work and tough choices that she has made in her life. Her success and happiness hasn’t just happened; she’s put great thought, focus and effort into the type of life that she wants to live and the type of person that she wants to be.

The 3rd reason is that to call her perfect unknowingly makes a judgement upon any struggles or hardships that she may have faced in her life.

A few years ago I caught up for lunch with my best friend and a mutual friend of ours who I hadn’t seen for over 15 years. He had always had a bit of a crush on me and had placed me on a pedestal; which if I’m being honest, I thought was lovely.

He had me on a pedestal because he didn’t know me that well; it is easy never to see the faults of someone you don’t really know. I knew that he wasn’t getting to see the imperfect aspects of me, and truth be told I was deliberate about keeping him at arms length in order to maintain the charade.

As a youngster I always thought that this was a great dynamic to have in my life. To have someone who looked up to me and who thought that I was much more capable than I thought I was.

What I didn’t realise until that lunch was; there was another side to being adored falsely.

It was a lot of pressure for me to live up to, but the heartbreaking side was the realisation that every time he recognised perfection in me, he measured a fault in himself.

When we recognise aspects of people that we admire, that we also see in ourselves, we never refer to them as perfect traits. We don’t use that word because we know from personal experience that we have also exhibited the opposite of that trait in our lifetime.

Perfection is a statement that says that there is no other side. That there is only success without failure, there is only compassion without cruelty, there is only good times without the bad and there is only love without fear. Perfection isn’t real, so holding someone to ideals that don’t exist is never going to bring service to them and it certainly isn’t going to bring good feelings for us.

So there I was at this lunch, with two people who saw me in completely different lights growing up. One thought I was perfect and the other knew me to be an obnoxious, insecure, overconfident dickhead. And my realisation was that I’d take the latter any day.

My best friend knowing all of my flaws and weaknesses had offered me an incredible and loving freedom. She got that I wasn’t perfect which made her appreciation of the great aspects about me even sweeter. She valued me for me, the good as well as the bad.

That lunch immediately had me thinking about how it must have felt for the people who I have placed on a pedestal in my own life.

And there have been so many, I am a serial offender. My father said to me when I was about 10yrs of age

“The problem with you is that you compare your weaknesses to other people’s strengths”.

Not only was he right but it has been a pattern my entire life and one I only recently worked out was connected to my ‘placing people on a pedestal’ thing.

I always thought that the act of being completely one eyed about someone was a loving one, but I now see that it’s not. It offers nothing but fear, and can do nothing other than bring about a feeling of unworthiness for the adorer and a lot of pressure and unloving attention for the adoree.

This brings me to the 4th reason I’ve stopped seeing my sister as perfect, she doesn’t need that discomfort in her life. She needs me to understand that she’s not perfect, and to love and appreciate her regardless. And here’s the kicker, I can’t love and appreciate her wholly unless I love myself like that.

This leads me to my 5th and best reason to stop seeing her as perfect; because it enables me to start seeing the perfect aspects within me in spite of my perceived weaknesses.

Who have you got on a pedestal?

Leanne xx

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Acceptance, Forgiveness, Friendships, Relationships, Romantic Relationships

Batshit Crazy: A Familiar – Letter to my Batshit Crazy Ex

Dear Past Self,

Tricked you didn’t I? Sorry, but to write this letter to our ex would be futile. You couldn’t change or fix him when you were together so how do you imagine I’m going to have some magic solution to do it now?

The reason that I write this letter is because you need to move on and you can’t do that until you stop taking responsibility for his behaviour and well-being. It’s now time to let go of having an opinion about how he is living his life, because it is exhausting you.

Whether you realise it or not you are still trying to fix, help and change him. There have been so many arguments; you’ll tell anyone who’ll listen just how Batshit Crazy he has been behaving and how if he just listened to you more he could avoid a lot of heartache. You read articles and your first thoughts are “he needs to read this, this is what his problem is”, you hear things and you think “that’s the issue that he has”; regardless of how much or how little contact you have with him you are still focused on all that he is ‘not’.

Here’s the thing, that focus isn’t helping either of you. Deep down you’ve always known that it feels safer to try and ‘fix’ and take care of him because it means that you’ll never have the time to do it for yourself. The question I want to ask you is “Now you are not a couple, why do you care so much if he doesn’t get it together?” When you were first together you didn’t seem to perceive him as being as broken as you do now. Are you really trying to ‘fix’ him or have you been avoiding ‘fixing’ yourself?

I know that this makes you very uncomfortable, but it’s not something you need to be afraid of any more. Lots of people in your life know that you are not perfect and guess what, they love you anyway. You love loads of non-perfect people too; in fact the only person in this world who you don’t love because they are not perfect is you.

