sentimental me

December 26, 2013

family life

It’s been a sentimental year really.

My Mum’s house burnt down in February. She was lucky to get out alive. She had taken a sleeping tablet before bed as there was a raging storm outside. Lightning hit the house in the middle of the night and followed the electricity lines into the kitchen and set it alight. My Mum awoke to fire and smoke and got herself out.

As is always the way with fire, people talk about losing the sentimental things. The things that tie them to the past. The photos and trinkets. This fire punched me in the gut. The photos of my brothers and I as kids were gone. The photos of my Dad who passed away over 25 years ago. Photos of our ancestors. My stepdads’ journals that he wrote and illustrated when he served in the war. He was an artist by trade and by nature, and I had only a little while before the fire suggested to mum that she ring a museum as those journals would have been of great interest. All gone.

It wasn’t so much the things, it’s the stories behind them. I love a story. I hear a lot of stories in my work with children and parents. Story adds meaning to people’s lives. I worked with a little girl this year whose father died before she was born. She had an emptiness that she didn’t know how to fill. She had no stories of her Dad – things he did as a kid, where he grew up and went to school, what he loved to do. I suggested that the family fill her heart with stories of her Dad, and it helped to make her whole. I’m always telling my boys stories about the adventures and funny things they did when they were little. I was talking with my work colleagues about this topic over lunch recently, and I said that sometimes it’s hard to know whether our earliest memories are actually our memories or were planted there by the stories our parents and grandparents told. Stories keep the memories alive. The material things are props, a visual reminder.

We had the bushfires come through in October. One afternoon I picked up the boys from school at 3pm and on the horizon was a massively fierce bushfire. I told the boys that this was serious and when we got home they were to be ready to leave when I told them to. They asked what they should pack and it was such a serious fire that I said “nothing, it’s more important that we are safe”. By 3:40pm the fire was at the end of our street. For four hours the neighbours and I watched in the street as the Elvis helicopters and Rural Fire Service fought the fire. We were ready to leave at a moments’ notice with nothing more than the clothes we were wearing.  That afternoon the fire had taken 200 homes on the next ridge over from us, with thankfully no loss of life. We were on bushfire alert for the next week, and had time to organise the important things to take with us if we had to evacuate – photos, journals, and important documents. The boys packed a few treasures, it was interesting to see what they valued.

We recently decided to trade-in our 10 year-old 8-seater vehicle that we fondly called “the bus”. There was absolutely nothing wrong with it. It would have easily chugged away for another 10 years. This was such a hard decision. All of those memories of getting little kids in and out of the bus, travelling in the bus, transporting other people’s kids in the bus, But our boys are older and their bodies are big. Our small suburban backyard is just too small for them now and we can’t afford to get a bigger yard. I tell them that they can only annoy the neighbours three times, knocking on the door to ask to retrieve their ball from their yard. Any more and the ball stays over the fence until the neighbours find it and toss it back over. We need to get these boys out more for camping, walks, and picnics. We bought a vehicle that is more suitable for going camping and out and about in the bush.

The decision to buy “the truck” as we call it, put a lot of things into focus.

I was quite happy to live in denial, be blissfully ignorant. But my husband and I started talking about what our eldest boys’ being 12 meant and all of the implications for it on our parenting journey. And the realisation that he has done most of his growing up with us, and although he still needs us in every way for the moment, he will continue to have a more outward focus. This was a reality check for me.

In ten years’ time, my boys will be 22, 21, and 18. We don’t have ten more years “with” them, attending to every little detail of their lives.

And I think he feels it too. This 12 year-old: that is going into high school next year; who asked for a fez for Christmas because Matt Smith on Doctor Who says “Fezzes are Cool”; and whose teacher said he has a strong sense of social justice and is ‘learning’ to tolerate when people don’t agree with him. This boy insists that I still make him a snack or get his clothes ready for school. For sure he can do it himself, but this is his way of staying connected with me. When I suggest that he is able to do these things himself he says “but you’re still my Mum”, just as I occasionally remind him that he’s not too big for a hug. He’s not being lazy or treating me like a slave (even though that’s the way I perceive it at times) it’s his way of hanging onto a little bit more of Mum’s love and care. I realised that a little while ago, when I reflected in one of the parent groups I was facilitating that my youngest son rarely asks me to help him dress  for school in the morning anymore. For years, he has used the need for help as a way of topping up his emotional cup before he had to go out into the big world of school and be all the things that school needs him to be. He never asked for help on the weekends. I miss that he doesn’t need me quite so much.

