Category Archives: Delicates

Sink or swim

I don’t know how to start this post. Usually when I write it’s the ending that throws me – how to tie everything up in a succinct sentence that leaves an air of interest in further words. I am sorry, but there will be no foreplay. Today I just need to get this done. I don’t even have any graphics! Well, except the photo stock one I got from the net. Sorry, Launderers. I hope you’ll stay for the words even without the pretty pictures.

In my last post I was very touched to have had some people reach out and offer me some kind and reassuring words, mainly to assist with my self-perception. I appreciate this immensely. How lucky am I to have both friends and strangers who would take the time to put their thoughts into writing and share these with me. To those of you who did – thank you. Because of your kindness, I vowed to try to embody this quality more as well, and embarked on being more approachable, sending more Facebook friend requests and volunteering to listen when someone needed to chat (I won’t lie, there were mixed results and some of my friend requests have gone unrequited – I am not sure what this says about me or my Facebook profile but I am open to feedback). I truly hope no one ever feels that his or her kindness is wasted on me, but in saying that, I need to be honest and say that I rarely, if ever, believe what I am told when it is kind. And although I am sure I am not alone in that particular quirk, my reason for having this issue seem to always point to one annoying thing.

Irritatingly for me (and others, I imagine), the peak of my self-worth has historically been related to my upbringing. I have lived with a somewhat polarizing notion that people other than your parents can raise you and that the effect of this arrangement will not detrimentally affect your life. But I am just not sure I believe my own hype: On the one hand is the very valid argument that as long as a child has love, has its immediate needs met and has a permanent network of support to help shape them as they grow, then the fact that someone other than their birth parents raised them is largely beside the point. In theory, I absolutely agree with this argument. I say in theory, because although I have encountered through work and broader community links many people who have been raised under this kind of arrangement, and many children who are loved by their families and who love them in return, in my immediate social circle I have literally only met two people who were in a similar situation as me. They were both being raised by their grandparents.

One of those people is in jail. The other committed suicide.

I do not say this to be dramatic. The above should not be construed as a causal link. Plenty of people are raised families outside their birth ones and it is a blessing for all concerned. It was absolutely a blessing for me. But in my particular experience I have tried so very hard to believe the argument that I was lucky, and that it wasn’t that bad (it was great!), that somewhere down the line I started becoming uncertain as to whether I actually believed what I was saying. In hindsight, perhaps I had just been too eager to drink the socially acceptable Kool-Aid that would guarantee me a spot at the table for people who are respected by others because they do not possess that irritating quirk of feeling sorry for oneself. The people who just “get on with it”.

Regardless of how this all came about, there have in recent times been extenuating circumstances that all but prevented anything in the way of self-reflection on this topic, especially over the past six years. There was a time in my early twenties where once a week I would dutifully meet with the therapist who has helped to shape my emotionally lumpy ball of clay into something more clarified and beautiful. I worked hard to sort my shit out at the time – shit that was largely related to my absent parents and the effects of how their relationships with me influenced my relationships with others. It was important groundwork that allowed me to actually remedy some flawed belief systems in order to live more of an authentic, free life. And luckily for me, that also meant the chance to have lots of sex with lots of boys without the guilt of thinking I had to be in a relationship first. I was with a man who was 4 years older than me from when I was 15 years old until I turned 19; if this does not make me the poster-child for insecure adolescents then nothing will. I then did what any person with abandonment issues would do and found myself another relationship almost immediately, meaning that by the time I was 21, I had really never been single. I made up for lost time in the most wonderfully slutty of ways (and I say this without a shred of shame or regret, for if there is any time in my life where I can look back and say I felt at ease with myself and my choices, it was this). I loved being single. And I knew I would only ever give up this freedom for someone pretty amazing.

Enter: D. I was 23 when we met. By this time I had been in therapy for two years. A lot of the rubble had been swept away. The dust was starting to clear. There was hope.

My chats with my therapist soon became largely centred on my decision to give up some of my independence (and a large part of my social circle who responded with nothing short of disdain for the fact that I would no longer be the ring-leader on alcohol fuelled hook-up benders) so that I could embark on a relationship with D. And it was not without its challenges – D was (is) 8 years older than me. He didn’t have emotional baggage, a dysfunctional family or self-destructive habits outside of getting tackled at football. His calm, balanced demeanour was the antithesis of my own. And although now it is this pairing that has helped us to grow together, namely that our shortcomings become each other’s gains, at the time it was a lot to work through.

In 2008 we got engaged (during a fight – a post for another time), in late 2009 we married and we moved interstate in early 2010. During this time we were geographically and emotionally torn because I kept returning to Brisbane to be present for my grandmother’s worsening dementia, all the while knowing I had to stay in Melbourne because D’s own father’s dementia was avalanching into what would culminate into a premature yet drawn-out and distressing death. And in between the stressors of knowing you are each dealing with the same kind of pain, in 2012 a child enters the world. A sick child, the experience of which also helps to create a sick mother. We kept our heads above water, until we didn’t. But with therapy and medication, I caught my breath and rose to the parenting challenge. I had issues with patience as many people do, but simply by raising my own son with love and affection I reasoned I was in a way proving that I would not be the one to repeat history. My child was wanted and adored. I would not be my mother’s daughter.

In 2013 my grandmother dies in my arms. My head dips below the water but buoyed with love from my little family, I am now able to swim. Friends vanish because I change. Maybe I post too many photos of my children on Facebook. But all that becomes irrelevant when two months later I unexpectedly fall pregnant with N, the baby who would repair the pain from our first child’s birth and who would bring us a joy I struggle to describe. And we needed that joy; we needed those little chubby legs and those bright blue eyes, because by 2014 when N was born, the grandfather I adored with all my heart had cut off contact with me as the family members who were absent for most of my life had come home to roost. My grandfather is dead by mid-2015, and I am not there beside him when it happens. He never meets N.

For the following 18 months after my grandfather’s death I am mired in family litigation. I rarely contest anything. I am anchored to paperwork and phone calls. I want it to all be over. I want to float on the surface, eyes to the sky, free again.

Halfway through 2016 we embark on a quest to chase that freedom, deciding to sell our home, quit our jobs and go travelling with our boys. We love it until we don’t, then we seek out our next move, and can’t make a decision. I discuss with D my uneasiness at feeling as though the decision will come down to what I want. He promises to take over and make a call for all of us. I am grateful for his resolve.

But as these little ships of life – boat-like blips on a horizon that we each navigate – sail over the seas, edge past each other, avoid danger and signal for help if needed, all the while I sense an undercurrent brewing beneath the surface. I know it is familiar because old and unhelpful belief patterns start to jostle for room in my already overcrowded head. I try to drown them out with exercise, with meditation, with affection with my children and intimacy with my husband. But they tug, and before long it becomes a pull from beneath that drags me out past the safety of the harbour and into the waves, where instead of being a mother of a five-year-old who is trying to decide what school to enrol him into next year, I am instead back where I was a decade ago, back feeling as though I am fundamentally flawed, that I am irredeemably damaged, and – most frighteningly – that if given time, not only will I sink, but I will drag my family into the murky depths with me.

Why am I back here? I have a few theories. As postulated in my last post, I first thought it was place-based. I though that geography was conspiring to haunt me. But then I talked to a dear friend of mine who reminded me that one of the times I had felt the worst was in Quebec where I cried in the bathroom into a pillow for the best part of four hours in a quest to not wake my sleeping children and husband. “If you think you’re shit in Quebec, of course you’re going to think you’re shit in Brisbane,” she said. My friends are geniuses.

Another theory is that since the stress of losing two lives and gaining two in quick succession is now in the past, my brain has started to remember that it once had fundamental crack in its foundation that it needed to address, before it got sidetracked. So this is its way of sending me a reminder for a calendar invite to which I’ve not responded. Fix the foundation, Sarah. Your house is crumbling.

The third theory – and one I am hesitant to share because I would hate for it to be misinterpreted as endorsement of this kind of approach to mental health – is that for almost five months, I have been off medication. I very gradually stopped taking my antidepressants in November; by December I was down to one tablet every second day and by January I was off medication completely. It was not a decision I made lightly (I have been on these antidepressants since J was 3 months old) but I have been on and off medication since I was 19; the longest stretch was 6 years of haziness where I managed to somehow stay alive despite ignoring advice to not drink alcohol while undergoing pharmaceutical treatment. But recently I knew I had to come off these little squares of mine – it was time. I needed the mental clarity. I was sick of the dependence. And I hated the side effects.

I resourcefully used exercise and sexercise as a way to flood my body with happy hormones. It worked reasonably well, but was made infinitely harder by the constant headaches, tears, shakes, nausea, fatigue and dizziness that accompanied trying to encourage my body back into making its own serotonin. I also started a new job during this time, which helps to explain one of my earlier posts about crying at work. And to add further hormonal woe to the mix, on some sort of crazed fact-finding mission to try to uncover why I still was feeling pangs of psychological strain, I had my Mirena (IUD) removed. I became convinced there was an external cause for my malaise. I knew of anecdotal evidence to suggest the Mirena can impact a woman’s mood – so out it came.

I was desperately looking for an outward cause. I wanted my emotional distress to be linked to a physical ailment. If it’s the medication withdrawals, that makes total sense! Or it’s just hormonal, I’m normal. Women everywhere struggle with hormonal mood swings. Yay! Yay for science!

And yet, I was not convinced.

Today I went to a Buddhist learnings session at the Buddha Birth Day celebrations at South Bank. It was called “Liberation from Fear and Anger”. A female monk whose name I should have written down presented the session; she was Singaporean, warm, funny and engaging. Her words about anger were familiar to me, and I was grateful to be present for a reminder of how to let go of harmful thoughts.

Quite unexpectedly, she shared an anecdote. She told the room that she too has struggled with anger and resentment. She said for 10 years she cried every day, unclear as to why. Eventually, she figured it out.

“I had a chip on my shoulder,” I hung on her words, “because I was adopted.”

I believe, that at that moment, my heart stopped.

The monk explained that she always felt as though she was unlovable, and unworthy. If her birth parents – who she had searched for, unsuccessfully – did not want her, then there was something wrong with her. “Everyone had parents except me. I had my adoptive parents and they loved me, but I was looking for what I didn’t have. And I was so very sad, for many, many years.”

Predictably, I descended into tears, incredulous as a monk from Singapore used her words to convey a feeling I know all too well. At a time I needed to hear it the most, the words I struggle to articulate to my friends and family were being spoken by someone else who had a lived experience similar to mine but who had none of the trappings of my history. She didn’t grow up in the Redlands and use Jim Beam as a form of self-medication. She didn’t measure her worth by the hotness of the boy she was with. She was a monk, a woman who you would think would have all the tools in the world to understand, uncover and remedy her pain. And yet here she was, describing that for the best part of 40 years she was hurting, and baffled as to why. And if a monk can struggle to make sense of their upbringing, it made me feel like I have a right to do that too.

After the talk, I approached her. I barely got a word out before I started to cry. She held my hands and told me it was good to cry, because it means you are open to healing. “Like an onion, you take off one layer and it’s not so bad. The deeper you get, the more tears.” She told me she cried for years, but with therapy and her Buddhist beliefs, she was eventually able to put her pain and anger aside. I thanked her silently, nodding as I left. It was all I could muster.

So it is with a sense of exhaustion and commitment that I now accept that I have more work to do. I have wanted to believe for years that it’s all behind me; the memories of uncertainty with my childhood living arrangements, the damage of my parents’ involvement which was much worse than their lack of interest; I wanted to believe it was all sorted because I wanted to get on with my happy life. My blessed, beautiful life, where I have healthy children, a kind and strong husband, travels and adventure, friendship and laughs. I didn’t want to be labelled as someone seeking sympathy or being self-pitying. I wanted to be strong, independent and capable. And I was. I am.

I believed for years that the solution to my unease was to let go of the anger I held towards my family – mainly my mother and father. To this day I try to consciously think kind thoughts about them every so often, rationalising that if they are happy and content, they’re less likely to want to come along and fuck up my world again. Then I had a nightmare last week – that I received in the mail photos of my son playing at the beach. There was a letter enclosed. The writing was my father’s – all capitals: “JUST WANTED YOU TO KNOW I’M AROUND.”

The unease lingers. But it is enlightening, for what I think has happened is that managing to muffle the anger I held for my family members only relocated the rage. Like the ex-smoker who gains weight, I have misdirected my anger from my parents and onto myself. And unlike my parents, I am always with me. I can’t get away.

So with that in mind, it looks like I have some work to do. I wish I didn’t have to, but I know that I can. Like that annoying blue tang Dory, I will just keep swimming. And as always, I will write about it.

(Told you I suck at endings, so in conclusion, here is my favourite poem: I go back to May 1937, by Sharon Olds. It is beyond fitting.)

