Traumatic story triggers resolution to change behaviour.

A few kilometres out of Dargaville I turned the corner and there was something happening in the middle of the road.

I was driving fast but I managed to stop in time, although it wasn't clear what was going on. There was a police car and ambulance and about 50 motorcycle gang members hanging around.

One insouciant biker was having a slash. Given the group looked like extras from Mad Max it was a bit hard to tell whether they were angry and planning a riot or whether they were accountants just having a nice Saturday jaunt and someone fell off.

Anyway, a large dude in a black leather costume which looked like it was held together with giant staples (fashion forward; Louis Vuitton doing something similar this season) waved me past. As I chugged off I texted to let my family know my ETA.


Yes, I texted. Yes, I drove. I've always thought the no-phone rule while driving was a bit of a zealous over-reaction, a suggestion rather than a rule. I never actually talk on the phone at any time, but I do text while sitting at the lights.

If Auckland traffic is going to be so crummy that you spend half your time stopped, you may as well use it productively: at least that was my justification. I sometimes read a book at the lights too. Yes, I am "that" person. You have probably beeped at me.

Anyway, in Opononi I went for a walk on the beach. The sky was pink. The sea sounded like it was giggling over the pebbles. If you can't feel the rapture of being alive here, well ... I picked up a smooth rock, comforting to touch, and took it back to the house with me. I don't know why. I remembered the story of the kid who every morning used to get up and find a pebble and hide it in a different place.

All day long, no matter how horrible his day was, he comforted himself that he had a special secret that no one else, including his parents, knew. This story really moved me and I could never figure out why. The brilliant psychologist Donald Winnicott suggested the mother (or father's) task is greater than satisfying his or her child's needs, greater even than mirroring; the parent must also be able to leave the child alone.

By the time I returned from my walk I was working myself into a state of righteous indignation.


Not ignoring, or even looking away, just letting the child have the right to his or her own experience, free to explore, to venture into new territory, both within herself and without. I believe this is crucial to how you develop a sense of self.

With too much interference from the parents, or too much absence, a child is forced to spend his or her mental energy coping with her parents' intrusiveness or unavailability instead of exploring himself or herself.

I got such interesting feedback to the column I wrote last week about Bronagh Key. Not about her, personally, but about the difficulty in just being yourself. Nicky wrote that we feel pressure to stand out, be unique, challenge normality, break stereotypes, forge new paths.

"I'm 48 years old, I'm happy, my family comes first and my friends like me. And yet I wake sometimes with a gnawing despair in my stomach because this is it, me, there is no more - nothing to see here - and somehow in my mind that becomes failure. When did normal become so undesirable?"

It made me wonder whether even as adults we would be wise to follow Winnicott's advice. We need to learn to leave each other alone, in the sense of letting people have the space to have their own experiences, to feel free to be whoever they are.

By the time I returned from my walk I was working myself into a state of righteous indignation about rules, societal norms, bossiness in all its forms. Then I read this comment: "I was right behind a car that flipped over and bounced around on the highway. I had to pull over with two to three other people and approach the upside down, smashed car. I never felt such dread in my life and then we all saw a baby car seat. It took guts to peek inside that car. Luckily there was no baby and the driver was bloody but largely unharmed. She had just grabbed her phone for a sec to text her mum that she would be there soon. I got back in my car and cried my eyes out."

By the time you read this column I will be driving back from the Hokianga. I have made a solemn promise to myself and my children that there is one rule I will now follow. I will never text in the car again.

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