What comforts do you take with you when you’re away away from your home or loved ones?

We’re on the road. I’ve started a little art journal to savour this year’s annual camping trip. Because portable creativity is my comfort!

As I duck back inside for ‘one last thing’, I feel some familiar anxiety. I reckon it’s a primal thing: the dilemma of seeking new experiences while also wanting predictability.

I’m confident about the care that our cats and home will receive while we are away. Our housesitter is one of the vet nurses who so lovingly tended our precious Venus earlier this year. Which I find bittersweet. The pain and stress of that time also opened up our hearts to receive the support of others and grew my trust about the compassion of ‘strangers’.

And sorrow perhaps helped to soften my heart in ways I can only learn by living. The memory of loss and is also an effortless prompt to keep perspective when I’m worked up.

It’s been easier to connect – even under stress – with how precious my husband and children and cats and all our lives are. More tears get shed, yet more joy and love pours in.

There’s something else too.

2016 was my first year of practicing nonviolent communication … whenever I could remember to. I also competed 40+ hours of training via NVC Academy.

Still, I want emphasise the word ‘practicing’. I hope I never think I’ve mastered NVC. I want to see every moment of connection as new – the beginner’s ear, trying to hear from the heart right now.

Although, I also want to share some of the difference I see NVC has made. Yesterday, our family was once again packing for camping with tired heads after New Year’s Eve.

This time around, I noticed it was so much easier to shift my thinking from what ‘they are doing wrong’ or ‘what I should be doing’ into compassionate observation.

‘Triggers’ often end up connecting me with beautiful needs such as safety, ease, rest, contribution, mattering,space etc.

I no longer think my family should learn nvc. It gives me all the inner tools I need to hear them in any language. Turns out, the person I most wanted to be heard and seen and loved by … was me. And that skill opens up endless choices about what I do — or don’t — say next.

Turns out, the person I most wanted to be heard and seen and loved by … was me.

Where I once would have stayed resentful that my hubby was wearing headphones while he packed, this time I realised I was wanting connection and ease of being able to call out for support. Simply naming those needs within myself, possibilities opened up in my mind. Was it really only up to him to provide me with connection and support? What other options could I explore?

And how were headphones helping him? Maybe they were contributing to his comfort and focus as he tackled the very difficult task of working out how to fit all our camping gear in the car. Within minutes, I felt gratitude and tenderness – seeing his act of care and contribution to our family.

Then there was the moment when I heard my teenage daughter ask her boyfriend for a freshly worn jumper so that she could ‘smell’ him while they were apart.

Once, I would have got stuck worrying about whether it was ‘okay’ for her to borrow clothes from another family. This time, I felt so tender for how painful she was finding the thought of being out of reach of the fun and company and affection that her boyfriend brings to her life.

This year, the worry of watching both my kids navigate insense anxiety and pain in their teenage journey has also helped me to appreciate their capabilities. I want to remember to celebrate whenever I see them out relating to people around them and asking for things that will help them enjoy life. Because I know that self-awareness and self-advocacy don’t always come easily … and I now value those as fundamental skills for all humans to thrive together, especially young people.

As we left the house, I noticed my daughter had set her stuffed puppy in the centre of her freshly made bed. She used to take that little dog everywhere – even away on school camp this year. I guess she has her boyfriend’s jumper now instead. Before the stuffed dog came along at 2 years old, our daughter had a muslin wrap that went everywhere with her. It was either trailing along the ground or held against her cheek.

More tenderness as I think of the different ‘comforters’ in her stages of life so far. I might be celebrating what every parent longs to see: evidence of our children’s capacity for finding new and healthy ways to have comfort and resilience. Our daughter may have ‘outgrown’ her soft toys, but she’s creating new ways of transforming that very human fear of separation into another way to have comfort and closeness. Currently: snuggling into her boyfriend’s jumper.

Then there were other sweet moments amid the packing. Our youngest cat prowled and pounced around the empty bags. Play and fun.

And there was the seriousness with which the older cat gazed at me from the kitchen bench. I imagined her thinking: I know you guys are up to something!

I felt a tug of longing, wishing I could know exactly what was on her heart. And hoping she will adjust to having new people in the house. Yeah, they’ll feed and play with her so I’m pretty sure she’ll bounce. But she’s had some intense changes this year: new home, loss of a companion cat, arrival of the ever-exuberant younger cat … compassion and understanding around the needs for predictability and reassurance.

She lifted her chin for a long scratch.

Maybe we don’t speak the same dialect as one another … but somehow, with curioisity and tenderness, we connect enough to work it out as we go along.