Kids who decide life isn’t worth living. It has to stop. Why we all must be part of the solution.

October 25, 2012

My daughter and her friends went to a funeral this week.

Fourteen year old boys and girls. They should have been in school. Instead, they were in tears.

They lost a friend. A beautiful, smart, popular, bubbly girl. And they don’t understand why.

Fourteen year olds shouldn’t be going through this. They should be making up dances, and talking about boys, and pulling faces when their teacher’s back is turned.

They found out late last week. As is the way of the world, the message went out on Facebook. It spread quickly, even though most were still in class.

Some thought it was a hoax. It had to be. Their friend had everything to live for.

She’d been to our house a few times. One of the gang who took delight in keeping me awake during girly sleepovers.

By nightfall, the dreadful news was confirmed. Their social media world went into a frenzy. All asking the same question. Why?

They began posting tributes. With love hearts and kisses, as young girls do. Touching messages, of how much they loved her. Written out of hope, that she was somehow still reading them.

Together, they organised their own memorial service the following night, at one of their favourite places. More than one hundred of them. A place they’d gathered so often. Now a location to share grief.

They lit candles, and sent little hand-made boats across the water. They hugged, and cried. Some were distraught. A bunch of kids, trying to make sense of something the rest of us don’t understand.

This beautiful girl’s parents were there too. With their hearts breaking. I don’t know them, but my heart is breaking for them. Still. I can’t begin to imagine their pain. Their sense of loss.

They wished their beloved daughter could have seen the outpouring of emotion that unfolded that night. So many people who cared for her. So many decent teenagers, who wanted the chance to help. Now, it was too late.

I picked my daughter up when it finished. She was with a friend. They walked to the car, slowly. In the distance, I could see the parents, saying goodbye to the last of the kids. It looked like they didn’t want to leave that spot. Maybe they wanted to hold onto that outpouring of love just a little longer.

In the car, I asked the girls how it went. Good, they said. If only their friend had been able to see how much they all loved her. If only.

At home, our family talked long into the night. About the importance of looking after each other. Of sharing problems. Outing the bullies. Becoming a voice against wrong. And the fact that nothing is so big that it can’t be dealt with together.

I want this to stop. I don’t want another child to think that there’s no way out. I don’t want another loving mother and father to go through that unimaginable torture.

We need to start talking about it. We need to have conversations with our kids. It can’t be a secret any longer.

Every other day, in cities and towns all over the land, another youngster is taking this terrible option. Too many are now looking down, realising there was, in fact, another way.

Governments and schools have roles, and they must play a part. Getting even tougher with on-line thugs. Making sure there’s a place for everyone, no matter what their make up might be. And listening.

No-one has more power than us. Mums and Dads. Grandparents. We need to take this thing on.

Write down your own thoughts on it. Send them somewhere. Share this post with someone you think might benefit from it. Ring a radio station. Bring it up at the dinner table. With i-phones off for just a few minutes.

We can send cameras to take photos on Mars. Surely, together, we can provide a society that our children don’t feel the need to escape from.

I don’t have the answer. But I want to help find it. And soon. I’m sure you do too.

No more funerals for 14 year olds. Give your son or daughter an extra hug today. Think about that special girl. And get chatting. Play a part. The only thing more precious than life, is a young life.

My sleeping beauty. The latest lessons in life from a September 11 girl.

September 11, 2012

She came into the world with a coo and a gurgle. No extreme crying.

It was almost peaceful, compared to her sister a few years earlier.

The Teenager’s first scream could be heard in nearby suburbs. A noisy sign of things to come.

I can still picture the look on Daughter Two’s face, in those first few minutes. It’s like a photo in my mind. More than a beautiful baby. There was a presence, that remains to this day.

Her Mum felt it too. Like this tiny one was letting us know early on, that she was something special.

It didn’t take long to discover that these two much loved little girls were very much their own ladies. So similar is some respects, but so different in others.

Older sister loved hearing bedtime stories. One book after the other, night after night. She refused to go to sleep, even then. Nothing’s changed.

Younger sister would last about five pages. Sleep came so naturally. Try as she might, those gorgeous eyes would close swiftly. Nothing’s changed there either.

She can still call it a night, hours earlier than her sibling. Like both Mum and Dad, she appreciates a long sleep.

She went to bed early, on this day eleven years ago. Hard to argue with that, when you’ve just turned one.

We’d had a first birthday party for her, a few hours before the unthinkable happened in New York. The day her birth date became synonymous with terror.

There are mixed emotions for us at this time every year. So many families feel such awful pain, on the same day we celebrate our amazing gift.

She loves special occasions more than anyone I know. Birthdays, and Christmas, and Easter. Weeks out, plans are always very much in place.

So it was this weekend just gone. We held the party a few days early. Lots of fun. But very different from those early celebrations.

