While ‘My Grandpa is Like the Sea’ may serve as a form of escapism for some readers, something I was deeply passionate about interweaving into the story was resilience. Resilience being a key skill I learnt the importance of with thanks to my Grandpas.
My Grandpas taught me through their very existence, actions and life story about resilience. Through their ability to persevere under varying degrees of challenges, with a sense of composure; to step into the unknown, embrace it and get comfortable with being uncomfortable. To bounce back and continue on with a sense of purpose, and an innate sense of belonging, no matter the circumstances or external environment.
I remember after dinner one night, my Grandpa, my Đedo Ivo, decided to share with us a defining moment in time. That time being, when he started work in Australia upon arriving as a migrant, knowing no English.
This has been translated from my Grandpa’s native tongue, Croatian.
‘My Natalie… when it was morning tea I would move away from my work mate; I wouldn’t eat. Instead, I would go sit by the bay, where there was some bush, not a big bush, and cry… I would cry every day. I would say to myself, imagine Mljet in the distance and here’s me, Ivo swimming towards it. I would’ve swam to the island Mljet if only it was there in the near distance… but of course, Australia was so far away. I cried for so long… and when I would arrive home, I was thankful to get some sleep… that’s what saved me.’
‘…I would’ve swam to the island Mljet if only it was there in the near distance… but of course, Australia was so far away. I cried for so long…’
Original: ‘Moja Natalie, kad bi bilo ‘morning tea’ ja bi se odgojio na njemu; ja ne bi jeo. Nego bi pošao tamo, gdje je bio jedan mali ‘bush’ – nije to bila velika šuma, i plakao svaki dan, svaki dan sam plakao. Govorio sam sebi da je barem anamo Mljet na horizontu, pošao bih odmah tamo. Ja bi bio plivao da bi to bilo otok Mljet… ali pusta Australija daleko. Toliko sam dugo vremena plakao i u večer kad bi došao doma jedino što sam mogao spavat… to me spasilo.’
What I witnessed in this moment was vulnerability…
What I witnessed in this moment was vulnerability… especially coming from a man of little words. To put this into context, this was after venturing to the other side of the world, to Australia by ship, leaving behind his immediate family (to only bring them back years later). Taking a huge risk to leave his place of birth during the time of communism and dire conditions, to a country where he knew no English and had no friends (other than his sister and a handful of family members). My heart sank when he recollected not only what he did as a means to provide for his family and seek greater opportunity, but also the resilience endured when putting the pieces of the puzzle together for him to reach ‘daleko’ (far away) Australia.
Whilst my Grandpa Ivo found affinity in the other working migrants, and was able to converse in his native tongue (Croatian), as well as in Italian with some of his other new found work mates, I imagined him all alone escaping the daily grind and hiding during his lunch break, for a minute of silence and solace by the sea. It was by the sea that he felt a sense of belonging and connectedness, planting his feet in the earth of his newly adopted home.
It was by the sea that he felt a sense of belonging and connectedness, planting his feet in the earth of his newly adopted home.
Like the temperamental yet peaceful sea, things don’t always go to plan… and so it took great commitment and self belief to see each day through, and finally after some years for my Grandpa to bring his immediate family to Australia.
My other Grandpa, my Dide Nikola, taught me about the importance of resilience, which he had to build upon from a very young age. A boy who had to grow up FAST in his village on the island of Korčula after losing his own father, a talented shoemaker at the age of 5. A tragic story that saw my grandfather having to step into the ‘father’ role and provide for his mother and younger sister whilst still a child himself. Albeit heartbreaking circumstances, Dide Nikola through his very presence, taught me to see life light heartedly and always find time for humour. To continue on no matter what. To walk the talk. A child mirrors us adults, and I saw so much grit, courage and gracefulness in his actions.
It really was a matter of being in the right time and place for ‘My Grandpa is Like the Sea’ to be birthed into the world. Dide Nikola loved and breathed the sea. The sea was always present in his very being… it was an extension of himself. The way he spoke, sang, cooked… danced. And so the rich imagery used in ‘My Grandpa is Like the Sea’ is a tribute to my Grandfather Nikola and of course, Grandfather Ivo. In my eyes, the sea serves as an expression of the fluidity of life. And so the interrelationship between the Grandpa, Grandson and sea in the book, has been deliberately expressed in a way for children to understand and bring to life through visualisation.
Resilience and children…
So, how do you teach resilience to children? As a start, in ‘My Grandpa is Like the Sea’ you will find that things don’t go to plan… such is life, right?! But through self belief, perseverance and overcoming adversity, Grandpa and Grandson make it to the other side… and it’s with trust, love and belonging that they ultimately find their way home.
I hope readers can reflect upon and apply the underlying messages in ‘My Grandpa is Like the Sea’ to their own lives, present and future. And so bon voyage, I’ll leave you with an illustration from my latest children’s book for you to reflect upon…