In the spirit of flexing my creative fingers and getting into the habit of pressing Publish again, this:

Earlier this year, we had a dear friend staying with us.

She’s one of those good types in the world. Here is how we fell in friend-love, because I love love stories, including those about not just bonking-type-love:

She’d known my work for years, and thought: Yeah, I dig this Leonie chick. So she came along to an open meet up I ran in a rainforest village, and I plonked myself down at the middle of the table, just across from her.

And I looked at her wide blue eyes and those kind faces where you know you are safe and I thought: Oh cool, we’re mates. I just didn’t know it yet. Instant friends.

We ended up working together in one business for a few years, then started working together in another one. And we rub together well that way in business, but at its core it is vividly personal.

But this isn’t a story about that.


She was staying with us.

We’ve fallen into a familiar pattern now: drink tea, engage in vast quantities of talk, take her on trips to visit questionable tourist attractions (i.e. the highly memorable “Turd In The Grass” sculpture). She listens enraptured to my children’s stories and fetches them repeat glasses of water and snacks in a way that only other mamas get.

She soon realised that my youngest daughter, Beth, WAS in fact endlessly hungry. Beth would pause mid-meal to tell us she was hungry: I hungry! She would finish meals to announce she was hungry: I hungry! She needed food like dolphins need to resurface for air: a strict limit of 15 minutes or less: I hungry!

Parenting Beth was mostly just feeding her. At night, after the very hungry caterpillar + her elder sister were put to bed, exhausted after endless snack-providing, my friend + I would bookend our long red couch, top to toe sharing a weighted blanket, and I educate her on how to binge watch television.

But this isn’t a story about that.


“Leonie, I’m going to tell you the best parenting secret I know.

When my first kid was a toddler, a wise mama friend told me:

Take care of them like you would a friend who is high + is totally tripping balls.

I took that advice to heart, and everything changed for me. I realised that for them, with their brain development stages, it really WAS like they were tripping! 

And when they did really fucking weird things that made no sense whatsoever, I knew it was just because they were high as kites on brain development. And it just becomes funny instead of exasperating, and I could be more kind and compassionate in all that trippiness.

Toddlers really ARE just little trippers!”

But this isn’t a story about that.


We were at the table, engaged in long + loud discussion about something that I’m sure was very important at the time.

And little Beth rolled up, and we braced ourselves for the familiar refrain:

I hungry.

But this time, this one blessed moment in history, she was not hungry.

But she had another request.


she demanded.

My friend leaned in closer.

“What is it you need sweetheart?”


was the insistent response.

My mate looked at me, questioning eyes, wondering if I could Mama-translate.

I shrugged my shoulders:

I only know what I HUNGRY means.

She looks at Beth again.

“Can you show me what you need?”

And Beth, exasperated with our stupidity, picks up my mate’s hand, places it on her own head and said insistently:


“OH!” we both say in unison. “YOU WANT YOUR… HEAD PATTED?”

Triumphant, Beth smiled and nodded.

So dutifully, my friend comfortingly pats my daughter’s head, while cooing “Awwwww! Awwwww! Head pats! Awwwwwww!”

Satiated, Beth nodded and strolled off, happy.

We looked at each other and laughed:

Sometimes, you really do need a head pat.


What strikes me is how much this resonates with the science of comforting.

Dr Kristin Neff teaches that in order to feel comforted, we can set off our mammalian care-giving system of endorphins with warm touch or strokes (either given to yourself or provided by others).

And my mate double-dosed the care chemicals without even realising it by saying the comfort word that most mammals + every human, despite their culture + language use:


Head pats + comforting noises. A 3 year old boldly declaring what she needs, and receiving it.


Now it’s become a kind of secret handshake between us, a code, a metaphor.

Even across the ethers of text, there is the exchange of head pats.

When things are hard,


When days are painful.


When we’re feeling overwhelmed.


And on and on.

Offering pats to each other, and ourselves, when we need it most.

Because all the science + books under the sun might be out there and we’ve read our body weight in them, but at the end of the day, we learned about empathy from a (hungry) 3 year old.

And that’s what this story is about.


P.S. I just texted my mate this piece of writing.

Her response: