A Mother’s Courage to Speak

How I regained a sense of self and became an advocate for voiceless children.

Toastmasters International Magazine, April 2019

Following a solid year of nights spent sleepwalking from exhaustion and changing nappies—most of my conversations with other adults having been on the virtues of various bottle brands—I returned to work part time. I had been so focused on my two young children and all the work that came with them that I felt out of place in the corporate world.

My job required me to dial in remotely to a weekly team meeting and give a five-minute rundown of my work in progress. Sitting alone in an empty room, I grew to dread speaking into the large mobile-conferencing speakerphone. Without body language or other visual cues, I was lost. I stumbled through sentences, my voice giving way to pressure to get through my task list as quickly as possible.

It was those meetings, along with the days of anxiety I experienced each time I was asked to present to new advisors, that drove me to find a solution. I couldn’t go on that way, my stress was affecting my loved ones too.

In late 2015, I decided to visit the Eden-Epsom Club in Auckland, New Zealand. The club members were supportive and diverse, reflecting many different nationalities, age groups and walks of life. I joined in October 2015.

Over the next three years, I slowly worked my way through the Competent Communication manual, seeing it as an ideal self-improvement tool while raising pre-school children. It was my fortnightly evening out and helped me slowly regain confidence.

In 2018, I completed project nine of the CC manual, “Persuade with Power,” delivering a speech titled “Being a Voice for the Voiceless.” While delivering this speech, I was able to step away from my notes, walk to the front of the lectern and make eye contact with my audience—a huge accomplishment for me.

“Nothing compares to the feeling of being heard—or speaking about something you’re passionate about.”

As a mother, I understand the extent of influence that parents—and other adults—have in shaping a child for adulthood, which is why I became interested in the global issue of child trafficking. Although the issue isn’t on my doorstep, I feel responsible to help protect all children from harm.

For this reason, I’m a voluntary advocate for Child Rescue, a charity that rescues and rehabilitates sexually enslaved children across Thailand, Cambodia, the Philippines and other parts of Southeast Asia. Since 2011, the charity has rescued thousands of children and offered assistance, such as a safe place to stay, counselling and training in practical skills.

My experience writing and delivering speeches in my Eden-Epsom Club has empowered me to write social media posts and newsletters for Child Rescue and spread the word about child trafficking to friends and family. I assist with fundraising activities in my community and intend to speak at my local church and other local events in the future.

In my early career, I felt more comfortable writing than speaking. Three years at Toastmasters has given me the courage to speak with authority and inject self-expression into my words. Evaluating speeches has improved my listening skills, making me a better communicator with friends and family. Beyond this, my skills are helping me spread the word about a cause that’s close to my heart.

Nothing compares to the feeling of being heard—or speaking about something you’re passionate about. Progress, no matter how small, builds over time. I joined Toastmasters to help myself. And now I’m able to help others too.

Natural beauty in under 10 minutes per day

Recently, my sister and I mulled over morning stresses of getting everyone out the door before 8.30, while the men established a ‘pecking order’ of tasks.  Filling and emptying the dishwasher, making beds and blowing husks out of the birdseed bowl were viewed as “non-essential”, while we declared that coming home to wrinkled bedclothes and full sink amid wrangling school bags and hungry kids was not on our agenda!

Whilst I’m not sure that they thought we should spend more time in the bathroom, inspired by the males’ advice to “re-prioritise”, I’ve challenged myself to prioritise self-care each morning.

Without the DINK (double income no kids) status, I’m not about to swap holidays or gifts for Botox and dermal fillers!  Once the kids are fed and clothes are laid out, instead of running through my own routine on autopilot, I try to make those minutes count.

Whether your mornings are hectic, or you have a little leeway, a small window spent on yourself can reinvigorate the brain, remove toxins and lay the foundation for smooth skin.  Here is my way of combining all three in ten minutes or less!

The root cause of heathy hair

A head massage increases blood flow (nutrition) to the scalp for strong and healthy hair and energises the brain.

