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The Mother Magazine, Editorial

Issue 49, Nov/Dec 2011

The Old Dunny, by Veronika Sophia Robinson

My mother was the Queen of Play and was always doing something joyful and fun with her hands. She was a true artist and craftsperson whose talents were barely known beyond the immediate family, and yet her work could be described as of international standard. She did it for love and not for recognition. Play isn’t something that comes naturally to me, and so I often draw on my memories of how she was while we were growing up.

One of my earliest memories was of a dolls’ house she created from an old wooden-framed television set. She made it into two stories, with the bedrooms and bathroom upstairs, which were reached by a purple hanging rope ladder. I can still see it to this day. There were beautifully crafted curtains, wallpaper and miniature furniture. I could play at the open back of it, or watch through the glass screen at the front. At Christmas, when it was time for me to see my new dolls’ house, I discovered that my other gift ~ a black and white kitten ~ was curled up asleep inside it. Without doubt, that was my favourite Christmas memory.

There was an old, metal, pedal car that had belonged to one of my brothers. One year my mother completed revamped it so that the car looked like it had just rolled out of a showroom. My mother was talented like that, the way she could breathe new life into things. She often sewed me new clothes. Every handcrafted dress is imprinted in my memory for life.

One of my favourite creations was the conversion of an old dunny: an Australian outdoor toilet. She turned this dark, dusty, wooden structure into a beautiful shop for me. Inside there were curtains, wallpaper and fine flooring. There was a counter to serve my imaginary customers as they stood outside on the little verandah. To buy something like this would cost a small fortune, but my mother crafted it from her hands and her heart. How many people could look at a dilapidated dunny and think “What a perfect playhouse!”?

My shop was at the far end of the garden, not far from the orchard my mother grew, and I had to walk along a winding path through thick bushes and shrubs to get there. The location was perfect for someone like me who enjoys plenty of private time and space. The journey there, however, meant crossing my ‘fears’.

As a child raised in rural Australia, I was used to seeing snakes, spiders and goannas, but it didn’t take away my primal fear. I loved that little shop, and it was a huge thing for me to head up there to play. I still get goosebumps thinking about crossing paths with a deadly brown or red-belly black snake. Each time I began my walk there, I whispered this: “If you’re real, God, don’t let me see any snakes.” Or the other version, “If you love me, don’t let me see any snakes.” And although I saw many, many snakes throughout childhood, I never once saw one on the way to my shop.

How often do we have to face our fears in parenting? To cross where it feels vulnerable, frightening; where our legs give way ~ to cross where the only thing we have is ‘faith’.

I learnt very early on that faith is what carries me through my life: to trust; to believe in something solid and strong. My shop at the end of the path was to prepare me for the many times in life where I was to step off the edge and ‘fly’.

Fear can shake us to the core, and immobilise us. Faith, however, moves us forward, or at the very least keeps our head above water. In parenting, we often need to access that faith, and whether we put it in a politician, school, doctor, vaccination programme, or ourselves, our children, holistic learning or natural immunity, the point is we all draw on it somewhere along the line.

Faith might seem like something imaginary, and perhaps it is, but genuine faith holds us securely. Although my father was an atheist, and at the opposite end of the belief spectrum to me, one of the wisest things he ever said was “I believe in myself”. And when we believe in ourself we can provide such a strong foundation for our children and family life.

I plant the seeds of faith like a gardener. They might start off small, but I know they’ll produce fruit.

When we choose to live with faith in our parenting, and indeed, our lives, we’re blessed with peace and confidence. Faith gives us courage, even if we don’t always feel strong.

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