We were in a carpark and it was 4 minutes and 22 seconds into the clip. I turned to see her sobbing in the passenger seat. She begged me to turn it off because it was making her feel sick and I was horrified at myself. I repeated to her that I was sorry and she repeated her reply, “it’s not YOUR fault, Mum”.
We were watching the children on Nauru. The ones that have been there for days, months, years, however long. Too long. As they recounted stories about their long, hot days and explained that they were referred to only by their number and not by their name, my heart began to bleed. The clip showed stray cats that littered the local hospital and flooded puddles that saturated their living quarters. Tents, they live in tents. It was a hard watch for me, what was I even thinking showing that to her?
Later on that night, I was recalling the story to a friend, who said to me “You’re building a legacy there. You know that, right?”. It didn’t feel like it. It felt like I was torturing her but what else was I supposed to do. I needed to take the emotion out of the moment and just deal with the cold hard facts.
I needed to find a way to move her from empathy to something else. The problem was that my ‘something else’ looks different to hers and it took some conversation to get to that place.
Parenting a child whose strength is empathy is tricky. Trust me, I know. I have a bucket load of it myself and it sometimes cripples me. As a mum, I have tried to be the best role model that I could to show my two daughters, that standing up for what you believe in is so important but what I failed to see was that the ‘how to’ might look differently to them.
That week, 25 churches signed up to offer sanctuary to 267 people vulnerable to deportation to an offshore processing centre (described by residents as a living hell), two different prominent leaders offered a safe, secure home for them instead of deportation and thousands of people agreed to ‘get in the way to let them stay’.
I was heading to a rally outside a local cathedral in the city. This wasn’t an unusual occurrence. The last vigil we went to, I spoke to a crowd about how heart-breaking it was as a mother, to see the image of a little boy who was seeking refuge, washed ashore on a beach in Greece. Both of my girls were there, holding candles in the dark and willing that our country would take the compassionate approach to welcoming Syrian refugees.
It was when I told my daughter that we were heading to the rally that she had the biggest reaction of all. She refused to come. She told me that she had decided those ‘kinds of things’ were not her thing. The truth was that she was wasn’t sure that if the Government could do that to kids like her, how they could be trusted not doing it TO her. No amount of reassuring that this would never happen would suffice.
It had me questioning what I was doing though. Too easily, I imagine that what I know is right for me is going to be right for someone else. Not just my children, but others around me. It’s difficult to see the difference in others when you have your passionate-blinders on.
It’s a foggy haze of “this is the right thing for me” which sometimes leads to “how on earth could it not be the right thing for you too”.
People are different and this is not something of which to be afraid. Embracing difference is a daily intention.
Embracing difference in parenting, friendships, working relationships and family life can be a powerful freedom.
I wanted to grieve that she didn’t feel the same way as I did and that she wasn’t prepared to express her confusion and her hurt the same way I was prepared to, but instead, I started to dream of what she COULD do. When she figured out her way of standing up for what she believed it. It was a magical thought.
I told her that we wouldn’t go to the rally. That I would stay with her (this time). As I tucked her in that night, I had just tweeted and tagged and pined over all the pics that my friends were posting but I felt safe with her and for her. We prayed. She prayed, “Please God, let the government understand that what they are doing is not right. Let the children be free and show me what I can do to help”.
And I embraced the difference. It was in that moment that she humbled me to know that praying was what she had for now and it was a sweet revelation of what I was called to do.
I was meant to be in that moment.
We were meant to pray for their freedom.
We stood in the way to make them stay that night.
We stood in solidarity with those that gathered in a different place.
And, as we prayed, we hoped that our leaders would #lethemstay