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Lessons from the Bounce-Back Bench

Emma Grey

I was asked to speak at the 50th Anniversary of my primary school last week.

When you’re given five minutes to talk, you have to get really clear on what is the most important message you could possibly impart. Here’s what I came up with … 

In December last year, we went to my sister’s house for dinner and, when we came home, we discovered something very mysterious. There was a Santa Stop Here sign out the front of my house that we hadn’t put there. Then we noticed there were candy cane lights leading all the way up the garden path, and — when we looked up — thousands of Christmas lights magically covered our ENTIRE HOUSE!! 

My little boy and teenage girls and I just stood on the front lawn in complete surprise and stared at the lights in the dark, wondering who on earth could have decorated our house for us while we weren’t at home!

And this wasn’t the only time something incredible happened to me last year. Another night, I was at home, minding my own business, and suddenly there was a knock at the front door. A man was standing there with a truck in the driveway and he brought in boxes and boxes full of groceries that I hadn’t ordered, which took up my entire kitchen bench! The groceries had been ordered online all the way from Saudi Arabia in the Middle East! 

Another night, I was wondering what to cook for dinner and, the very next thing, someone turned up on my doorstep — like magic — with about twenty containers of home-made soup! Another night, some pasta sauce arrived! In fact, I hardly had to cook a SINGLE thing for an entire six months!

Do you know the one thing that I find really, really boring about having children in primary school? Making school lunches. So guess what turned up unexpectedly, out of the blue? Two weeks worth of school lunches all packed ready, including snacks!

Not long after that, I decided that I really enjoyed doing jigsaw puzzles. I spent days and days and days doing jigsaw puzzles. And then I ran out of jigsaw puzzles to do. Soon, there was a knock at my door, and I’m sure you’ll already guess what someone was delivering! An amazing jigsaw puzzle, based on my very favourite book! 

At this point, you’re probably thinking one of two things. Either I have some sort of astonishing magic wand situation going on where I want or need something, and suddenly it appears right in front of me … OR, I must somehow be the luckiest person in the entire world! 

And you know what? It’s actually neither of those things. 

You see, last year something really, really terrible happened in my life. I’m not going to tell you what it was because today is a very happy occasion and I don’t want to make all your teachers cry. But just trust me, it was really the very worst thing that has ever happened to me. 

As soon as it happened, I realised I wasn’t going to be able to cope with this terrible thing by myself. I needed a lot of help from my friends. 

You might be wondering what on earth this story has to do with the 50th Anniversary of Garran Primary School, and I’m about to explain that bit.

I found out exactly who all of these amazing people were who had been making all of these magical things unfold. 

The Christmas lights had been put on my house by some ladies called Suzi and Julie, who I met here, at Garran Primary, when we were in Kindergarten 38 years ago! 

The delivery of groceries sent from half-way across the world was organised by someone named Carolyn, who came to Garran when we were in Year 3, and who I sat beside in the school band when we both played the euphonium. 

The pumpkin soup was delivered by a friend called Nicole, who I actually met even earlier than kindergarten, when we were babies! We went to Garran Pre-school and Garran Primary School and we were in the Garran school band together and the Garran brownies and guides, and those places are also where I met Peta, who’s the one who brought the pasta sauce. 

And those school lunches and the jigsaw puzzle were, of course, also delivered by people who went to Garran back in the 1970s and 80s. The jigsaw puzzle lady was Vanessa, who I only bump into every few years, like when we’re both accidentally seeing the same movie at Woden Hoyts, or when I suddenly have an urgent need for a jigsaw puzzle and she appears almost instantly with one on my doorstep.

I want you to look around the room at the people sitting near you now. One day, when you are grown up, and perhaps you’ll have children of your own, something difficult might happen in your life and you will realise that you need some help. 

Or it might be that something really difficult happens in the life of someone who is sitting near to you now, and you might be the one who turns up at their house with surprise Christmas lights or groceries or soup or sauce or school lunches or jigsaw puzzles. 

I learnt a lot of things at Garran, but by far the most valuable was how important it is to look after the people around you — not just today, after this assembly, and not just for the rest of the years that you’re here at school. Not just in the years after that when you go to high school, or the years after that when you are at uni or CIT or working. Not just if you stay in Canberra together but even if you spread out all over the world. 

And even when you’re 43, like me, the helping won’t end there. I know my Garran friends and I will be there for each other when we’re as old as Garran Primary School is today, and even when we’re 60 and 70 and 80 and 90 (and hopefully 100). Because if you look after friendships, the friendships never stop, and there is nothing that this school will give you that is more important than that. 

And let me leave you with one important final tip: If you’re ever going to secretly decorate someone’s house in thousands of Christmas lights, make sure you also offer to take the thousands of Christmas lights down again afterwards. That’s what my Garran friends offered to do for me, because Garran friends are absolutely the best.


Emma Grey

Emma Grey is the Canberra-based author of ‘Wits’ End Before Breakfast! Confessions of a Working Mum’ and ‘Unrequited: Girl Meets Boy Band’. She’s director of the life-balance consultancy, WorkLifeBliss and co-founder of a fresh approach to time-management, My 15 Minutes. She lives just over the ACT border with her two teen daughters and young son. More about the Author