I see them standing at the formal gates of their colleges,
I see my father strolling out
under the ochre sandstone arch, the
red tiles glinting like bent
plates of blood behind his head, I
see my mother with a few light books at her hip
standing at the pillar made of tiny bricks,
the wrought-iron gate still open behind her, its
sword-tips aglow in the May air,
they are about to graduate, they are about to get married,
they are kids, they are dumb, all they know is they are
innocent, they would never hurt anybody.
I want to go up to them and say Stop,
don’t do it—she’s the wrong woman,
he’s the wrong man, you are going to do things
you cannot imagine you would ever do,
you are going to do bad things to children,
you are going to suffer in ways you have not heard of,
you are going to want to die. I want to go
up to them there in the late May sunlight and say it,
her hungry pretty face turning to me,
her pitiful beautiful untouched body,
his arrogant handsome face turning to me,
his pitiful beautiful untouched body,
but I don’t do it. I want to live. I
take them up like the male and female
paper dolls and bang them together
at the hips, like chips of flint, as if to
strike sparks from them, I say
Do what you are going to do, and I will tell about it.

 

 

 

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The sun also burns

Where to begin? More travels (to Canada and the US – blog post TBC), more questions, more sunshine? More indecision.

I suppose I should pick up from where I left off; that turgid post of doom in which I lamented a misfortune of my own making. Indeed, I felt horrible. I felt trapped. I felt stuck back in a city that I had longed to escape since childhood, and I felt physically and emotionally constrained by our choice of home. There were days where I cried and cried and missed my grandparents, and thought of all the stupid shit I have done in this town, and returned day after day to my trailer park home, where my boys were tanned from a day in the sun, and I was fatigued from a day of trying to wrap my head around laws that protect children from parents worse than my own, and systems that exist so that the State can be your parent when your own cannot.

I don’t know why I described myself in the above paragraph as struggling to understand the legislation I am tasked to review. This is something that is not difficult for me. The problem of course is that what we are skilled to do, and what brings us joy, are not always one and the same. This is complicated even further when a thing we are capable at, but which does not guarantee emotional satisfaction, also brings with it a steady stream of income. The choices are too many for me to compute at times.

Do something you love which pays little? Feel emotionally sated but perpetually poor?
Do something you can tolerate because it pays well and allows you the freedom to spend you income on things that satisfy you?
Do nothing but explore the world, funded by years of work at mundane jobs, in order to allow yourself to build bonds with your children and husband that 40+ hours a week in an office can threaten to erode?
Buy less, love more?

In an earlier post I wrote about finally figuring out – years later – that my reasons for studying law were always flawed. I was always one of those bright and annoying children, whose vocabulary surpassed my elders – a similarity I now witness in my son J. My personality and intellect, like everyone’s, was partly genes, partly nature, and partly situational (because my grandparents read to me often). I was always included in adult conversations and I performed on cue the role of precocious, entertaining child. I brought home certificate after certificate – art, writing, reading, public speaking (maths was noticeably absent from my skill-set) and my grandparents loved it. But while they heaped me with praise for my report cards that were littered with As, for every positive remark, there was a small jab. They were not happy with B grades. They were dissatisfied with the comments that always followed on my report cards about my apparent refusal to work to my potential. They were dismayed that I did not seem to take anything academic particularly seriously, and they asked me regularly what I planned to do with my life, suggesting along the way that with my love of words and performance, journalism or law would probably be a perfect fit (spoiler alert: it was not).

But why does all this come up for me? Why are all these issues at the forefront of my mind?

Because, Brisbane.

In an episode of the Simpsons, Lisa begs Chief Wiggum to not eat the clues. She appears to him in a backwards-speaking, Twin Peaks-esque scene where he is trying to solve the crime of who shot Mr Burns. Lisa appears to guide Chief Wiggum to the answer he already has. The evidence he needs is in his possession, he just hasn’t realised it yet.


Now, a month after my last post, I have figured more out about the evidence before me, and instead of eating the delicious, tropical clues, I feel like I’m finally making sense of them.

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This sunny, water-lined scene is the life I grew up in, with the islands of Moreton Bay my backyard (note: I have only been to Stradbroke Is AKA Straddie TWICE, such was my grandparents’ disdain for the Shire they called home). I grew up around families who went camping on these islands, whose parents threw barbecues poolside, and who spent their sunny weekends taking the family boat out on the bay. And now, as a parent myself, I see the cohort of names I remember repeating the lessons learned in childhood, played out before me on Facebook. Sand, surf, sea, sun. Rinse and repeat.

The life of sunshine and sea-spray could have been mine, but it wasn’t, and it was never going to be. My Nanny couldn’t swim. My grandfather despised the Queensland beaches, only ever surfing in Yamba. It was a shame I didn’t feel part of this scene because I was a reasonably good swimmer and I tanned beautifully in the sun. But I was so hell-bent on ruining my life before it even began, I didn’t pay much attention to all the beauty around me, and how lucky I was to call this place my home.

So now, some 20 years later, where I watch my children play every day in the pool, where my son turns brown in the sun as I do, and where I can walk to work from my apartment in South Brisbane, no longer needing to battle the daily commute, I am again trapped in this familiar sense of disconnection, because I could have everything I want here, but I can’t.

This place would give me everything familiar. Everything, except happiness.

I can’t stay in Brisbane, my home town. There are too many scars. The wounds are still raw in places, such was the force with which they were inflicted. I am re-truamatising myself continuously – with wonderings about the could-haves and what-ifs and the ongoing sense of guilt and shame for all I have done. And it’s not that I ever did anything particularly horrendous – I didn’t rob any one at knifepoint (or otherwise) or steal a car. I just view my past as all being missed chances to have been a better person, a kinder granddaughter, to have been more present, nicer, more caring. But I wasn’t that person. I’m playing catch-up now trying to become that person. So all Brisbane tells me is that I will never get that time back, and being here, in this place, is a constant reminder of what I have lost.

Family. Friends. A different kind of life.

I try to be kind to myself, and to console myself with words like, “Sarah, you were young when you were here. You didn’t know any better. You did the best you could. You didn’t have support or guidance. Everyone makes mistakes.” But the problem is that I am, and have always been painfully, frighteningly hard on myself. I have never understood the self-love movement as I am mired somewhere between dislike and apathy. I have tried for years to remedy this, but I fear that when you are told in your formative years that you are a burden, a mistake and a failure, a future in which you outwardly champion your own existence is asking a bit much.

As I alluded to in my last post, D and I decided to bite the bullet and make a financially stupid but psychologically astute decision to rent an apartment near the city and forego our caravan for a little while. A borrowed queen sized bed is our only furniture, other than a small coffee table and a little kids table for the boys to eat at. Our boys are sleeping on mattresses from the caravan; we have pushed the two single mattresses together and sometimes when we are lucky, little N will snuggle up to his big brother and leave us in peace for a whole night.
We borrowed a television from my best friend and a bar fridge from her aunt. While I am at work the boys hang out in the nearby parks playing outdoors or swimming the pool. Sometimes they will go to GoMA, or play in South Bank, or walk through the museum. The local public school – pretending I was to send J to it – is down the road, and I have heard coworkers speak of it glowingly. D’s boxing gym is a short jog away. We spend our weekends catching up with friends we have missed since moving to Melbourne seven years ago, or we drive to the beach. We are healthier than we ever were in Melbourne, thanks to almost endless sunshine and fresh air.

We could have been really happy here.

And, yet.
It’s me.
It’s not you, Brisbane. It’s me.

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There are days when I feel irreparably broken. When I believe with abject certainty that I will never be fixed, that I will never be ‘normal’ and that my father was right in all he ever said about me, and that my mother was right to flee. How could a parent not want to cradle the smooth, perfect skin of the life they created? My only answer for that is my own utter lack of worth, visible since I was merely minutes old. I can grow older, amass a new family, develop coping strategies and self-awareness, gain employment, earn a wage, buy nice things, but it means nothing if underneath it all I am undeniably ruined.

Does this come up more for me because I am back in Brisbane, the scene of so many crimes of the heart (and a few garden variety street offences)? Or is it because of something more sinister, something within me that I can never change? The creatives in the world are often the ones cursed with thoughts like these. I take comfort knowing I’m in good company.

But putting aside my oscillating thought processes, the other burning issue at hand is of course what we should do next. In no particular order, here are the options D and I have narrowed down for our family.

1. D goes back to work, I stay at home with the boys.  We want to be with them but the past 5 months of D being the stay-at-home parent have been fraught. He is a wonderful father and plays with the boys for hours. But he isn’t a great housewife, even if he looks good in an apron.  So if anyone is going to work, it will be him. And yet despite knowing this, and agreeing to it, I still complete job applications to random employers all over the world, because I am addicted to rolling the dice.

2. Stay in Brisbane. D would be happy with this. I would be happy for a few weeks before descending into some kind of psychotic break that paralyses me until I can be brought back to consciousness with a plane ticket.

3. Return to Melbourne. D is not keen on this idea, for reasons that make complete sense, namely that if it didn’t feel right a year ago it’s probably not right now. But yet, I do miss Melbourne. To me it feels like home, but that could be just because it’s the last place we were settled.

4. Find a smaller town somewhere and buy a big block of land. D claims he would love this. He wants to repair old motorcycles and have a shed again. We want our dog back. But I am terrified and unsure if my immediate response is a valid one or just one that has been honed from years of telling myself that I needed to live in a major city because that was the only way I would escape the small town mindset I came to view as normal.

5. We go somewhere rural. D is a country boy at heart, and assures me that the boys would have plenty of space and we could do cool stuff on the property to make it AirBandB worthy when we aren’t there. But how would we travel when we would have animals to look after? And how does a vegetarian get by in dairy and cattle farmer territory?

6. We try a new Australian city, e.g. Darwin. We like the idea of the tropics without the familiarity of the Eastern seaboard. We like the proximity to Asia. We like the multiculturalism. D could find work easily. Baby N could eat mangoes all year round. And we could have our crazy cattle dog Clancy back with us again. It’s an unexpected front-runner at the moment, though with everything we discuss, that’s subject to change at a moment’s notice.

7. We go overseas again and do some volunteer work. What better way to teach our kids about the world? We could find a villa in Bali, help with turtle conservation and help little kids to speak English. I have thought about doing post-grad study in education for years and for some reason I always back out. Maybe this would be a nice way to test the waters given that I did a 6 year double degree only to set foot in a law firm and realise I’d made a terrible mistake. But then I worry about the kids, and mozzie bites, and illnesses, and how we would manage it all. I want to challenge my children, but I don’t necessarily want to scar them for life.

8. In addition to all of this, I should add that D has a job offer in Vancouver. It would be a great job – perfect for him and would also let him work from home for most of the week. I love the idea of taking the boys out every day exploring a new city. But – Visas. We don’t think he can get a Visa without the assistance of the company, and for them to hire a foreign worker involves a lot of work on their part to illustrate that they tried to find a Canadian to do the job and could not.

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9. D could find a job overseas (Australian company with an international posting). But D will only go if it helps advance his employability; he won’t go if it is going to cost us money and makes no financial sense after you take away accommodation expenses/cost of living etc. I’m no mathemagician but he has a point.

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10. We pack up our lives again and just drive with the van. D is happy with this, and I am as well, although remembering how cramped I was in that tiny bed wedged between a sideboard, a toddler and my husband is not without its concern.

11. We go back to what is safe, D gets a job, I get a job, the boys go to school/daycare, we buy a nice house in a nice neighbourhood and we have a walk-in pantry and a big fridge and I drink wine in a coffee cup to quell the burning realisation that I had a chance to do something amazing with my children before they got too big, and instead I got scared, and returned to what is familiar. Maybe I could save turtles during school holiday breaks?

So there it is, Launderers. Now you know everything. Feel free to pass on your worldly advice because each day the weight of these decisions are eating away at the usually calm soul of my indecisive Libran husband, and are threatening to drive my erratic nature to doing something impulsive. Like, announcing to my employer that I will finish up in June.

Which I have already done.

But before I finish this post, let me stress that having options is a wonderful thing. We are blessed to have so many possibilities we could explore. We are fortunate to be educated such that we can find employment in various locations and forms. And above all of that, we are so very lucky to have two little children who are healthy and happy, and who could not care less where their crazy parents take them, as long as we are all together.

And that – that, I can promise, we will be.

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The good, the bad and the ugly.

I write this in January, on the halfway-between-a-double-and-a-Queen bed in our caravan, where all is dark except for the light from my laptop, and other than the sounds of my fingers tapping keys, the only noises are the snores of my youngest son who is asleep on my bed, and the whir of the air conditioner that is rarely, if ever, turned off.