Hang your head upside down and feel the weightlessness as your head, neck and arms dangle. Using the pads of the fingers, massage your scalp all over for around two minutes.  If you’re about to wash your hair, you could use a few drops of an essential oil (e.g. Lavender or Neem) or Jojoba oil.  Flick your head up and voila, you also have full bodied 80’s-inspired hair!

This simple routine, also referred to as the ‘inversion method’ is also hailed as a method to grow hair more quickly.

Brush away toxins

Grab a natural bristle brush with a long handle (Kmart or The Body Shop).  In simple terms, you’re brushing towards the heart, remembering that your lymph drainage areas are under the arms, in the groin area (around where the pelvis and upper thigh meet) and the neck.

Starting from the feet, brush up each leg in long strokes with a light pressure, clockwise around the belly, under the chest to each armpit.  Brush up each hand and arm, down the neck and shoulders and each side of the face: along the jawline, across the cheeks and forehead.

At first, it may feel strange dragging a brush up dry skin but I find it really wakes me up.  It comes close to a coffee!  Up to three minutes is all you need.

Put your best face forward

Face massage may be the best thing you can do to prevent wrinkles.  It brings fresh blood and nutrients to the skin, helps to improve muscle tone and relaxes stress points.  To prepare the skin, I like to use a carrier oil, mixed with a few drops of organic essential oil.  Currently, I’m using Grape Seed Oil as a carrier, mixed with a few drops of rose oil.  Rose is filled with anti-oxidants and I also like to mix it up with Frankincense to help remove any blemishes and for anti-aging).

Take the index finger from each hand and move them across the skin in opposite directions to each other.  As with body brushing, I like to massage one side of the face and then the other. Starting from the chin, move across the jawline up to each cheekbone, treading gently under the eyes toward to the outer eye and across the forehead.  I like to spend a minute working on the pressure points and releasing tension along the upper eyebrow line.

Buzzing with energy, you can then take that brisk shower and finish off with some natural skin pampering.  My current favourites are Hyaluronic acid combined with Vitamin C, followed by organic shea butter.  Shea butter is very thick to apply (I only use a dab) but I find it extremely hydrating and I also like the small amount of natural inbuilt UV protection.

Natural methods take longer to work than artificial ones, but as with parenting, I’m holding on to the belief that consistency is key and that lasting, natural beauty outweighs any quick fix.

I hope you’ll join me in spending some of your precious time on ‘me time.’  It’s the little things that count.

Some of my favorite natural beauty blends: Continue reading “Natural beauty in under 10 minutes per day”

Supporting the body through tough times

A story about natural healing versus surgery  

We were on the home stretch to Christmas when my four-year-old insisted I join him for a round of ‘fire balls’ on the trampoline, a game in which we ‘dodge’ the balls until inevitably one touches a leg and is thrown to tag the opponent.

Accidents happen when we least expect.   Bang!  My left foot caught a ball and rolled forward.  Losing my balance, I keeled over to my right, my left leg resembling a zig zag road sign.

Desperately, I clung on to my kneecap for fear it was going to slip off in the same direction as my leg.   A split second later, my partner would’ve slipped out the door but thankfully, I’d caught him mid-way with my cries.

“Call the ambulance”, I yelled, my voice catching and shaking as the shock hit.  I felt desperate for pain relief.  Was my kneecap broken?  I was handed a device that looked like a large whistle (Penthrox).  My ragged breaths were flailing.  “Keep breathing in and out” the paramedic instructed. “It will help ease the pain.”

An examination, X-ray and a few hours of waiting later, I was relieved to hear that my limbs were intact.  Heading back home with a simple crutch, I felt light-hearted, gracious even.  I’d witnessed people worse off than me that Saturday night. Limping out those hospital doors, I appreciated the Doctor’s fair and careful attention to my injury and his leave pass for home.