Back then, she couldn’t get enough of us. Didn’t matter who else attended, the biggest hugs would always be for Mum and Dad.

When you turn 12, you realise how ridiculous those same parents actually are. This time, we were warned about talking to the party guests. There would be no need for such idle chat. And don’t organise any games. Leave it to us, she said. She wasn’t being mean. Just being 12.

We behaved ourselves, and the party was a success. Not that she told us as much. But we could tell. There were even cuddles at day’s end.

As parents, we see wonderful things ahead for our daughters. Most Mums and Dads do. That they can do anything they turn their delicate hands to.

It’s not easy though. So many distractions. This girl who still falls asleep in the car, could be anything. Once she decides what it is that she actually wants to do.

She can sing, and act, and make people laugh. But it’s all confined to the lounge room. Too shy, she tells us.

Modelling agencies have snapped her up. Why wouldn’t they. Those same traits of beauty that afflict all the women in her family.

She has a flair for sport, especially athletics. Won relay gold at the regional carnival just yesterday. But doesn’t have time to compete on weekends. Far too busy with social activities.

Her love of dance continues. She’s great at that too. But only on her terms. Push her to do more, and be prepared for a battle.

Maybe this is all just a proud Dad boasting about the little girl he adores. Guilty as charged, your honour.

I know she’ll work it out. Big things are ahead. And we’ll be with her every step of the way.

She will change the world, you mark my words. For the better. Along with her sister. We’re so lucky to have them both in our lives.

In the meantime, she will give us those looks that only a Grade Seven girl can. And let us know how we have most things wrong. In the nicest possible way. Great practice for when she becomes Teenager Two. Twelve glorious months to go. Happy birthday beautiful girl.

Why kids know everything and parents know nothing. Lessons on how to let them find their way.

June 12, 2012

It’s hard for a child to accept that parents may have actually achieved something in a former life.

There is no possible way any of us could have had ability of any sort, way back then.

It’s all so different now. And we don’t get it.

As much as they love us, they refuse to believe that we could run, and dance, and kick goals.

They want proof. Unless it’s on YouTube, it doesn’t matter. Grainy old photos just add to the notion that such events were held in prehistoric times, and therefore don’t count.

Daughter Two has been preparing for her annual Sports Carnival. Not training, mind you. Preparing. As in clothes, and hair decorations, and streamers.

It must be said, she will look the part. In the best tradition of the world’s greatest athletes, she’s been visualising this day for months now. If the paparazzi attended primary school events, she would be on the front page.

As House Captain, it’s a big deal. She has a steely determination to dominate. The school oval will be a sea of Firetail Red. It’s her hope that the others will be left sulking in a far corner.

She’s also keen on winning her pet events. Attending to her social media rounds after school makes it impossible to do any extra practice, however she remains confident.

We were discussing how she should approach the sprints, and the relay, as we do at this time each year. I suggested a strategy that I thought might be helpful in bringing down her arch-rival. At which point, I received ‘the look’.

Most parents will understand. This is when we are made to realise just how little we know about the world.

“Dad”, she said. “It’s simple. You just run as fast as you can, try not to fall over, and see what happens. I don’t need a plan. Anyway, it’s DIFFERENT these days.”

Of course it is. When I was running they used sundials for stopwatches and hessian sacks for singlets.

I reminded her of the 800 metres, held last week. She performed magnificently, finishing second, thereby qualifying for the district competition. Even though her game plan was to sprint as hard as she could, stop mid-race in case she had to vomit, and run again.

Daughter Two defended this approach, declaring that the winner had done exactly the same thing. She just didn’t stop as long.

I then made the mistake of recalling, modestly of course, my own school athletic career. There are state medals hidden in a box somewhere.

I would have continued, had there not been an outburst of laughter from all those at the table. They have seen me struggle to run to a ringing phone. Who needs tips from him?

Probably just as well that the conversation ceased. I know what the next question would have been. “Did you run at the Olympics?” There is no middle ground with this lot. You’re either the very best, or an also-ran.

Like football. If I dare suggest that I played at a ground we see on tv, I know what’s coming. “Did you play State of Origin?” No, the selectors were happy with the other 30,000 players in front of me.

Mention that you trod the boards in the same thigh-slapping musical we’re watching, and it’s “Were you in a movie?” Sadly, no again. Funniest Home Videos doesn’t count.

It stretches to homework too. It was suggested that The Teenager should run her French assignment past me. Her reply was by way of a polite giggle. “Do you really think Dad will understand what I’m saying? It’s in French!” Touche.

I know it’s a phase. In and around the teenage years. When they were small, we were their heroes. And when they get older, hopefully, they’ll believe the clippings.

Might be best that I keep quiet for a bit. It’s all about love and support. And there’s oodles of that. In the meantime, if they find themselves in need of late-night karaoke hints, I’m their man.