It is 7.30pm. My children are asleep because they are overactive boys who need to rest, but who refuse to. They’ve both collapsed in a heap after tears and a tantrum and a cavalcade of books read to them by the parent who loves the sound of her own voice.

Soon, wine.

My husband is at the gym.

He needs to punch something.

He needs some alone time.

We are in Brisbane. We have been here for almost two months. We elected to stop here as I – on some strange tropics-infused whim – decided I would like to try my luck at being employed again. Just temporarily! Just to make sure I am still employable! So a few months ago from our van parked near Palmerston in the Territory, as my children slept I churned out a few job applications, and ended up getting a three month role in the Queensland government that was presumably to wrap up at the end of February. It has since been extended.

This will be great! We thought, for we are idiots. I can work and give D a taste of what it’s like to be a full-time stay-at-home dad! We can see if that set-up is one that might work for us! And we will only stay in Brisbane for a little while because, Brisbane. No we aren’t going to stay in Brisbane, are you kidding? As if we want to get stuck here again in the city that holds memories of most of my sins and years spent dodging bullets and firing even more.

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Lousy memory-ridden city with your glorious weather I WILL NOT FALL FOR YOU AGAIN! (Let’s do lunch?)

We will be fine, my husband said, as I went to work that steamy December morning, leaving him with the children. We will hang out in the pool, visit friends, do the touristy stuff.

We are two months in.
We are two months in to our three-month gig.
We are two months in.
And we are miserable.

Now, I could smack a lick of gloss over this crumbling conundrum and reassure all and sundry that EVERYTHING IS AWESOME! LIFE! YEAH! #BLESSED I could post photos of children playing with flowers, and me with my sun-kissed legs outstretched on a beach and of melamine cups and barbecues and sunsets and beauty and moments and gratitude.

It would be bullshit. That’s not reality anymore.

Before I elaborate I am at pains to explain that up until the Brisbane hiatus, things were awesome. Well, they were difficult (we do have two children under 5) but they were fun. Exploring new places, turning up in strange towns, making do in the surroundings, trying to be creative when cooking with a can of tomatoes, tuna and pasta for another night. It was challenging, but fun. We were a team, hubby and I. We rolled our eyes at each other when our boys screamed blue murder over misappropriated ninja turtles. We listened to podcasts as we drove through kilometers of nothing as our children watched episodes of Deadly 60 as our car sped along a highway. We talked about life on the rare occasions that both our children fell asleep as we drove – where we will settle? Is J ready for school? Where should we go next?

There are days, now, that we talk to each other in such a spitting, irritable way, you could be forgiven for thinking that we never liked each other, and that we are just inmates thrust into the same cell, trying desperately to get out of a prison of our own making.

How did this happen?

I don’t know. If I knew, I imagine I would be able to stop it. But I don’t know the cause. I know some contributing factors, but how relevant they each are is a bit of a mystery.

Here they are, in no particular order:

Bedtime.

Oh co-sleeping, you mistress of doom. You won me over with your promises of baby cuddles on tap, which I love, I do. And I have loved it for some time…the baby in question is nearly 2 and a half. The baby can sleep on his own, he just chooses not to. Oh, what’s that, unsolicited opinions? I should be firmer with him set some boundaries? HOW THE FUCK SHALL I MANAGE THAT IN A CARAVAN? The little bugger can simply roll out of his bottom bunk, wander up to us and scream until we give him what he wants (our bed). He slept in a bed on his own while we were housesitting; I was able to lie in bed with him until he fell asleep and then creep out. Do you know how hard it is to wedge oneself in the base bed of a triple bunk? Thank Christ for my years of yoga or I may have snapped a tendon by now, having to contort myself into place where I am resting half on the floor and half on a mattress that is supermodel thin, all the while cradling N’s enormous head in my bicep and trying not to swear.

So the baby ends up in bed with us. We try to make peace with it. We try to be sexually adventurous using locations other than the bed. Well, we try to try. Apparently my glaring and constant bitchy resting face isn’t sexy (who knew?).

Space

In families that are packed together like sardines in tiny apartments,  is there any data to show their quality of life? Because if I were a betting woman, I would wager that the proximity one is to one’s immediate family is inversely proportionate to the amount of affection felt for that family. In other words, I NEED SOME FUCKING SPACE. But I am the lucky one, now. I am at work for a glorious 8 hours a day. I get alone time on the bus, at the gym, on my lunch-break. It is absolutely marvellous and simply confirms to me what I always knew – that the stay at home parent has it much, much harder than anyone who gets to leave the house and go to work.

The SAHD

Poor husband. He is actually coping quite well as the primary caregiver and to be honest I never really doubted his ability. He is patient (though that quality is waning), he is engaged and he loves his kids. Plus, when we decided to have a family we were both VERY CLEAR on the fact that it would not be solely my role to raise our children. He could have found a woman who wanted to be homemaker. Instead he found me, a decision that I imagine he regrets far more than he used to of late.

So the problem isn’t so much him. It’s how I see him.

Imagine you are at work, doing your job day after day, a job that challenges you and one that you enjoy, and one which you are an expert at because you have been doing it for so long. Sure you might make mistakes from time to time but you know how to fix them and you know what works. You have it all figured out. You = boss.

Now imagine that you’re moving into another area at work, to take on a new role. Someone else has been hired to replace you. But they already know how to do your job, or at least they think they do. They might listen to a few tips you have, but they really want to do things their way. So when you see them about to make an error that you yourself have made and are now able to avoid, naturally you want to warn them. And when they ignore your warning, you want to slap them. Why aren’t they listening to you? This was YOUR JOB! But no, your words have little relevance now. It WAS your job. Now your job belongs to them.

And when, on a relatively easy day (by your standards), you hear your replacement moaning about how tired they are, how tricky the job is, how exhausting it can be, you feel some sympathy, because you have been there. But mostly, you feel annoyed, because you felt this way for years while you were in the role and WHO THE FUCK HELPED YOU?

Welcome to the world of watching your husband be the primary caregiver.

It is heartwarming to watch a dad with his sons. It is fantastic to have married a man who never believed that a woman’s place is at home. It is wonderful to finally be focusing a bit more on my career, having shouldered the majority of the parenting role for so long. But the bar is already set so goddamn low for fathers, that all they have to do is turn up and be affectionate towards their kids and immediately they’re nominated for Sainthood. So many people have said to me how lucky I am to have husband who is happy to stay home with our sons. Err, THEY’RE HIS CHILDREN! I didn’t create them myself on some journey of immaculate conception. And where was my parade when I gave up my career to stay home with the kids? Oh yes, that’s right, it’s just expected of us women folk, isn’t it?

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The love

Where is the love? The love that used to wrap me in its big strong arm and kiss me on the neck? Let me tell you where it is – that love has been squished into a wall by a baby who sleeps sideways. What about the love that stayed up late with me and drank wine, or let me read on his lap while he watched Game of Thrones and stroked my hair? That love has been silenced by small children who demand we tippy-toe around our 22ft can of a home, thus eradicating opportunities for conversation unless we wish to do so underneath our caravan awning, outside. Do you know what invades my senses when I sit outside my caravan? THE SIGHTS, SMELLS AND SOUNDS OF OTHER CARVANNERS. And I get attacked by mosquitoes. So no, there are no chats after dark unless they’re whispered, and no, there is no Netflix watching unless we can get the caravan park’s dicky WiFi to work and even then we have to aim the Ipad away from the baby because we have to sit on the bed where he is sleeping to watch it BECAUSE WE DON’T HAVE A COUCH.

Peace of mind

Oh yes, I did a course on mindfulness therapy. This technically means I should be espousing all manner of calm and soothing processes to chill one out. But I bet you couldn’t pick that now, could you? I have no patience and that is partly because I have no chance to just sit by myself and calm the fuck down. We have a fixed cabin looking down at us in our current van location; not sure I really want the glaring eyes of my transient neighbours watching me as I try to get some inner peace. I have been going to the gym regularly and THANK CHRIST for that outlet. I snap at the children. I yell at my husband. I use the word ‘fuck’ too much (and rarely as a verb, sob). And my husband is just as disgruntled. He shrugs at me, looks at me with a weird glare of incomprehension and occasional disgust. He wants to go back to work. He wants some semblance of normality back. But I am not kind about this; I am just angry.

Birthday

My stupid birthday is coming up and what is even worse is that it’s the day after a major public holiday so even if I wanted to forget about it, I can’t. What are you doing for the long weekend, Sarah? Oh I think I will just cry in a corner if that’s okay but as I can’t get any privacy I will just have to muffle my tears in the communal fucking shower block.

Nanny and Gran

I miss them, I miss them, I miss them. I always miss them. My friends complain about their mums being annoying and I find my immediate (internal) response not one of support but one of irritation. At least you still have her, I think to myself. I am not a nice person. I am probably going to hell. I will be easy to spot among the brimstone as I will be the one towing a caravan behind me as my penance for being a bitch on earth.

But…

If I have a talent (I don’t have one, I have many, the problem being they are fairly useless. For example: I have beautiful handwriting. What a blessing that is in this digital age), it is perception. I know this is temporary. I know that life comes in seasons and this is just where are at, for now. Et hoc transibit – this too shall pass.

There is a Japanese saying that goes something like “After the rain, the ground hardens”. Basically it means the soil is primed for growth after a downpour. Maybe this is our downpour? Or maybe we are just over living in a metal box?

When we started this adventure, we had no idea where it would lead. We didn’t know what to expect or where life would take us, nor did we consider a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to have this experience. Now, having journeyed for over six months, we have decided to take a break from our current situation and take a family holiday, a proper one. So we are off to Canada in March. Four weeks, six cities, including New York. While we are away we will stay open to new opportunities – will hubby find a role he loves overseas? Will we relocate and have new adventures abroad? Or will we miss Brisbane, that city we struck off our list so sure were we never to return?

Whatever happens, at the end of our holiday, I hope we will be ready to carve out our own little home somewhere. And while renting a house might mean our adventures have been curtailed at least temporarily, what’s the point of navigating the earth if you’re angry with your copilot?

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Sweet Child(care) of Mine

Today I advised my son’s child care centre that we will be leaving in a couple of weeks, meaning that we will no longer need our place for both boys. J currently goes to sessional 4-year-old kinder twice a week; N goes for a play one day a week. This centre – for which there is an approximate wait-list of about 2 years, so coveted are its vacancies – will no longer be part of our weekly routine, a role it has played for the best part of 4 years.

To say I am mourning this impending loss would be an understatement.

Childcare often gets a bad rap; people think of it as a babysitting service where snotty nosed kids are neglected and left to wallow in their own filth.

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This has never been true for me. I have been  blessed with our experience at the centre my kids they have attended for the last 4 years. Quite frankly, I don’t know what we will do without them.

So, I did what writers do, and I wrote them a letter:

Dear V, S and M,

It is with a heavy heart and sadness that I write to advise that J and N will be finishing up at the Centre on Wednesday 13 July 2016. Our caravan will be ready in the coming weeks and we intend to set off after this for a 3-4 week trip around Victoria to get our bearings and see how we take to caravan life.

We have picked 13 July as our last day as it is the first day back after holidays, meaning that J can say goodbye to his friends and teachers in the kindy room.

As you know, the centre has become a second home to us over the past four years, and the staff have become an extended family. When J first started attending he was only 9 months old and was one of the chubby little babies loved in the babies’ room. He went on to Room 9 where he learned to eat more than just bread at lunch, and painted huge artworks that have until now hung in his room. Before long, J was in Room 6 with and it was here that he became a big brother to N, who eventually joined him at “school” and who has been smothered in kisses and cuddles all the other staff. J has made friends here that I hope he will stay in contact with; the crazy band of boys and their fondness for role play makes me smile whenever I watch them scurry about in the yard.

I do not have a family network on which to rely for advice and/or assistance, and when J first started attending the Centre I had few friends (having moved to Melbourne from Queensland only a couple of years earlier). The chats I have had with staff when I have dropped my boys off became invaluable tools for understanding both my role as a parent, and my child’s view of the world. Over the last few days I have shed tears as I removed J’s artwork from his room, marvelling at the changes in his skills – skills that the carers and educators have taught him. From the honeybee song that B taught him a couple of years ago that still makes him giggle, to the encouragement in getting him to try his food; from the unveiling of the Dinosaur Park to the exploration of the nearby parklands, the memories from the centre are extensive and meaningful. I have no idea how we will replicate or replace the lessons our boys have learned while in your care; I just hope they can one day remember the special place they used to call ‘school’.

We have no set plans for our itinerary and no definitive idea as to whether we will return to Yarraville. We plan to sell our home and have given ourselves 6-12 months to see how we like travelling, but as I have been at pains to remind myself, we can always come back at any time. I really hope if we end up back here, I can once again be a parent at the centre, so that I can watch N embark on the same path of learning that J did, in this special, loving setting.

Once we have our caravan, I wonder if perhaps we could arrange a “show and tell” type occasion where J could show some of the kids his new home? We could just park out the front somewhere. We will also be encouraging J to write postcards to send back to you so that you can keep track of our travels. I also have a blog where I will post regular updates on how we are surviving.

From the bottom of our hearts, thank you for creating this safe, happy place, that has become a haven for me on days I have been desperate for a break, and which has helped our little people to grow into confident, smiling little men.

I will never forget our time here.

With best wishes and a sincere hope to keep in touch,
Sarah

jesus
Just write to Jesus, care of The Pentagon.

I really hope we keep in touch. I am going to miss them all.

 

 

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For the long run

It has been 49 days since my last post; words I type that are almost confessional. Much has changed since then, but much more is still swirling with the flavours of uncertainty, excitement and anticipation.

I quit my job. One day after my last post, I wrote my letter of resignation.

When I was pregnant with J and approaching my last day of paid employment, I was in a panic. Giving up my job was akin to independent suicide, or so I believed. It would make me wholly dependent on my husband. My years of fighting to be financially secure and reliant on no one for myself would come to an abrupt halt.

Where did this need to be self-sufficient come from? I suspect it became ingrained around the time I had finished high school, when I knew that the only thing that would allow me to flee my relatives – at least in a theoretical sense – was the ability to book a plane ticket and fly far away. To do that, I needed funds at my disposal, funds which were eaten up quickly in a flurry of petrol/alcohol/food/textbook purchases. The fact that escaping my relatives would also mean being away from my grandparents was the worst kind of juxtaposition I could imagine, but the sense that I could leave if I wanted to was often the only thing that kept me in one place.

This need to be able to run away formed a large chunk of my ideology.

If you are unhappy, leave.
If you start something you hate, quit.
Nothing is permanent.

These are the thoughts of someone who believed her world to be always, painfully, frighteningly black and white.

So the sense of being able to escape – and being in a position to afford to escape – has always been at the forefront of my mind. I felt I belonged nowhere, so I always needed to get to that next place, because maybe – maybe – I would belong there.

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As I continue to muddle through the causes for my various mindsets, I have found myself undertaking a Diploma in Mindfulness Therapy. Mindfulness as a concept dates back thousands of years, but can be found in Buddhist teachings, yoga and general meditative practices. Mindfulness as a tool for cognitive well-being is arguably still in its relative infancy, but there is mounting evidence supporting it as a mechanism through which busy minds can be calmed, and stress reduced.

Oh mindfulness, where were you twenty-eight years ago? When I lay awake in bed for hours playing a game I liked to call ‘Worst Case Scenario’? When I imagined night after night the exact moment of discovering my grandparents’ deaths? When I played in my head the image of someone coming to take me away from my home, my small limbs flailing as my throat became hoarse from screams? When I imagined being placed with my disinterested father; when I made plans to run away and live under bridges. Mindfulness, what would you have said to me then?

Without any kind of coping mechanism for these kinds for thoughts, eventually I developed my own.

Don’t you realise you don’t need to struggle through any of that? If your grandparents die, you can always kill yourself! It’s the perfect plan! You will be okay, because you always have that ticket out of here, and no one can ever take that from you.

And so, night after night, year after year, I made plans for my own death.

Of course over time the need to book a one-way ticket to the afterlife became less pronounced, mainly because as I got older I grew less dependent on my grandparents for security. By the time I had finished university I had a full time job and qualifications that could not be undone. So on some level, I felt as though if I needed to, I could survive *most* things the world might throw at me.

But still, if you have consistently calmed yourself with thoughts of ending your life, old habits can quite literally die hard.

As part of my mindfulness studies, I am required to commit to regular practice. This involves being seated, usually in a cross-legged position, closing my eyes, and focusing on my breath: the inhales and the exhales. The sounds of breath entering and escaping the body. The sensations of my body as it sits quietly and calmly, with nothing to do and nowhere to go. A time to bring awareness to the body. A time to notice thoughts without judgment. I have done yoga for several years, so this process is not entirely foreign to me. Of course, in yoga it is usually only for 10 minutes and when I am in savasana, well aware that class is almost over.

It is Tuesday night in my mindfulness course, and we are all asked to complete a silent, seated, 27 minute guided practice. I sit on the ground, a friend to the right of me. The class comprises of all females, including the teacher. I find nothing threatening or scary about anyone or anything in that room.

And, yet.

I sit still, and I breathe. I try to calm my thoughts. I get to what I imagine is the halfway mark of practice. My mind is wandering, as is normal, but I focus on my breath. Then I notice more. My feet are beginning to tingle, a sensation that rushes up to my knees. Pins and needles, that prickly annoyance that has plagued me since I was a school kid, leaving me open to teachers chastising me for not sitting still in my seat; for having my legs out in front of me in a cramped school assembly space instead of folded beneath me like everyone else.

This sensation has come to me before in practice; I asked my teacher for advice and she said to remember it will pass. She said to try to imagine breathing air into the affected areas. I did this once, and it worked – the feeling went away.

But not this time.

I sit, and I sit, growing ever more pained and uncomfortable. I try to breathe slowly, calmly, but in a room of silence am trying desperately not to draw attention to myself. Then, panic. I cannot move; the tingling is now numbness. I cannot move my legs, I cannot feel my feet.

I cannot get out of here.

I am breathing and breathing but I am stuck on the floor and I can’t fucking get out of here.

I feel faint, clammy. My heartbeat is racing, my palms sweaty. I cannot stop this sensation and I cannot move. My breathing has all but stopped. I notice that I am quite literally holding my breath.

In Bessel Van der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score, he explains how trauma and its resulting stress harms us through physiological changes to body and brain, and that those harms can persist throughout life. Family disturbance or generalised neglect can wire children to be on high alert, their stressed bodies tuned to fight or flight.

And here I am – the girl who always has an exit plan for when things became too hard –  literally unable to move.

As someone who knew she would flee even before she knew what the concept of fight or flight was, it is something of a breakthrough to realise that in moments of stress, my body is still geared to wanting to run away, even if my brain logically knows I don’t need to. I also think it is remarkable that for years my pins and needles might have suggested more than simply a pinched nerve to anyone who had cared to scrape more than just the surface of my home life. I always believed that I needed to be able to escape, meaning that I always had to sit in a way that would let my legs carry me away from a perceived threat as quickly as possible. In my world, pins and needles, however fleeting, were not an option. They were an impediment to safety.

I had a brief flashback during practice. J’s birth; that same awful tethered feeling of complete terror that one cannot leave. Trapped in a hospital room, connected to machines, unable to flee. There were other images too; I am not ready to go into them, not yet, when I don’t know what they mean.

I am slowly unraveling the story of my life. Through writing, through making a mind-body connection. I need to do this so that I don’t repeat the mistakes of the past, or fall into old self-destructive patterns that for so long were all I knew.

I don’t know where I am going, but I am hopeful that I will learn from the journey.

I will keep writing.
I will keep breathing.
And I will try to remind myself that I do not always have to run.*

*Unless rocking out to this tune:

 

 

 

 

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My Christmas Gift

I look at the picture above and I dislike the little girl I see. She is the almost-five-year-old year old me, pretty in blue, cupping her little purse that held a few measly coins inside, not enough to buy anything of value or worth. A symbolic gesture, the purse was something that allowed me to feel a little bit more like my Nanny, she of black leather handbags, red lipstick and peep toe shoes.
I have long romanticised the memory of my Nanny. I have placed her on a pedestal where she is revered by all, the kindly old woman who nurtured the unwanted, who wiped tears and soothed aches, and who loved me like no other, but the truth is that this is only partly accurate. She was none and all of these things; someone who cared enough about me to take me to see Santa and who placed my photo up on a shelf, but who couldn’t protect the little girl in the photo from the parents who used her as like a serviette, wiping their sated mouths once they were full and then discarding her out of sight, out of mind, at least until the next time they were hungry for a fill.
So why the strong reaction towards this little girl, this innocent being on Santa’s knee? Because for the longest time, the little girl in the photo believed she was the cause of heartache and dismay, and instead of asking why she wasn’t guided by anyone around her to think differently, she accepted the blame as her own. And even the Bondi Junction Santa Claus couldn’t help her with that one.
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It is an eerie work of the universe that my son is strikingly similar in appearance to me when I was his age. My own likeness now lives in my home, the image of the child I have tried so hard to forget is next to me on the couch watching Toy Story, is refusing to eat his dinner at the table, is theatrically pretending to be a crocodile. Disciplining my own likeness is hard because often I want to punish more than is fair. I have to carefully put aside that pulsing urge that makes me want that little girl to suffer for all the havoc she will cause. But my son is not me. He will never be me, because I have vowed to never be like the family who raised me.
Separating myself from my old life and the one I have now takes a concerted approach. In a moment of clarity I see the younger me, alone, pushing myself back and forth on the metal swing in our backyard on a cold Canberra afternoon. But instead of shaking my head and lamenting all that this little girl will do wrong, I reach down to her, hold her close, stroke her shiny brown hair and tell her not to worry. That she will one day know love she never thought possible. That eventually she will meet man who will become her partner in life, and who will create a family with her that will finally make her feel as though she is home. And that although she may for years feel like she doesn’t belong – the unwanted side dish to an already satisfying meal – she can take comfort in knowing that this sense of isolation is in fact a gift. It is a blessing, because all those times she felt uncared for, she actually cared for herself.
I think of the older me, locked in her bedroom and smoking marijuana for hours, blowing smoke out the window and spraying Impulse through a fan to hide the scent. Instead of replaying the old tape, where my grandparents consciously ignore my increasing drug use and turn a blind eye to my frequent absence from the home and declining grades, I offer myself a new ending. In my new story, a caring, nurturing energy knocks on my bedroom door, asks if she can come in. She sits on my bed, looks at the paraphernalia on my carpet and instead of castigating me, she tells me my body is beautiful. She reminds me that my lungs are supposed to inhale the purest air because this is what I deserve. She teaches me that my face should light up from actual joy, not from the giggles that mark the beginning of a high. She explains that the epitome of true happiness is infinitely stronger than the artificial pleasure I have chased for years, and that this happiness is usually found in giving joy to another. The same energy follows me when my girlish teenage frame is handled in womanly ways. This energy reminds me that I need no validation of my worth, because I am important and special simply by being me, by being kind and loving and honest. She asks me if I think an act of passion will serve me, or send me further into despair. If I decide the latter, she helps me get home from dark nights and clumsy hands and puts me to bed, kissing my head and reminding me to love myself so that I never need to look for fulfillment from another. And when I am touched in ways that I have refused, she defends me, sends intruders away, and shields me from aggrieved responses. She tells me I am answerable to no one but myself.
As an adult, she teaches me to be kind when my instinct is to bite as I have been bitten. She is next to me when I face aggression or ill will, guiding me towards compassion whilst ensuring I remain true to self-preservation. I cannot be manipulated or harmed in her presence because she won’t allow it to happen.
When I parent, she seeks not to turn up on my doorstep unannounced with casseroles and new linen – she knows I am capable of self-sufficiency. But when I am at my limit, when the cries of babies and the petulance of children have peaked to a crescendo, she reminds me to breathe. She stops me before I say words I am unable to retract; she holds my hand firmly in her own so that I cannot use it to push or poke another. She gives me the gift of living in the moment, of accepting the chaos and embracing it, because this chaotic mess of motherhood and family life is a reality that little girl on Santa’s knee felt sure she would go without. She didn’t know it back then, but eventually this little girl would grow up to be free from the shackles that bind familial ties; free to explore the world with the band of beautiful men she is surrounded by – her husband and sons. She is not there yet, but soon she will celebrate her emancipation from the dark and the darkness, she will permanently sever the ties that linked her to those who caused her to doubt her worth. Soon, so soon she can almost taste it, she will think of it all as a mere memory; a speck of dust on an otherwise spotless mirror.
This Christmas, my gift to myself is listening to this voice more, because the beauty of this energy, this reassuring, guiding force, is that she is actually within me. Unlike my Nanny, I never need to fear losing her. Unlike my mother, I am not required to understand the illogical. She is just there, with me, always, a part of me that I just need to tune into in order to hear her words. And I don’t ever need to sit on Santa’s knee again, because finally I have everything I will ever need.
Merry Christmas x
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Smile like you mean it

In four days, I will have been without my Nanny’s embrace for two years. Without the gentle pat of her soft dainty hand stroking mine as she spoke. Without the scratchy rubbing of her knitted cardigans on my skin when I clutched her tiny frame in my own. Without the smile; the baffled-by-the-end-of-it-who-is-this-nice-girl smile, that used to light up when she saw me, even if she had forgotten my name.

Two years.

In those two years without her, I have watched my son grow from a toddler to a small man. I have stopped having single word chats with him where he pointed to a train and said traingo. I have stopped hearing him sing the Thomas and Friends theme song using the words “Thomasischeekyway” (instead of Thomas is the cheeky one, believing that Thomasischeekyway was the full name for Thomas the tank engine). Now, he considers things as he says them, remarking “You know what, mummy? We never seen a talking train before.” My beautiful, rambunctious boy, who squeals with delight when I carry out the most important acting role of my career – the monster/crocodile hybrid that chases him around the house. Who responds to my questions with the conjunction actually. Who tells his little brother every day, “I love you, cute little baby!” and who similarly scolds his brother when he destroys painfully precise car alignments, shrieking “No, giant baby! No!”

Actual photo of giant baby being chastised by his big brother.
Actual photo of giant baby being chastised by his big brother.

In those two years without Nanny, I watched my body grow another human; the giant baby who is now twelve months old. Who has gone from gulping at my breast constantly to happily chewing on pears, cheese and bread. Who pats my face with his pudgy hands, squealing and drooling as he smiles; his eight little teeth like pebbles sticking out from sand. A little boy who is in awe of his big brother and the unexpected hugs he receives from him, even when the ferociousness of the embrace literally knocks him over. Who just wants to be cuddled, all day, by everyone.

In addition to these moments of exquisite joy, over the past two years I have also had the agony that tempers the ecstasy. Just three months ago I saw the body of Nanny’s life’s companion dressed in a suit and tie, somberly waiting to participate in the last ritual of death, the cremation of flesh and bone into dust. I saw the relatives who created the illusion of caring at death but who were noticeably absent from caring during my grandfather’s life. I saw the crows circle, their talons poised and ready to swoop, eager to ensnare any item of value left below. And in time, I felt the piercing sting as their claws ripped at the belongings, the mementos, the stuff, anything and everything that remained a reminder of the life he used to live.

Two years.
In two years, I have, it seems, seen it all.

Rare is the night where images of my grandparents don’t pervade my dreams. A few nights ago, I dreamed that my Nanny’s death resulted not from dementia and its associated ailments but from an act of violence at the hands of my grandfather. In my dream, my grandfather had grown impatient from years of stifled frustration at being the caregiver to a woman who no longer knew his name, and had snapped, strangling his wife of over fifty years in their marital bed. My role in the dream was bystander; unaware of my Nanny’s passing I visited my grandparents’ home, and upon entering the bedroom saw the body of my grandmother, her pink nightgown draped over the torso that bore two children and raised one more, her crinkled skin crumpled and pale, awkwardly stuffed between the sheets. And worse –  in the depths of my psyche, I created a scenario where my grandfather not only was responsible for his wife’s death, but had also been sleeping beside her body for days, so assured was he that she would wake from death, and literally come back to life. The image in my dream, of my Nanny dead for 48 hours, is not one I am willing to describe.

I went to a friend’s house last week and witnessing a seemingly benign act of affection between mother and child caused me a quickening breath and gulping of saliva in an attempt to retain composure. The scene: a mother walking past her adult daughter, who was seated on her lounge room floor. As she navigated alongside her daughter’s frame on the carpet, the mother reached down her hand, and lovingly ran her fingertips through her daughter’s hair; ruffling the follicles in a playful, friendly gesture. An acknowledgment that this woman on the floor, this adult, was still her baby, and a nod to the special bond they share, for to whom else could one conduct such a display of cheeky fondness without fear of reprisal?

My friend glanced up; smiled. Her mother stepped over her and smiled back. No words uttered; just a shared moment where words were unnecessary because the bond needed no description. And as I sat there, holding my enormous drink bottle in my lap, glancing around the room at unfamiliar but welcoming faces, it struck me that I will never know that expression of convivial, maternal closeness ever again.

One of our last embraces. Nanny rubbing the tummy that housed her first great grandson.
One of our last embraces. Nanny rubbing the tummy that housed her first great grandson.

What prevents me from truly grieving the loss of both of my (grand)parents is that I am still wading through matters related to finalising my grandfather’s estate. I now have confirmation that my aunt discharged her bankruptcy in 2008; conveniently enough the same year that she landed on my grandparents’ doorstep with a suitcase and an assurance that she wouldn’t stay long. There is a palpable sense of injustice I feel while making sense of all my grandfather’s financial investments; reading letters he had written to various entities with whom he held shares, unclipping bulldog clips that had remained firmly in place in his folders of information, the small square of rust at their corners a testament to their longevity. He was a man who was at pains to be self-sufficient, to master his own wealth and to fund his own retirement. Newspaper clippings from the Financial Review alongside letters requesting dividend payments be made in differing units of currency, buyback offers, scrips, dividend re-investment offers, proxy nominations for shareholder meetings – this was his life. After retiring he threw himself into mastering the stock market. This man, who never received a government handout, who never asked for help, produced a daughter who elected for bankruptcy instead of paying her debts.

My grandfather used to ruffle my hair. I think he did. I recall a photo that lived on the mantelpiece in the dining room of my grandparents’ home – a room no one ever used for dining because it was instead housing an inordinate amount of furniture and Nanny’s extensive crystal collection. The photo, my grandfather used to remark, was one of the few with the five of us. My father in the centre, shirtless and playing the bagpipes in my grandparents’ backyard. My Nanny stands beside him, beaming proudly as she looks up to her son. My grandfather standing squarely on the other side of my father, with my aunt to his left. And me in the front, all eight years of me, stuffed into this family photo against my will; my hands over my ears to silence the deafening bleat of the instrument my grandfather loved. My grandfather’s smooth, tanned hands, cupped around my face, attempting to get me to smile for the photo.

I am not supposed to be in this photo. If you looked at it, would you know who was the odd one out? Would you mistake my aunt for my mother? Would you think she was my primary caregiver? I am Nanny’s child – she told me again and again. She said I was like her half daughter.
“Is that because the other half of me didn’t come out properly?” I used to jest.
“Don’t be revolting,” she said with a smile.

I have come to physical blows with my aunt before. Looking back, and remembering the proximity to the kitchen at which the melee erupted, I am surprised that we did not reach for knives. Of course knowing my grandparent’s dislike of household maintenance in their later years, one can safely assume any knife I grabbed would be blunt and useless. I do not like weapons anyway; a fight should only be with fists. Better yet, don’t fight at all. In those moments of blood warming rage, walk away, as I should have done.

I don’t know how you can sleep at night, I said, in reference to her mooching ways.
“I sleep fine,” she said, “I sleep fine at my parents’ house. My parents, not yours. You wouldn’t know anything about parents, would you? Because neither of yours want anything to do with…”*

*Note: this is when I should have grabbed my aloo saag, a handful of naan, and left. I did not do this. Instead, I became consumed with rage, desperate to inflict pain on another. I pushed my aunt onto a chair, and essentially began strangling her. No time wasted with a punch or a slap; let’s just go straight for suffocation. Of course my Aunt fought back but I was unharmed. My grandfather broke up the altercation. I apologised to my Nanny whose dementia kindly allowed her to register very little of what was transpiring before her eyes, and then stormed off to my car; desperately holding tears back until I reached the privacy of my Corolla.

My grandfather followed me outside, imploring, “Don’t go; you haven’t even had any of your dinner!”
“You are my parents, right?”
“Of course we are.”
“She doesn’t think so,”
“She is an idiot. You were the last to the party but the best of the bunch.”

I hold onto these words now. I hold onto them; those words uttered under a starry sky with the smell of pappadums in the air. I cling onto the belief that he meant what he said, even though there is a part of me that suspects my kindly grandfather would have said anything to keep the peace. I choose to ignore that tug of negativity, instead telling myself that I was supposed to be part of his family, and Nanny’s family, because I was in some way, the child of my grandparents. No matter what the biology says, or the turmoil we endured, or any of the other shit that got me there, I was theirs.

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In the two years since I lost my (grand)mother, my role as mother has come to define how I respond to and act within the world. I would have loved nothing more than to go on an alcohol infused bender in the days leading up to my grandfather’s death. I can taste the shots now; all sweet and sickly, burning my throat as I throw them down. When my Nanny passed away, I wanted to sit alone in the dark and cry, pausing only to cradle a bong, or a bottle, or anything else that would just make the pain fade a little. Of course I didn’t do this; I couldn’t, and deep down I knew it would only make me feel worse. So instead I waited for my son to fall asleep, then I sat on the back deck, Malboro between my fingers, playing 10,000 Days by Tool in my earphones as the tears ran down my face.

I was meant to be in that family photo; the one with the five of us. Even though I look uncomfortable, as though I am desperate to break free, I still didn’t want to move away from my grandparents. Of course, then there came a time that I had to. And even when I fought what was best, just like in the photo, I smiled because I had to. They wanted me to.

On the 19th of October, the day that marks the day that Nanny’s heart beat for the last time, I will hold my boys, my family, close. I will ruffle the hair of my three year old and I will tell him he is loved. I will tell him that being mum to him and his brother makes me so happy, even if it looks as though sometimes I am not. And I will smile, proudly, defiantly, because that’s what Nanny would want.

10,000 days (Wings Pt. 2)
(MJK)

We listen to the tales and romanticize,
how we follow the path of the hero.

Boast about the day when the rivers overrun,
How we’ll rise to the height of our halo.

Listen to the tales as we all rationalize,
our way into the arms of the savior.
Feigning all the trials and the tribulations.

None of us have actually been there,
Not like you…

Ignorant siblings in the congregation.
Gather around spewing sympathy,
Spare me…

None of them can even hold a candle up to you.
Blinded by choice, these hypocrites won’t see.

But enough about the collective Judas.
Who could deny you were the one who illuminated?
Your little piece of the divine.

And this little light of mine, a gift you passed on to me
I’m gonna let it shine
to guide you safely on your way.

Your way home…

Oh, what are they gonna do when the lights go down?
Without you to guide them all to Zion?
What are they gonna do when the rivers overrun?
Other than tremble incessantly.

High is the way,
but our eyes are upon the ground.
You are the light and the way.
They’ll only read about.
I only pray heaven knows,
when to lift you out.

10,000 days in the fire is long enough.
You’re going home…

You’re the only one who can hold your head up high.
Shake your fist at the gates saying,
“I have come home now…!”
Fetch me the spirit, the son and the father.
Tell them their pillar of faith has ascended.

“It’s time now!
My time now!
Give me my
Give me my wings…!”

You are the light, the way,
that they will only read about.

Set as I am in my ways and my arrogance.
Burden of proof tossed upon the believers.
You were my witness, my eyes, my evidence,
Judith Marie, unconditional one.

Daylight dims leaving cold fluorescence.
Difficult to see you in this light.
Please forgive this bold suggestion.
Should you see your maker’s face tonight,
Look him in the eye.
Look him in the eye and tell him,
I never lived a lie, never took a life,
But surely saved one.

Hallelujah
It’s time for you to bring me home.

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Thursday Throwback #11 – Record for posterity

My baby is one-year-old today. Our littlest man, the baby created in a rare moment of spontaneity; whose addition to our family was unplanned but not unwanted. We knew we didn’t want J to be an only child, at least I did. I say this only from my own experience of navigating a dysfunctional family on my own; what I would have done to have a companion along the way, someone to hide under the bed with when the yelling was too loud, or to help me pack my bag when I needed to flee from the drama. Someone to act on occasion as my conscience, saying, “Are you sure that’s a good idea?” Someone who, even now, I could look at and say “Remember the time that…” or “Remember when we used to…” for these are sentences that I can never say, as the only family who shared these moments with me are gone.

As some of you may have read, I have been responsible for going through mountains of paperwork as part of my role as the executor of my grandfather’s estate. I was on the floor surrounded by share certificates, bank statements and the occasional tax return when I came upon this:

It is my baby health record, kept by my grandparents, from when I was a baby.

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From what I can deduce, this is basically all the information given to parents back in the eighties when facing the arduous task of raising a child. Compare this to the “green book” we get in Victoria with tabs, and guides, and all kinds of information, and one cannot help but wonder which is the better approach. Can too much information be a bad thing? Or is knowledge power? Either way, both my boys have portfolios of information about them – how much they weighed; how tall they were; if they were crawling; how they are eating; are they sleeping; do they smile. In the unfortunate event of both their parents exiting from the world stage left, I feel a degree of confidence in believing that they could unravel the mysteries of their earliest days without us. They could see my posts on Facebook, that marked special occasions or lamented days from hell. They could scroll through a litany of photos, from the day they exited the womb to the present, and could notice how they changed as each day passed. And they could read my words; the blog I have kept and my other writing, if they wanted to piece together how life looked at a time when their eyes saw the world but could not yet register the memories.

Like many people who have lost their parents or who are estranged from them, I don’t have that ability. I have a handful of photos; some dusty paperwork and the memories of moments to which my mind clings. But I don’t have the narrative – the shared narrative of family life in the trenches. I don’t have anyone to drink a beer with and say, “I can’t believe you got an Emjoi Gently for Christmas! Way to give a 15-year-old a complex; what were they thinking?” (Side note: Emjoi Gently was NOT gentle). I don’t have anyone to give me new information, to offer insight into the photos – when I am riding a bike for the first time, did I fall off? Did I cry? Was I scared to get back on? Was I scarred by experience before I even knew what a scar was? And what about my parents; was I always hopelessly anxious around them, desperate for attention but resentful of it when it arrived in a less-than-pretty package? Was I constantly clamouring to be noticed, to be appreciated, was this always in me or did I develop it after years of their apathy? Why did I carry the constant anxiety with me; the stomach-heavy sense of dread that things were going to get much, much worse – was this something you noticed when I was young or was it just considered a lovable quirk of the precocious yet neurotic child?

My birth record says that on my 1st birthday, by which time I had spent almost 11 months in my grandparents’ care, I weighed 11450 grams. At the same age, my eldest son weighed over 12 kilograms; my younger son today weighs over 11.1kg. These are all numbers; they don’t really matter, but yet they do. I want to ask my Nanny if her maternal health nurse was nice; did she offer help to the kind grandmother who had stepped up to aid her irresponsible son? Did Nanny go to these appointments on her own, and if so, how did she get there when she couldn’t drive? Did she have to take a huge pram on a bus and lumber her way across the flat expanse of suburban Canberra to get there? Or did my grandfather come along – or was he the one who took me while Nanny went to work?

Nanny, was I as fussy over food as my now-three-and-a-half-year old was? Or was I happily shoving everything in my mouth like my little N? Did I sleep well, and often, or did I struggle to shut down like both my boys do? Did you balance me on one hip while unloading groceries (you said once that you used to count as you removed oranges from your netted grocery bag, helping me to learn numbers) and curse the pain in your back? Did you rock me until I slept on your chest, wondering if your arms would ever be free again?

baby3

There is a note in my records; it says I had colic. A colicky baby is difficult to settle and can easily fray one’s nerves. Were your nerves frayed, Nanny? Were you at your wit’s end, calling my grandfather at work, and begging him to come home early just as I have done to my beloved D? Were you wondering what in God’s name possessed you to sign up for this job, had you forgotten how hard it can be to raise a baby, much less one that wasn’t your own, who you hadn’t planned for and who you didn’t even know if you would end up keeping? Nanny, did you struggle too? Were there days that you didn’t want to be around me? Days that my crying was too fierce, too loud, my neediness too constant? Did you ever lash out at me, Nanny, only to feel immediately consumed with guilt and shame? Or were the moments always as joyful as this one?

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I miss you, Nanny, I miss you with an ache that winds me and that I stifle every single day. And I miss you, Gran, in a way my brain is yet to fully realise. I miss asking you both questions. And there are so many questions I wish I knew the answers to, and the trouble is, when I had the chance to ask both of you, I didn’t even know I wanted to.

I hate giving unsolicited advice; far be it for me to think I am the repository of knowledge for anything, much less parenting. But I feel compelled to say this. For those of you with mothers/fathers who are still in your lives, please ask these questions now. Even if you haven’t had children yet or aren’t even planning to have kids, find out these answers, learn what you were like as a baby; as a child. What your interests were; what your quirks were, did you roll everywhere like my N does, or did you crawl backwards like my J? I don’t know when I started to walk because I have no one to ask. The truth is, you are likely to outlive your parents. Find out as much as you can from them now, before the chance is taken away.

And to my two little boys, who give me more joy than I ever knew possible, thank you for joining our family and for being a companion to each other on this journey through life. Even if your mum and dad can’t give you the answers one day, I have faith that you can help each other to fill in the blanks.

And to my baby N, happiest of birthdays, my littlest love. Today at your 12 month checkup, the maternal health nurse said that you are thriving.

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But I already knew that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Mood goes up, mood goes down.

One thing I have noticed in this gig called parenting is how swiftly a day of smug satisfaction (sprinkled with a sense of actual aptitude and ability) can be destroyed by a day that is equal parts shit and awful. Just this week I had a cracker of a Monday – kicking goals in the parenting world and patting myself on the back for a job done well.

Then, the other shoe fell. Eff you, Wednesday.

Last year when I was working full-time and pregnant with my second baby, I wrote this pseudo-diary entry that detailed what a day in the life of a working, pregnant mum looked like. Today I thought I would share what a few days in the life of a currently-on-mat-leave-and-don’t-want-to-go-back mum to a one-year-old (N) and a three-year-old (J) looks like. Sometimes, it aint pretty.

Enjoy. Or commiserate. Whatever works.
– S

Monday
Enjoy unusually glorious, sunny and warm weather by prancing around the house in a t-shirt and letting your boys hang out for most of the day in their undies. Make fresh fruit smoothies. Go for a walk and smell the fresh spring air. Kick parenting goals when you take both little people – unaided – to the beach, where one of them frolics on the shore and the other moans angrily due to a combination of heat and teething.

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Take children to the park; soothe child’s grazed knee with gentle kisses and ferocious hugs. Reward exemplary behaviour with ice cream (and coffee for self). Cook healthy dinner from scratch. Greet husband at the door with a smile and a casual comment of “I’ve made Thai fishcakes wrapped in lettuce leaves for dinner”. Marvel at your own brilliance in multitasking. Go to gym when boys are in bed and run 4km without suffering heart attack. Pat self on back for job well done. You got this!

Emotional score: 8/10. So awesome it almost hurts.

Tuesday
Suffer sleepless night care of teething, grumpy baby, who bleats all day and needs to be held constantly. Walk child to school in near freezing conditions, lamenting stupid Melbourne weather that lulled you into a sense of happiness yesterday. Source coffee and do grocery shopping in a frantic rush before baby loses the plot. Spend rest of the day doing thankless tasks like laundry folding and dishwasher stacking. Collect child from kindy who says he wants pizza for dinner. Tell child he is having soup for dinner. Watch child’s face fall with devastation. Present soup for dinner; tell child it will be cool enough to eat soon. Watch as child takes massive gulp of hot soup and burns himself, resulting in considerable tears and screaming (mostly from child). Soothe child’s burns with apple juice and assurances that he can have something else for dinner. Notice that wailing of child has frightened the baby, causing him to cry in solidarity. Consider joining in the chorus of tears. When husband arrives home, greet him with a frantic hello and throw the baby into his arms before fleeing the house. Escape to the gym for first Pump class in over two years. Realise that the last time you heard the phrase “squat track” the grandparents who raised you were still alive. Put melancholy thoughts aside and try to be more positive for chest track. Discover you have guns of steel due to lugging around enormous baby almost every day for the past 12 months. Wish that back pain you endure from same activity would bugger off. Get home and breastfeed the baby. Notice supply is dwindling. Feel happy and sad all at once.

Emotional score: 6/10. Satisfactory result in trying conditions.

Wednesday
Endure another sleepless night care of snotty, teething baby, who eventually needs to be fed at 4am. Tell husband to give the baby a bottle so that husband can be just as tired and cranky as you. Sigh when baby wakes for the day at 5am. Breastfeed baby in your bed into a light sleep, thus ignoring all the rules from the three “sleep school” admissions you have attended in desperation. Breathe sigh of relief when child greets you at 6am in a happy mood. Plant children in front of television and return to bedroom to get changed. Navigate bedroom with such clumsiness that you walk into the corner of your bed, causing you to bruise your kneecap and writhe in agony. Breathe deeply. Tell self the day will get better (Ha! Self laughs).

Hobble back to kitchen. Wrap ice pack around knee and present breakfast to children who do not want what has been prepared for them. Watch baby throw food from high chair onto floor only to cry when there is no food on his table. Pipe tube of yoghurt into his gullet, straight from the squeezy packet. No longer care about utensils like spoons. Watch as child takes himself to the toilet and listen as he declares he has “finished” and needs assistance. Leave wailing baby and assist child as needed. Encourage child to play in his room while you dress the baby. Learn that attempts to dress baby are futile as child has returned to the toilet twice more since his last visit. Realise that child has diarrhea. Sit child back on toilet with a book. Hope for the best. Call husband with a view to complaining. Husband in meeting. Text husband instead, hoping emojis will convey your pain. Receive thoughtful, supportive reply:

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Change baby in front of television. Decide this frenzied, stressful morning is the perfect time to go to Aldi for party goods that you neither want or need. Decide to make this experience even more painful by visiting an Aldi you have never ventured to before. Park car and try to drown out sound of child saying “But I want to sit next to N in the trolley.” Tell child he can stand in trolley instead. Tell him it’s like a skateboard cage. Wonder if Aldi sells cages?

Source trolley. Load trolley with children and other items that lack nutritional value. Tell child to use groceries that are being piled upon him to make a cave. Watch in horror as child steps on rice crackers and bread. Narrowly avoid baby knocking his front teeth out in a brave attempt to eat the trolley handlebars. Give baby a packet of spinach to play with instead.

Breathe through gritted teeth at the following (repeated) exchange with child:

Child: What’s that [points at random item]?
You: I think it’s a [pointless random item] puzzle. It has insects on it. It’s an insect puzzle.
Child: Ooh, I love [random item] insect puzzles.
You: No you don’t.
Child: Can I have it?
You: No.

While paying for unnecessary groceries that you could have bought at local, reliable Coles up the road, realise you have made a grave error by not yet ingesting coffee. Tell children that you are going to a drive-through. Child asks for treat. Tell him he can have half of your hash brown. No longer care about nutrition.

Drive to closest McDonalds. Order hash brown and coffee. Pay for hash brown and coffee. Hand child half a hash brown. Drive away. Get home; park in driveway. Go to sip coffee and realise epic mistake. No coffee. Cry and wail “I FORGOT MY COFFEE!” Explain to children that you are going out again so that mummy can order another coffee. While having this exchange, notice that child has spilled yoghurt all over back seat of car. Make loud accusatory demands, including “What happened? Why is there yoghurt everywhere?” causing child to place hands to mouth and mumble, “I don’t know.” Explode with disproportionate response of “GET YOUR FINGERS OUT OF YOUR MOUTH” which makes child cry. Explain your anger. Explain to child that he will need to clean car. Explain you need coffee. Now.

Source coffee. Arrive home. Put angry baby to bed for a nap. Give child a plastic bag and tell him to fill it with all the rubbish on the floor of the car. Go inside to get paper towels to clean yoghurt. Come back to car to hear child proudly exclaim “I’m nearly finished mummy!” Child is not finished. Child is delusional. Child has not picked up anything from floor of the car and has instead used plastic bag to rub spilled yoghurt further into car’s upholstery. Rant wildly. Tell child you said “firetruck”.

Develop slight tick in your eye when baby wakes from nap after 40 minutes. Decide children can entertain themselves with your guitar. Watch as beloved first acoustic is smashed by little hands. Pleasantly, crying abates long enough for you to make lunch for children which you suspect they will not eat. Look in fridge for more squeezy yoghurt.

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Finally talk to husband on the phone and are reminded that your in-laws are coming for dinner. Snap at husband in anger before remembering you agreed to the dinner visit and actually invited the in-laws to your house under the misapprehension that it would be “easier” for you. Immediately realise you have nowhere to seat 5 adults and 4 children as your dining table is being used to hold all kinds of items including paperwork for your grandfather’s estate, folded laundry and mail you are yet to open. Also notice that space the dining table used to occupy now houses a Bubba Mat and litany of toys. Panic. Tidy and move furniture as much as is humanly possible with an 11kg person attached to your hip. Sit child in front of Play School and sigh with relief that Teo is on (look, Mummy! It’s normal Teo! He not have beard!).

Realise you have wet laundry sitting in washing machine. Hang it out and learn of another horror mistake – purchasing wrong fabric softener. Scent of incorrect fabric softener brings back images of sordid evenings in your early twenties with boys who wore Lynx deodorant. Now all clothes and laundry smell like they belong to a sleazy nightclub owner named Wayne. Gag as you hang laundry on the line, secretly hoping it rains.

Use afternoon to look for matching cutlery for dinner guests. Lament cleaning limitations of stupid dishawashing tablets, vowing to never buy Fairy brand again. Vacuum. Play on floor of child’s room with child and baby. Become irrationally annoyed when child demands you play Thunderstruck on acoustic guitar. Tell him you can play twinkle twinkle little star. Child suitably unimpressed. Apologise for destroying child’s faith in your abilities.

Put baby down for second nap. Listen for ten minutes as baby bitches about being cozy and warm in a dark room. Pat baby for 10 minutes then creep out of room stealth-like. Play lego with child on floor of child’s room until interrupted by phone call from solicitors in relation to grandfather’s estate. Solicitors have received inventory you provided that listed every single item in your grandfather’s cluttered 5-bedroom home. Solicitors are concerned about the missing items you have identified, specifically the unlicensed, unregistered firearm that you suspect has been taken by one of your icky relatives. Agree that a missing weapon is a concerning development. Hang up and ask child if he wants to listen to music. End up having Shake it Off on repeat at child’s insistence. Dance like an idiot. Notice blood pressure momentarily subside.

At 4pm, realise you haven’t showered. Ask child if he wants to have a shower now. Child says no. Tell child you will have a quick shower; start disrobing. As you remove underwear, realise you can hear the baby crying, apparently awake after a 30 min power nap. Consider showering anyway. Put dirty clothes back on and try to comfort baby. Give baby Panadol. Explain to child why he can’t have any Panadol and distract his drug hunger with afternoon tea and another episode of Play School. No Teo this time. Child devastated. Call husband and tell him he needs to come home early as you look and feel like shit. Husband says he will try to get home before in-laws arrive.

Decide the only way to calm the angry baby is to put him in the bath. Child also wants bath. Back too sore to lean over while holding enormous baby who is prone to toppling over, so decide to get in bath with both children. Know there is no way you will have time for a shower. Somehow manage to hoist self and giant baby out of bath using shattered quad muscles that are barely functioning after the ill-considered Pump class from the night before. While dripping wet and freezing, towel off baby while simultaneously keeping an eye on bathing child. Turn around momentarily and see your husband’s face at the bathroom door. Get such a fright that you scream and burst into tears. Accept husband’s apology and palm baby off so that you can compose yourself and put clothes on. While husband entertains child and baby, get dressed. Curse as you realise nothing in your wardrobe fits and all the clothes you like are on the line smelling like Wayne.

Hear doorbell ring. In-laws are early to dinner. Groan loudly. Realise you are still only wearing a towel.  Tell husband to only let his family come inside if they have brought wine. Husband returns to bedroom with a glass of wine and a takeaway order. Call local Thai restaurant and feel grateful for rapport you have built with staff that allows your order to be delivered earlier than expected. Inhale dinner, your first meal since the hash brown. Go to pour yourself another wine before realising you have to parent tomorrow.

Farewell dinner guests and collapse into bed. Let dog in. Dog leaps onto the bed and lands on your knee at precisely at the same place you bruised this morning. Yell out to husband to come to bed. Ask him to bring the ice pack with him. And more wine.

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Emotional score: 2/10. One point for each wine.

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Bureaucracy gone bad

Today I am airing some spectacularly dirty laundry; a huge pile of it! I am electing to do so mainly because I am sick of thinking about these putrid marks, all sullied and stained, and the ways in which they leak into other facets of my relatively clean existence. Why should this laundry threaten me with its cooties? I should be able to hang it out for all to see, and instead of feeling ashamed by the presence of dirt, I should feel brave for identifying the dirt in the first place.

So here is the dirt:

Have you ever had to deal with a government entity, a department or quasi-departmental body? I actually work as a public servant so I have some idea of the inner workings of these silos, and how funds are apportioned and decisions made. I have seen the course of least resistance followed many a time, mainly in an effort to conserve resources. Sentences like we haven’t allocated for it in our budget are familiar to me. It is a frustrating part of working in the public sector because it means that even when great ideas are put forward, they are often rejected due to financial constraints. The bottom line of how much will it cost is always paramount, meaning that even if a proposal or project will improve outcomes and work to advance a greater good, if it requires more staff, more expenditure, and more resources, it is doomed to fail. We are told, Do more with less.

Less.
adjective, smaller in size, amount, degree, etc.; not so large, great, or much.
less money; less speed.
lower in consideration, rank, or importance.

As far as my relationships with my birth relatives go, they could be described as less than ideal. Less than optimal. Or maybe “less” could be the suffix here, as in joyless.Either way, I am trying to avoid having any interaction with any of my relatives, such is the pain and conflict they impart. In other words, the less I have to do with them, the better.

But even though I am committed to a drama-free life, it seems that I am doomed to be dragged back into birth family histrionics.

justwhenithought

Try as I might to build distance between my old life, and the one I have now, I am drawn back in. This used to happen because of my desire to right wrongs and fix what was broken. When my grandfather was being mistreated by his children, I couldn’t NOT look the other way. I had to speak up, even when he didn’t want me to. Sadly in choosing this course of action it destroyed my once-close relationship with my grandfather. Que sera, sera. It is sad and it pains me. But I have my own family now, and am in a happier and more peaceful place. Onward and upward.

Not so fast! Shouts a quasi-judicial body, that I am happy to name and shame as QCAT. For those of you unfamiliar with this acronym, QCAT stands for the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal. Their website generously describes them as –

“…an independent tribunal. We actively resolve disputes in a way that is fair, just, accessible, quick and inexpensive.”
Oh QCAT, look at you! Aren’t you clever? You resolve disputes and you do so in a way that involves minimal expense! You’re awesome!

Except, you’re not. You actually kind of suck.

A few years ago, I had cause to attend QCAT. I needed to do so because I wanted to be removed as my grandfather’s enduring power of attorney. Basically this came about because my grandfather had appointed me to make decisions on his behalf when he was unable to do so, but every time I embarked upon a course of action that his children disagreed with, they stonewalled me by sending me abusive text messages/emails, and threatening legal action. I was essentially in a no-win situation. Act in my grandfather’s best interests and be damned, or do as my grandfather’s kids wanted, and be derelict in my duties. In another time, I would have fought this battle, and probably won. But when this was happening, I had a young child, was living interstate and was just about to start a new job. I didn’t want to deal with any of this drama anymore – I wanted out. So as part of my application to justify why I wanted out, I provided the following information to QCAT (This is an overview; also names are redacted to protect me from the litigious. X is my grandfather, G is my grandmother, Y is my aunt and Z is my father):

“On March 2010 X made an Enduring Power of Attorney (EPA) appointing his granddaughter Sarah as his Enduring Attorney for:

a) financial matters with the power to commence immediately;
b) personal and health matters.

X currently resides in his own home.
X has two children, Y and Z.
X’s daughter Y lives in X’s house. Y works full time and is not X’s carer. The arrangement is rather one of Y living with X as non-paying renter. Y does not provide care, cleaning services or other similar necessary support to X. She does also not have a driver’s licence so cannot provide any assistance with transport.
Y tends to shy away from any involvement with X’s care and is reluctant to disagree with her brother Z on any issues. The applicant suspects that Y will side with Z if asked by Z to do so.

Z lives in Western Australia.
Z has until now not involved himself in X’s care or life more generally. He prefers to instead visit only occasionally and infrequently takes X on short trips. He has no insight into X’s medical condition or daily care needs.

Family dynamics

Z is the applicant Sarah’s father.
When Z was approximately 21 years old, he and his then-girlfriend (who was 19 years old) had a baby, Sarah. Z and his girlfriend separated prior to Sarah’s birth and did not want to keep her.

Sarah was immediately fostered out. X and his wife G spent time looking for Sarah and at five weeks of age, they became her temporary legal guardians. It was only supposed to be a temporary arrangement. However Z and his girlfriend showed no interest in Sarah and the arrangement stayed in place throughout Sarah’s childhood. Sarah lived with X and G and was raised by them.

When growing up, Z was violent towards Sarah and his input into her life was sporadic. He visited occasionally. Due to Z’s violent temper and the poor relationship between Sarah and Z, Sarah ceased having any contact with Z at the age of 16. When Z made his occasional visits, Sarah would go out.

Sarah has always maintained a very close relationship with her grandparents and looked to them as her parents. In particular, Sarah provided all necessary care to her grandmother and arranged for her to move into ABC Aged Care in 2010.

Sarah has very recently communicated by telephone or text message to Z about X because she felt that it was the right thing to do in the circumstances and wanted to keep relevant family members informed about X’s declining health.

Deterioration in health

X suffers from dementia which is getting progressively worse and he is becoming increasingly confused and forgetful as a result. He is also becoming easily influenced and likes to try to please the people around him by saying whatever he thinks will make them happy.

The applicant does not believe that X’s best interests can be served due to the conflict between her and Z. As a result she believes that the Adult Guardian and the Public Trustee of Queensland are the only viable options to be appointed as Guardian and Administrator for X. The applicant strongly believes that as X’s mental health deteriorates further difficulties will arise for her as Enduring Attorney. There is conflict among family members and an increased risk of X being influenced by others in his decision making.

The applicant believes there is a need for a Guardian and Administrator to be appointed urgently to manage X’s affairs and to make decisions both in the short and long term. X does not have capacity to manage his own financial, personal, and care needs.

For the reasons set out above and in particular due to:
– The level of conflict between the applicant and Z;
– X’s exposure to an immediate risk of harm;
– The accommodation decisions that need to be made urgently;
– X’s inability to manage his own affairs generally

the applicant feels unable to manage X’s affairs appropriately and in his best interests. Accordingly, we urgently seek leave for the applicant to withdraw as Enduring Attorney for financial and personal and health matters.”

Pretty straightforward, yeah? Fortunately QCAT agreed and I was able to extricate myself from the tangled web of drama created by my relatives.

What a relief! I am finally free! I thought to myself. But I was wrong, because without warning or the offer of a let’s-get-to-know-each-other-better drink, QCAT sends me a letter asking for help.

Oh bloody hell! Now what, QCAT? NOW WHAT?

Essentially QCAT requested that I make a submission relating to some conflict transactions entered into by my father, during the course of my father acting as my grandfather’s administrator.

Stewie-say-what-300x225

To explain – after I stepped aside as enduring power of attorney, the wise ones at QCAT decided to appoint my father to manage my grandfather’s finances. The fact that my father couldn’t organise a root at a brothel seemed to be of little relevance or interest to QCAT, but that’s okay. I like to imagine the discussions of QCAT’s tribunal members as they try to decide who to appoint to look after my grandfather as going something like this:

Member 1: Well somebody has to look after the old bloke’s finances. What about the granddaughter?
Member 2: Nah, she bailed.
M1: Okay, what about his daughter?
M2: Degenerate gambler.
M1: Is there a house plant we can appoint?
M2: Wait – I’ve got it! We will appoint his son!
M1: Isn’t he basically a dodgy businessman with no fixed address?
M2: Yeah, but it’s 2.30pm on a Friday.
M1: Good point. I’ll buy the first round.

I of course realise I am being unnecessarily harsh; forgive me – it is my way of coping with stupidity.

Anyway fast forward a year or so from my father’s appointment and – lo and behold:

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Yes, it seems Daddy Dear has been using my grandfather’s funds in a way that could be accurately described as improper. Large amounts of expenditure but no receipts. Loans to my Aunt. None of these transactions are okay if you are an administrator because you are supposed to be acting in the best interests of the person who can no longer act for themselves. Paying your sister a few grand here and there is probably not in accordance with this ethos.

So naturally, the brains trust at QCAT contacted me. Help a brother out! they said, but in a less-gangsta tone. So because I will always love my grandfather and will always do my best to help him, even if I can no longer have a relationship with him, I supplied QCAT with this information:

“I refer to your letter and the conflict transactions detailed within and submit as follows:

Background
1. Y, the daughter, arrived at the home of the adult without warning after leaving her home in Sydney, on or around 2006-2007. At that time she asked to stay with the adult temporarily until she secured employment. The adult and his wife (now deceased) agreed to this interim arrangement.

2. As time progressed, it became evident that the daughter had no intention of securing her own accommodation. Approximately six months after arriving, the daughter paid for an air conditioning unit to be installed in her bedroom, relocated her cat, and had her mail redirected, all without actively ensuring her residing at the adult’s house was acceptable.

3. As the adult is not comfortable with conflict, at that time he was unable to ask the daughter to leave his home. I understand that in the past few years he has asked the daughter to move out on a number of occasions, but that the daughter has ignored these requests.

4. The daughter has previously been declared bankrupt, a situation that I understand occurred due to a long-term gambling problem. Up until residing with the adult, the daughter rented a room in a private hotel/share house in Sydney for approximately 20 years. Despite working full time from a young age, the daughter apparently has no assets and no savings.

5. Z is aware of each of the issues as outlined above, as I requested his assistance to encourage the daughter to leave the adult’s home. Assistance from the administrator was not forthcoming at this time. Further background information as to family dynamics was previously submitted to QCAT but is attached for your convenience.

Daughter’s role as full time carer

6. Eventually the daughter secured full time employment, which she still holds. For Z to state that the daughter is the adult’s full time carer is misleading. Firstly, the daughter works full time hours and travels to work on public transport five days a week, regularly leaving the adult home alone. During the day, the adult walks long distances to go to the shops, often while carrying large sums of money, which is not an ideal situation.

7. Secondly, the daughter does not hold and has never held a driver’s licence. Up until the adult had his licence revoked by his GP in 2013, the adult was in fact driving the daughter to various appointments and social engagements.

8. Despite the daughter’s inability to finance her own expenses, she travels overseas regularly, and for some time was flying to Las Vegas annually and staying for approximately two weeks at a time.

9. In my opinion, the daughter has never provided care to either of her parents. I lived in the home of the adult and his wife until 2007 and have visited regularly since this time. There have been times where the state of the home could be accurately described as putrid.

10. On one occasion in 2013 I flew up to Brisbane from my home in Melbourne for no other reason than to clean the adult’s house. I took video footage of what I observed when cleaning out part of the house which I am able to provide if necessary. I was saddened and disgusted by the state of the home.

11. I believe the daughter has significant emotional and personality issues and that her treatment of the adult since she commenced living at his home to be akin to elder abuse. This concern has also been raised by the adult’s GP and the adult’s neighbours, both of whom have witnessed the daughter’s frequent aggression and hostility towards the adult.

Board by Y
12. I do not believe that the daughter has ever paid board to the adult. If board has been paid, I find it troubling that the daughter is paying money directly to the adult, when the daughter knows that an administrator has been appointed and was present at the last QCAT hearing.

13. Given the adult’s memory lapses and dementia symptoms (which were the catalysts for the administrator being appointed in the first instance), I consider the daughter’s payment of cash to the adult directly to be an inappropriate method of transaction and one that should in no way be endorsed or encouraged by the administrator.

14. If the administrator is pursuing the daughter for back-pay of board, I submit this should be back-dated to 2006 at which time the daughter commenced living at the adult’s home.

Loan of $4,500 to accompany the adult on an overseas holiday

15. I consider it highly inappropriate and unethical that the administrator deemed this to be a suitable transaction. If the daughter wished to accompany the adult on holiday and could not afford to do so, a loan should have been provided from the administrator’s own separate finances, or the daughter should have canvassed other loan options, for example, securing her own separate line of credit. That this large sum of money is being repaid to the adult by the daughter on an ad hoc basis with the administrator’s approval is a gross deviation from the standards expected of an administrator and are in no way advancing the interests of the adult, financial or otherwise.

16. I have had recent discussions with the adult’s closest friend, his neighbour, in relation to this overseas holiday. The neighbour advises that although the adult had booked and paid for two weeks of accommodation (and necessary flights) for himself and the daughter to travel to Hong Kong from Brisbane, the adult and the daughter were in Hong Kong for only 4 days. The neighbour states that the adult and the daughter left for Hong Kong on a Thursday, but had returned to Brisbane by Sunday. The neighbour states that the holiday was terminated at short notice at the daughter’s insistence, as she wanted to return home to her cat. I am unable to personally verify this information but the neighbour is able to provide further details if required. He can be contacted on XXXX.

17. In relation to the above, one can only assume how frightening this must have been for the adult to be trapped overseas with a “carer” who in effect refused to care for him and insisted upon being returned home, all at the adult’s expense. The administrator is well aware of the daughter’s personality traits and it is my assertion that this overseas trip should never have been encouraged given the tendency of the daughter to manipulate and bully the adult.

Missing receipts for large expenses
18. This is of considerable concern. Under no circumstances should the administrator be making large purchases without providing sufficient documentation to evidence the transaction. I was the financial administrator for my (now deceased) grandmother and did not consider the retention of receipts to be a particularly onerous task.

19. Moreover, I hold concern for the ethical sensibilities of the administrator. His actions in managing the adult’s finances seemingly appeal to his own best interests, with the interests of the adult being a secondary concern. The role of the financial administrator is not to pursue the course of least resistance in order to make one’s own life as simple as possible.

20. The Tribunal may wish to note that the administrator has experienced his own financial difficulties due his company becoming insolvent. The Federal Court rulings for this matter may be useful for the Tribunal to note when assessing the administrator’s character and ability to honestly and competently manage finances. Links to relevant judgments are attached for your reference.

Recommendation
It is my recommendation that the most prudent course of action is for an independent party to be appointed to administer the adult’s finances, namely the Public Trustee.
I also hold grave concerns for the ability of the administrator and the daughter to make personal decisions related to the adult’s wellbeing in the adult’s best interests. I would support the appointment of an independent party to assist the adult in this regard, namely the Adult Guardian.”

Well, that settles it! I thought. I have done my civic duty. I have spoken honestly and provided all the relevant information. Now, I am surely free!

NO YOU’RE NOT! yells QCAT from their perch in Queen Street.

How can this be? Well as it so happens the wizards at QCAT end up sending my father, my aunt, my grandfather and me notice of an upcoming hearing – basically the same piece of paper sent out four times but with the address changed, telling us all where to convene and what matters will be heard. So what? I hear you ask. What do I care? I am not attending a hearing; QCAT just wanted information; I gave it. I am done! Right?

Wrong.

On closer inspection, the QCAT paperwork explains that parties have the right to view the file before the hearing. The file with all the relevant information on it. You know, the file that contains identifying particulars of yours truly.

Fuck.

In a panic, I phone QCAT. I ask them if I am now in harm’s way, you know, because of my violent loose-cannon father being able to access the file and – ergo – information pertaining to people on the file?

Oh yes, explain QCAT, If your father requests the file he will be able to view  your details.

My home address.
My phone number.
My email address.
All the things I have been at pains to hide from him for years, all offered over on a silver platter. All thanks to QCAT – the body established to resolve disputes (and not – one assumes – to provide deranged individuals with contact details of the people they hate most in the world).

Remember how I previously explained to QCAT that my father has a history of violence? And you know my submission that I supplied them, the one THEY requested, where I basically tell them how my father has made a career of being dodgy? Yeah, that isn’t confidential either.

“Someone should have told you that it wasn’t confidential,” QCAT explained.
“YOU PEOPLE CONTACTED ME!” I rant, “I don’t want any involvement with this process and now because I have helped you, I am completely exposed!”
“I will pass on your concerns to the Registrar,” one of the lemmings replied, “In the meantime you can fill out an application for a confidentiality order.”

OH GOODIE! MORE PAPERWORK!

fuck it

After several glasses of wine and a minor psychological meltdown, I drafted the following, which I sent to QCAT as requested:

WHY ARE YOU SEEKING THIS ORDER?
8. Clearly explain your reasons for seeking the order

I hold concerns for my personal safety and wellbeing, and the safety and wellbeing of my children, in the event that my father, Z, is made aware of:
• my address;
• my email address;
• my phone number; and
• my submission to QCAT within which I detail my reservations about his ability to competently manage the adult’s finances.

Given that the above may be viewed as part of accessing the file (as Z and his sister Y are able to do in preparation for the upcoming QCAT hearing related to conflict transactions), I respectfully request that confidentiality be applied to any and all documents that may identify me or reveal my whereabouts.

Reasons

My father has a history of physical and emotional abuse towards me. Although my paternal grandparents raised me from when I was 5 weeks old, my father retained legal custody of me. During visits to my home, he made physical threats towards me that at times escalated to actual physical harm, as well as subjecting me to verbal abuse and denigration. For years he has called a mistake, a failure and worthless. He has thrown me against walls, pushed me, hit me, locked me out of my own house and on one occasion slapped me across the face. Most recently he and his sister have completely turned my grandfather against me to the point where he no longer speaks to me; this has caused me great sadness.

My father has a volatile and frightening temper and I have tried all my life to escape any kind of interaction with him. During 1997-2013 I only saw him in October of 2013, at which time his mother (my grandmother) was dying. As this interaction was unavoidable, I arranged for my husband and two friends who are police officers to be with me at all times while he was present, to ensure my safety. My concerns stemmed not only from my father’s history of violence towards me, but also because he had threatened to cause “World War Three” with nursing staff after his wishes for my grandmother’s end-of-life care were not met (he disagreed with my decision to keep my grandmother in her nursing home after she suffered an irreversible stroke and wanted her moved to a hospital).

Post-1998, every time my father visited my grandparents’ home, I vacated the house and stayed with friends or slept in my car to avoid him, simply out of fear for my personal safety – a fear I still hold to this day. As an adult, I have gone to considerable lengths to maintain my privacy in an attempt to avoid any communication with my father. This includes:
• Placing a block on his mobile number (and his sister’s number) to prevent him being able to phone my mobile; a number which was coerced from my grandfather;
• Never having a home phone line under either my maiden or married name;
• Never answering a call to my mobile that is made from a private or unidentified number;
• Closing my old email address once he and his sister started sending me abusive emails;
• Changing my profile on LinkedIn to my married name after seeing that my father had “viewed” my profile which at the time was under my maiden name;
• Relinquishing any entitlement to proceeds from my grandmother’s Will, for which he is the executor, simply to avoid interaction with him;
• Relinquishing my personal property that is still at the adult’s home; and
• Previously relinquishing my role as the adult’s Enduring Power of Attorney due to the legal threats and emotional distress I was subjected to when my father disagreed with decisions I had made in the adult’s interests.

Given the Tribunal’s knowledge of family dynamics as they relate to the adult which was outlined in my 2013 submission to withdraw as enduring power of attorney, it is troubling that at no time was the confidentiality of my submission to the Tribunal explained. I received unsolicited correspondence requesting my assistance, which I provided to advance the best interests of the adult. I did so for no other reason than to enable to Tribunal to make a fully informed decision about my father’s suitability as my grandfather’s administrator. I would never have provided this information had I known that doing so would place me in a position of exposure and vulnerability.

I did not know there was to be an upcoming hearing, I did not know that it was the rights of the parties to a hearing to view the file, and I certainly did not know that my correspondence to QCAT would not be treated confidentially. I note that even now, my father will learn my married name due to the paperwork forwarded by QCAT to all parties; information which up until this point he did not hold.

My father is a man with no ties to the community and whose address I do not hold. He responds with aggression and threats when his wishes are not met, or when he does not achieve a desired outcome. I simply do not know what he is capable of and do not wish for my young children or myself to be sitting ducks in the event that he responds poorly to a decision of the Tribunal and blames me for the outcome.

I do not want to be involved in any of my family’s dramas and have done my best to cut ties with them. I have a happy life in Victoria with my husband and my two children. I have done my best to put my difficult upbringing behind me. I have nothing to gain by providing the information requested by the Tribunal, but have much to lose.

It is for these reasons that I respectfully request the making of a confidentiality order in relation to information pertaining to myself.

Right; so surely NOW I am done. Aren’t I?

Yes, and no. The hearing took place on Wednesday, naturally I didn’t attend. So today I phoned for the outcome, so that, you know, I could pack up my family and go on the lam should I need to.

The result? Conflict transactions AUTHORISED! You go, Daddy Dear! Siphoning your father’s finances is A-OK according to QCAT.

And what about my confidentiality order? The order protecting my details, allowing me to live my life without fear that my father could turn up on my doorstep?
Oh that? That was dismissed.

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Part of me wants to fly up to QCAT and slap them upside their quasi-judicial heads. I never wanted to be involved, and because I helped them, I was left with my (non-existent) dick waving in the wind.  But another part of me thinks that maybe – because my father has achieved the outcome he wants (i.e. rubber stamped approval to treat my grandfather’s assets however the hell he wants) – he has little reason to track me down. He can continue embezzling funds, my aunt can continue to mooch like a squatter, and my poor grandfather can continue to bury his head in the sand, confident in the inaccurate belief that his children are actually caring for him.

Being a public servant, I should have seen this coming a mile away. My father was never going to be held responsible for acting inappropriately in his position. My aunt was never going to be called out for her bullying behaviour. And I was never going to be praised for speaking out about the shitty living conditions my grandfather is mired in, partly through his own actions. None of that was ever on the cards, because it is always easier for government bodies to retain the status quo.

Allowing my father to continue as administrator means no need for QCAT to appoint the already over-worked and presumably under-resourced public trustee. No resources are required. No expense. No funds diverted. Just a continuation of an existing arrangement. Just doing more, with less.

But all jokes aside, this is how women die. I don’t think it will happen to me, but in a different situation, it wouldn’t be unforseeable. Just imagine if this scenario had played out differently. Imagine a woman estranged from her once-abusive family member. A woman who has gone to considerable lengths to hide her whereabouts. Now imagine that the abusive family member requests a copy of a file pertaining to an upcoming matter to which they are both party, from QCAT. He is given the file; it is his right to view a copy. In so doing, he views the woman’s contact details. He tracks her down to her home. What happens next? Who knows. Hopefully it doesn’t make the news, or this list.

As as for me, I certainly hope, with every fibre of my being, that I am DONE with dealing with all of these people.

But just in case, I will continue to take comfort in the knowledge that my cattle dog is as fiercely protective of me, as I once was of my grandfather.

clancy

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