Your ex is acting Batshit Crazy right now because he is very hurt, confused and angry…but so are you. You have managed to keep some control over your emotions so it looks very different but it is the same, you both haven’t been coping. He screams, rants and loses control and you withdraw, pull away and control.

Controlling? Me? You know what I’m talking about, when you give him your stern schoolteacher voice to instruct him “Please don’t interrupt me when I’m speaking or this conversation will have to end” is only something you do because you know drives him crazy. You constantly pointed out his faults and you set yourself up as the authority, in your world you were always right and he was always wrong.

I’m not judging your choice of tools here, I don’t think you’re an arsehole, I don’t think there are any arseholes in this story; you were just two people trying to do their best in a highly emotional situation. Why wouldn’t you retaliate when he flipped out? It’s a scary thing to deal with, and imagine the mess that it would have turned into if you didn’t have a clear vision of what you thought was happening and if you didn’t try to control it? My point is the two of you were in it together; you both were and are struggling to cope.

Whether you like it not your ex in still in your life and that may or may not change soon. But this uncomfortable, frustrating and undesired situation is offering you the greatest opportunity for growth that you’ve had in years. This challenge holds him at its centre but the benefits will mostly be yours; I urge you to start focusing on the things about him that you’d like to see.

Remember we are talking about a person who you fell in love with and at one point you thought he was so together that you decided to partner up with him. Start focusing again on that, I get that this was a challenge that you couldn’t meet when you were together, so why would it be any different now?

Here’s why, because now the middleman is gone. He is out of the equation so now you have the time and the space to start to redefine how you see him and more importantly how you see yourself. Remember how you used to feel? Remember how capable, loving and happy you used to be?

You’ve complained for years about how you are always there for others and how desperately you crave for someone to do the same for you. You now have the time and the space to be that person for you.

You can let go of worrying about him; it has taken up so much of your precious energy and has offered you zero returns. I’m not suggesting that you stop caring about him; I’m suggesting that you stop the worry.

I appreciate how terribly hard this is to do so I suggest that you start really small. Whenever he behaves in a way that is Batshit Crazy tell yourself a new story, tell the story so it it offers you some relief.

“I know that I fallen into his Batshit Crazy world at times and I have reacted in ways that have added fuel to the fire and which has made me feel more upset. I also know that how he behaves is none of my responsibility. His behaviour has never made me feel unsafe but I have surrounded myself with support and a plan in the event that it gets anywhere near that point.

I’ve taking back control of how I feel and I have the power to choose the emotions that I respond with. I no longer allow him to choose the emotions I feel by reacting to his behaviour. To do this I am going to step back and pay attention to what he is trying to achieve through his behaviour. I am also going to focus on the positive aspects of him in order to maintain the good feeling life that I wish to live.

When I step back I know he is only acting this way because he is feeling very hurt, confused and angry. I know that he wants to feel better and that he’s not sure how.

He’ll work it out, and I look forward to the day that he feels really good again, but I release my worry about that. I’m going to try and remember him as the person that I fell in love with. I’m not going to do this because I think that it will fix or help him but because it is going to make me feel better. And when I’m feeling good there is nothing that I can’t handle.

When we get stuck on things and I find him to be unreasonable I’m going to ask myself the question “Does it really matter if I let go and let him have his way on this?”

I’m going to stop engaging with him about who’s right or wrong, I’m going to let go and let him ‘win’ if it means more peace and happiness in my own life. I know there is lots of things that he is fighting for that he doesn’t care about, he just cares that he doesn’t ‘lose’. I can understand this response from him, nobody likes to feel like they are losing something.

I’m going to cease being a resistant force that he can push against, I’m going to let as much flow over me as possible. I’m focused on the end game, not the nitty gritty of all of this. I get that there are no ‘winners’ or ‘losers’ here. There is only ‘happy and peaceful’ or ‘sad and tumultuous’ and I choose the former.

Right now I don’t have a lot of great things to say about him and that’s OK. I know that I used to think that he was a good person. I know that some of his family and friends who I like and respect as well as our kids really love him so I’m going to try to focus on what they see in him. Until then it feels much better to have no expectations of him.

I know I can’t live the joyous fulfilling life that I desire for myself if I’m focused on all of the negatives in my life. So on the days that I struggle to see any positives in him I’m going to refrain from dwelling on any thoughts about him at all, I’m going to keep the focus on the good stuff in my life.

I’m improving all of the time and there are lots of things that I can be appreciative for. It makes me feel empowered and energised when I focus on these things.

Life is starting to feel really good again, everything is going to work out just fine for me: it always does.”

Lots of love from your Future Self
xoxo

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