The next day, the seriousness of my injury dawned.  My poor old ‘puffer fish’ knee was awkward.  Getting in and out of bed and navigating stairs were a hassle.  No more bending or kneeling to help the kids and walking to school was out.  My energetic son was warned each time he made a beeline for me for fear he’d trip!   My hands were, quite literally full, juggling crutches as well as the regular paraphernalia of bags and shoes.   Rice, rice and more rice (rest, ice, compression and elevation) put me out of action for the entire weekend (and frankly, were a great excuse to read on the couch and do nothing)!

Unfortunately, when Monday rolled around, I realised that my motherhood duties persisted.

MCL sprain.  Now what?

An ultrasound confirmed a medium grade sprain of the medial collateral ligament (a support ligament that runs along the inner side of the knee).  Initially cheered by my physiotherapist’s assessment of a ‘grade two’ injury that would take around six weeks to heal, my enthusiasm dampened as weekly progress was zilch.

I was referred to a knee specialist who immediately ordered an MRI scan.  What a revelation!  A large cyst had taken up camp near the ‘suprapatellar fat pad’ and there was extra fluid (oedema) around the bone marrow.   Clearly, my knee needed some extra help.

From the surgeon’s perspective, the recommended option was to put a claim through ACC for key-hole surgery to remove the cyst and fluid, requiring a general anaesthetic and about 10 days’ off work and childcare.   Leave it untreated and I run the risk of calcification with possible osteo-arthritis later in life.  My mind replayed those parting words, spoken with the confidence of many years’ experience.  “It won’t repair itself.”

Jumping from trampoline into surgery…or not

Surgical treatment plays an integral part in healthcare and is often the sole or best option.  Aside from being mainstream and demanding a high level of skill and experience, it’s quick, quantifiable and tested.  What’s more, the public system is free and in my case, private surgical treatment would be covered by ACC.

There’s a big ‘but’ though.  In non-acute cases, is surgical intervention always the best and only solution?  Allowing the body to be put to sleep artificially, to place complete control of our bodily function into the hands of someone else, albeit a highly skilled professional, to me is unsettling.

Like wellness in general, knowledge and popularity of alternative treatments continues to grow.  Although untested to the masses, many practitioners cite miraculous results as to how their methodology has supported the body to heal itself.  The trick is finding the right one!

I’ve decided I have a couple of months left up my sleeve.  Surgery is booked in after the next school holidays.  With a self-imposed deadline set for natural recovery, I now have all the motivation I need to get cracking on my own healing.

Blood, bowen and bentonite clay

In the last month, I’ve set out in some unchartered territory.  It starts with my least favourite sight.  Blood.

My first round of treatments were three sessions of lymphatic drainage.  This is a form of vibration therapy which dramatically increases blood circulation, helping to ‘sweep out’ toxins via the lymphatic system and promote healing.  Sitting in a comfy chair with seat and back pads and a ‘wand’ to direct blood circulation around my knee, I felt the heat of my circulation ‘rev up’, followed by a little itching incited by the healing.   After the treatments, I felt revitalised but still unable to complete one rotation on the bike.

A week and a half later, I tried acupuncture, funded by ACC.  The acupuncturist inserted strategically placed needles from the top of my leg to the bottom, concentrating on the knee area.  With each treatment, he slowly built up to my ‘ouch’ threshold, allowing him to insert the needles slightly deeper each time.  This wasn’t too painful, but the true test was in ‘blood cupping’.

A small cup was placed on different areas of my knee, suction applied and the skin colour assessed.  A good deal of redness indicates the opportunity to remove stagnant blood under the surface.  A small needle pricked my skin multiple times, producing a slight stinging sensation before the cup was re-applied.  A successful cupping ended with dark purplish dots blotting the skin, indicating removal of clotted or ‘old’ blood.  After just one treatment, I was able to perform a complete cycle rotation.  Voila!  As our third session concluded today, we hit the ‘jackpot’, removing thick and stringy blood from the main cyst site, nestled within the fat pad area.

The acupuncturist has healed many sprains with blood cupping.  He assessed a hip imbalance as the root cause of my injury, not the knee.  “I can treat the knee, but if you don’t heal this, he said, pointing to my hip, your knee problem will probably come back.”  The physical demands of motherhood – and possibly running around without any form of postural regime – has left one hip out of kilter.   Hips are so important to defining our physical strength and posture, I wish I’d sought out an Osteopath sooner!

To conclude my course of alternative treatments, I’m talking with a Bowen therapist who has experience in re-balancing the muscles around the hip area, which in turn could benefit the knee and, together with home-based exercises, prevent reoccurrence of the injury.

The bentonite clay?  Bentonite is having a resurgence.  Touted as a healing clay that cleanses the body, I’ve been using it as an evening poultice to draw out the toxins around my knee area prior to having acupuncture.   Making a poultice involves mixing the clay with warm water to form a thick paste, spreading it over the entire knee area and wrapping it in a light bandage dressing.  Leaving the clay on overnight allows it to set and draw out impurities.  One morning, after washing off the hardened clay, I noticed a pocket of liquid had formed at the base of the inside of my knee.  Perhaps the clay had drawn out some of the trapped liquid.

Healing takes time

As a Mum, I’ve heard (and sometimes felt) that many of our daily tasks are thankless.  If our bodies could talk, perhaps they’d say the same.  My injury has highlighted just how much we take our bodies for granted.   Appreciation (and a little patience) can work wonders!

The body wants and tries to return to homeostasis.  I’ve set my mind to healing naturally and I’m encouraged by my progress.  It’s interesting that when commit to an outcome, the supporting evidence takes care of itself!

If I end up sitting all gowned up in that surgery waiting room, I want to take comfort from the fact that my body had the chance to step up.

Having any form of injury or illness is tough.  Each of our bodies is equipped with its own innate intelligence.  Regardless of age, size or appearance, it deserves to be supported and appreciated for the myraid of daily miracles it performs…just as much as we do!





Bad hair day hacks

If there’s one thing that fosters frustration in little (as well as big) people, it’s hair.   Despite my experience in wrestling with my own big mop, I’m still learning how to keep my cool around hair that won’t do as its told.

As the eldest, I remember taking charge of my sister’s hair out back of a Pennylane’s bake shop while our parents toiled away making sandwiches.  Long, blonde and straight, my sister had pin-up hair, but alas she was also allergic to it!  I couldn’t have imagined that 30-odd years later, I’d be staring accusingly at almost identical hair with an equally fussy young customer.

My primary schooler hates ridges (“hitch-hikers”) and the shorties that fall out at the sides.

“Put the clip in.”  I snap out of my reverie, placing said hair-clip into fringe carefully to avoid escapees.

“Not like that.  Like the other one.  Mummy, what are you doing?  Put it higher and join the other hair together.”

One is fine, twice, I’ll grit my teeth.  Three strikes and put nicely, my reaction might be “Mummy can’t do magic all the time.”  But instead of pulling out a smart remark, I need to smartly divert this plane if we want to leave the house on time.

Having suffered a few bad hair day hold-ups in my time, following are a few of the hair hacks we use at home.

  1. Declare it a ‘bad hair day’. You know those stretchy fabric headbands that tie (or twist over) at the top? They’re our greatest ally. We found them at the chemist and stores such as H&M.  After trying several times to do that perfectly neat high ponytail, gently brushing to avoid screams of pain, I suggest we resort to the ‘bad hair day headband’ to cover all those sneaky fly-aways.  It’s quite funny (luckily).
  2. Give it a spritz. Refilling a trigger hair spray bottle with water and (gingerly) spritzing the hair line area can work wonders to tame those unruly, soft baby hairs.  We use it to brush all the hair away from the face before working out those snags.
  3. Hide the bad bits. Got knots that refuse to come out today, either of their own volition or their owner’s?  When time is short, we’ve found that a simple plait or high bun covers them up beautifully.  Outta here!
  4. Pink sticker it. OK, so there are days that Mum has to do it, because even though she’s told she’s no good at hair, she’s probably the best option!  But if we’re feeling independent and on top of things, we can earn a sticker by doing it all by ourselves.  When said number of stickers equals a reward, it may just be worth relinquishing the struggle!