Everywhere in my home the vestiges of early childhood remain. Over the past year I have been putting a lot of stuff in the goodwill bin – toys that the boys haven’t played with in ages. However, there is a box of baby toys I just can’t part with – they are just too sacred. The plastic clam that was their sand tray also remains – it is now a breeding ground for mozzies, and the place where rusting Tonka trucks retire. The train table and the big pink dolls’ house are still being used as backdrops for lego star wars battles, so for the moment they are safe. My husband says we can move the early childhood books on but I remind him that I still work with little kids. It’s hard because the presence of these things reminds me of the wonder and beauty of when my boys were little. I’m not sugar-coating it, they were amazing little kids. When I part with the things, they are no longer a visual reminder and a part of me panics a little. Will I remember if there isn’t the things around to remind me?

I have only just started to realise that I am a sentimental soul. Part of being sentimental is the ‘holding onto’ and this is getting hung up on the the past and the future, when really all we have is now.



I want to give a shout out to Hazel who has written a beautiful story about the dismantling of her 6 year-old son’s sandbox and all of the feelings associated with that – Hazel writes so well.


And then check out this article – So I’m not the only one thinking about this stuff!


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About hakea

groupworker, parent educator, therapist, mother of three boys.

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6 Comments on “sentimental me”

  1. Artful abuela Says:

    i am so sorry to hear about your mum’s house fire. i felt each word of your post. my recently married daughter (my baby child) and her husband were hit head on in a car collision just one month ago. they were hit by a drunk driver. their car was totaled, but my christmas miracle this year is that neither one was significantly hurt. when we compare the things to the people, they always come up short, but it doesn’t mean that we don’t miss those reminders. i wish for you, your family and your mum a most blessed 2014.


    • hakea Says:

      Hi AA

      I’m so glad to hear that your daughter and son-in-law are well. I despise the abuse of alcohol, it causes so much suffering.

      I hope that the new year brings you good health and many more adventures into the natural world.


  2. hazelmwheeler Says:

    I love this reflection on transitions and loss. How our stories give meaning, purpose, and heart to ourselves, our children, our communities…. my husband is a collector, our house filled with antiques which I sometimes feel beholden to– and your writing helps me have a glimpse into why he keeps so much of this stuff–how it gives him a sense of who he is, where he comes from. Your mention of your step-father’s writings and art… I understand that sense of importance.

    I have that same little packet of ‘can’t part with’ baby toys, by the way. Somehow, it would be like forsaking the memory of their childhood entirely; sacrilege.

    Thanks for a picture of ‘what’s coming next’… this autumn, we finally moved Kiddo out of his five-point child’s carseat and into a booster seat… do we ever stop musing over those small-but-significant changes, even as we celebrate the new progress? Lifelong journey, that.

    May blessings abound in 2014 and a sweet New Year await you all!


    • hakea Says:

      Thank you Hazel.

      This memory, story, journey stuff is so loaded, isn’t it?

      Wishing you and your family lots of joy for the new year. Six is such a lovely age, I know you’ll do your very best to enjoy it as much as you can.


  3. Geoff Ferguson Says:

    Hi Hakea
    I enjoyed reading your thoughts coming up to the end of the year. Those years when the kids are growing up and with us are so intense. You wrote about how your sons would ask for simple things to be done for them, as a way of feeling a connection with you as they gradually separated. That sounds so familiar. One of the things that I cherished – and probably sought, by having children – was the feeling of being needed. I would make my son’s breakfast way beyond the age at which he could (should?) have been doing that himself. It was me who couldn’t let go of that role, rather than him. Although I’m sure he enjoyed it in various ways, too.
    Now they’re both away – daughter Elspeth living with friends in South London and son Jame at university in another city. I don’t expect Elspeth will be back to live with us, though who knows what her life will bring; James may come back for a while after uni. I still remember the wrench when the eldest went off to school by herself for the first time. (Although I secretly followed her, to make sure she was ok or to keep holding on to her?)
    So it’s a new phase for our life, too, with an empty nest now. That has its own challenges – what is our purpose, as individuals or a couple, now that we are less needed as parents?
    All the best for you and your family for the coming year.


    • hakea Says:

      That’s gorgeous Geoff. Thank you for sharing.

      Some of the parents coming to my groups complain about how their children aren’t growing up quick enough for them. They want to be free of the hassle by the time their children are five years of age and going to kindergarten. The expectations of our everything-instant society has been transferred to parenting too.

      I’m already thinking about the empty nest and what that will look and feel like.

      I’ve been thinking about you lately, an Aussie in London. Us sweltering, and you with those storms and ice.

      I have a workshop on autism to write for the parents of the school I work in, so I’ll send you an email to see if you can give me any insights, especially regarding interventions. I haven’t worked intensively with kids with autism for over 13 years.

      Best wishes to you and your family.


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