 Aside from saving my sanity while expediting school drop-off, by training my young one into some good hair day habits, I may just have time to tackle my own hair.

Although I often resort to scraping it back into a practical ‘Mum’s ponytail’, a few minutes to spare and I can slap on a coloured headband or master that cool braid, messy bun or half ‘up-do’ from Pinterest!   Nothing says it better for a Mum than done, but not over-done!

I suppose I can’t quibble about the pursuit of perfect hair.  For little – and big – people, having good hair gets everything else off to a good start.

Here’s to hair (and everyone else) doing as they’re told!





Making Mum time

As a stay-at-home (OK, a ‘working from home’) Mum three days’ a week, forgive me if I can feel a little badgered into playing.

Sometimes I love it and am happy to bear the brunt of a four-year-old’s pent up energy.  Other times?  I just want to be left alone for 20 minutes.  Maybe an hour.  Take my time hanging out the washing, give the house a hoovering, snatch a look at Facebook or hover around the laptop catching up on news and checking out clothes I’d love to buy because there’s a 30% off sale.

“Mum, can you bounce on the trampoline with me?”

“OK, I’ll just finish emptying the dishwasher, then I’ll do it”, I reply.  I’m feeling watched!

Having gone through periods where I could quite happily stack up little jobs and engross myself in hours of distracted ‘busyness’, recently I made up a little rhyme that I think epitomises fitting in  each other’s needs.  After all, we want to play with our children, we know it’s good for them but it’s a mental grind doing stuff that a pre-schooler wants to do.  All day.

And so the rhyme goes:

A piece of pie for me and you.  I take one bite, you take two.  When it’s your turn, I shine the light bright.  When it’s mine, I do too.

Still with me?  I swear I’ve caught myself reciting this in my head.  I snap out of distraction mode to catch the end of a very important sentence! If I’m being shown something, that’s one strike and you’re out material!

While I could be accused of letting my child dictate the play time a bit too much, I now take my own needs fully into account and fit them in.  When it’s his time, I’m 100% in.

Remembering this little phrase helps to prevent those half-hearted moments when I reluctantly join in, only to be distracted a few minutes later, flitting to the next thing on my to-do list (it can grow exponentially)!  When the light’s on him, I try to just be and play.  Willingly, and is often the case, physically as-well as mentally!

I know its a chunk of time well spent and I can be in charge of when it starts and ends, setting expectations at the start and discussing what happens next.  Perhaps the Lego or felts and paper, a puzzle, a library book about dragons or, dare I say it and if all else fails, an hour’s TV or tablet time.

We each have our own ideas and strategies, this is one of mine.

If you’re clear of nappies, you’re probably an expert at this already.  But if like me, you find yourself leaving a room of grumpy kids with a trail of excuses to delay the inevitable, why not humor yourself with a similar strategy, set them up with a full tank then take that lunch break guilt-free!  You deserve it.




Play now, work later


Disclaimer: This article shares my personal experiences whilst a Playcentre parent at my local Playcentre. It may not necessarily reflect the views of all Playcentre parents or the procedures/guidelines of each centre.

Life just feels like it’s all work and no play! Sound familiar? Sometimes, it can take that special something or someone to help us snap out apathy and back into action!
As our children grow up, they can’t help but get caught up in our world…but do we get caught up in theirs? There is a place in New Zealand where pre-school children can be children, where play is valued. That place is Playcentre.

A brief history

Here’s a little about how Playcentre became part of our heritage. Playcentre was first established in NZ in the 1940’s, after the second world war. Funded by the Ministry of Education, Playcentre puts parents as first educators of their children. As with other early childhood centres, it’s underpinned by a framework known as ‘Te Whariki’, which reflects four key principles of Empowerment, Family and Community, Relationships and Holistic Development. The responsibilities of running each Playcentre are shared among the parents.

A foundation for learning, not a fashion show!

Why would a parent volunteer to put on their gumboots, freakish clothes plastered with dye and bits of dried goo, and labour over pummelling playdough, dig trenches, dodge hoses and glue feathers, when they could simply drop their children off at Kindy or day-care and go about their day in peace?

It’s because Playcentre parents view play as the foundation from which children learn about the world – and they want to be involved in their child’s learning. There are benefits for parents too. For a stay-at-home parent with a young child, the local Playcentre is often the pinnacle of their community…providing a support network, two weeks of cooked dinners for Mums with new-borns, the opportunity to share information, gain parenting skills and for some, to re-learn how to play with their children.

Barriers such as ‘creating too much mess’ are removed. Playcentre is a place where all of a family’s pre-school children can go at once, with play set-ups that cater for different age groups, from baby to school age.

Why is play important?

Play is learning through doing. Self-expression in its purest form. Play is said to develop lateral thinking, initiative, creativity, resourcefulness.

Rather than be dictated to, children develop their own understanding of the world they live in, or ‘working theories’ as they’re called at Playcentre.

Let me paint you a picture

Three-year-old Carter sits at the table, sprinkling flour on a mountain of playdough. As a Playcentre kid, Carter feels a sense of belonging and is confident to ask for help or resources. “I want the lid off”, he tells me, pointing to the shaker. “I wonder what would happen if you shake it harder”, I reply. “If I take the lid is off, it will all come out at once.” “That’s Ok, he asserts back, it’s a volcano.”

Two-year-old Selina just loves to run amuck, exploring the colours and textures. She squeezes the bottle with her might, shrieking with delight as the dye blasts over the concrete. Down, down it goes, travelling faster and faster down the path, seeping into cracks, collecting in small puddles, falling between the slats of the deck. Now for some yellow, now green, now blue. She stomps all over it, colours flying everywhere, streaming, blending together.

Selina sinks her hand into a bowl of mixture that she says feels dry and powdery on her fingertips. She picks it up and watches as the mixture turns into super soft goo, watching it fall in clumps from her fingers, stringy globules falling onto the table.

Today, we built a fire in the sandpit, giving each of the children a stick with a marshmallow to toast. From painting and dye, bathing in glitter, smashing blocks of ice with a hammer, dressing up, running barefoot and throwing paint at paper, Playcentre offers a rich sensory environment, the ability to ‘get stuck in’, with the added bonus of Mum or Dad being close by. It’s the mixed age play, creativity, high level of parent involvement and community spirit that sets Playcentre apart, providing the opportunity to build solid and lasting friendships throughout the family.

Children at the centre

Playcentre play is child-led play, so parents may need to gauge when to dive in and when to bow out, especially as children get older. One of the tips I learnt early on is not to interpret a child’s painting for them. So rather than say, “Wow, what a lovely big sun you’ve painted, it is more apt to say “I can see two colours, yellow and orange. Tell me about your painting!”

The role of parents as educators

Of course, it’s not all play for parents! Parents plan, set up and support the play, then evaluate it at the end of the session. Supporting the play can involve adding more resources, such as paints, dyes or other materials, encouraging turn-taking or simply asking questions that help the child to express and build on what they’re learning. Parents write learning stories about their own and other children, sharing the learning that is observed for the child and identifying ways to extend it.

Major decisions are made through group consensus: everyone must feel that they can live with a decision before it is passed. There can be biased parents, different values and conflicts. And let’s not forget the public perception! While some people applauded us for playing with our kids, a few have been known to view Playcentre Mums as slightly crazy, a bunch of breastfeeding, co-sleeping, forever breeding Mums!

There are non-negotiable Playcentre ‘rules’, such as respecting people and property, respecting each other’s play and no hurting people. Although literacy is incorporated, it’s not impressed upon, as the general view is that there’s plenty of time to learn by rote, to memorise, recite and study.

It’s said that children learn best when they’re engaged. By engaging in the play instinct, we can develop strong, independent, creative thinkers.

To quote the words of George Bernard Shaw: We don’t stop playing because we grow old. We grow old because we stop playing. Perhaps you could try it again yourself sometime?