Category Archives: Whites

One hundred and thirteen days and counting

Forgive me reader, for I have sinned. It has been 113 days since I started my new life on the road, unattached and unfettered, and the freedom has gone to my head such that I have not written as much as I should. Writing for me feels a lot like exercise – something I may not necessarily feel like doing at any given moment, but an activity I do for the feeling afterwards which is my reward. Right now, I am doing virtual burpees as I type this post when I would rather be reading. You see, the silence in this van of ours is so hard to come by thanks to two loud and crazy little men, that when the cloud of quiet descends upon me, it is all I can do from succumbing to the lull of rest.

As I type this, we are in Karumba. Karumba is a small town on the Gulf of Carpentaria in Queensland where the water is loaded with barramundi and banana prawns, where the ground is a pale, sandy gravel and the turquoise water stretches for kilometers. It is hot, very hot, and the flies are relentless. The people are friendly, the local café sells good coffee, and the owners of our caravan park will provide us with 1 kilogram of cooked prawns for the stately sum of $22.

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When I last posted, we were in South Australia and it was freezing. Our initial plan when we left Melbourne was to test-out life on the road for a couple of months before returning to Victoria in October for my mother-in-law’s 70th birthday. After that, we would travel to Tasmania for a month before returning to Melbourne and beginning the journey north, along the coast.

That is not at all what happened.

By the time we got to Victor Harbor in South Australia, and had rugged our children up in more layers than we thought we packed, and had trudged them out to Granite Island to peer at penguins who had more sense than we did, and who hid in their burrows out of view, we accepted we needed to change our plans. So on a Sunday morning, as our boys played Lego at our kitchen table, my husband D and I looked at each other, uttered the immortal words, “Fuck this” and decided to head north to warmer climes.

We flicked through a random South Australia/Flinders Ranges brochure we had picked up somewhere, circled a sheep station that sounded nice, and called the Spirit of Tasmania to change our booking. Then, we spent a frantic hour in the Victor Harbor mall, buying all manner of summer clothes because we had packed none, such was our certainty that we would return to Victoria at which time we would collect our summer clothes from storage. Our boys walked out of Target with fake Crocs to replace their gumboots, wide-brimmed hats to replace their beanies, and shorts to replace their track-pants. My husband walked out with a couple of t-shirts. I left with nothing but excitement at encountering heat for the first time since March.

We drove to Noarlunga, where we visited the local BCF and bought swimming vests for children who were no longer going to be forced to crouch in wet tufts of grass to play as their parents gripped their jackets tightly and asked them to hurry up, but who would instead float in the thermal pools of Mataranka, the place in the Northern Territory that we pictured as an oasis on that cold, dreary day.

Then, we drove.

Through Adelaide, through the Clare Valley, stopping at Burra for supplies, a kick of the football and petrol, on we sped along the highway until we reached Almerta – the antithesis to our grey, drizzly days in the city and suburbs. Located in the middle of the Flinders Ranges between Orrorroo and Carrieton, we pulled up our van and the beautiful Shane – who essentially runs the entire station on her own as her husband travels for 7 months out of the year doing shearing/crutching for sheep across South Australia and New South Wales – pointed to our space on her sprawling property.

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We were the only visitors there, and it was incredible. We had no power, no phone reception, and limited water. For four days we rode our bikes through the red dirt, navigating stony hills and tufts of saltbush. By day we spotted emus, kangaroos, wedge-tailed eagles and cockatoos, played lego and cars in the dirt, and hiked around the property to explore the natural springs that emerged from the ground. At night we ate by the campfire, and when the boys were in bed, my husband and I sipped wine, placed more logs on to burn, and wondered why we hadn’t thought to do this earlier. The silence, the stars, the colours of the dirt and the sky. It was bliss.

It was bliss? Yes, it was. I can say that with certainty, even though for most of my life I have been a camp-phobe. Being raised by the elderly can do that to you. My grandparents were never going to sleep on the ground in the middle of nowhere, so my experience of childhood did not include this kind of pastime. My husband’s childhood was the same – his family owned a farm so disappearing for camping trips was not something workable or even desirable. D’s experience of roughing it came directly from being in the army, and until I met him, my experience of roughing it was staying in a 3 and a half star motel. This is partly why this whole experience of travelling on the road has been so educational for us, because we are repeatedly amazed at what we are discovering about ourselves in the absence of any outer influence. As it turns out, we do like camping. We like being offline for a little while and just appreciating being connected with each other and our kids. And we don’t even mind the dirt. Who knew?

From Almerta we continued north, stopping overnight at Wilpena Pound before another random and unexpected win when we stumbled across the tiny, deserted town of Farina. Farina was once a thriving community and many of its local sons fought in World Wars 1 and 2. We know this because we stood in awe as we read all about Farina’s history on a monument that was a couple of kilometers from the highway, surrounded by dirt, but which lead towards a huge clearing complete with trees, hills, and families of emus huddling close to each other. We rode our bikes around, chatted with the grey nomads whose language we are fluent in, and taught J about war, about soldiers, and even about the Coat of Arms, and that yes, it’s true, emus and kangaroos cannot go backwards. Neither can we.

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From Farina we headed further north, along the Oodnadatta Track. This wretched patch of road is considered a highlight for some – for me, who had elected to share driving right at this very spot – it was hellish. For four hours I white-knuckle gripped the steering wheel and endeavoured not to slide our 4WD and 22ft van into a ditch. The corrugated dirt did a number on our van, with our shower screen door falling off the rails (but not shattering, fortunately) and a kitchen cupboard being loosened from its hinges and snapping off. The landscape was eerie and lunar-like – no towns for hours, few cars passing through, just a flat expanse of blue-grey that melted into the sky such that using the horizon as a reference point became impossible. By the time we slid into William Creek, we could not get to the pub fast enough.

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The next day at the crack of dawn we headed west to Coober Pedy. Without offending the local townsfolk, I can say with certainty that our one night there was well and truly sufficient. The mines, the holes, the life underground…well, it just isn’t for us. I’m not even that big a fan of opals. But kudos to the local supermarket and its impressive range of goods, including lemon tarts in the adjacent café that kept our boys quiet while we enjoyed a much-needed hit of caffeine.

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From Coober Pedy we continued up the Stuart Highway to finally – under drops of rain and a grey and ominous sky – cross the Northern Territory border. For one cramped and uneventful night, we hunkered down at the Kulgera Roadhouse. It is essentially a petrol station with space to park a van and connect to power. We left in the morning, heading towards Yulara.

Yulara is the home of Uluru, and the enormous rock in the middle of Australia did not disappoint. It is a special, sacred place, but what I found the most beautiful thing was not the rock itself, but rather, the prevalence of a small ecosystem on the rock’s periphery. I had imagined Uluru to be a big red boulder in the middle of nothing, but I was wrong. It is home to a huge number of plants and animals who have all made this space their home. We took photos of flowers as we rode our bikes around the base, J pointed out lizards on our way back to the car, and we spotted tadpoles swimming in puddles close to caverns. We felt so blessed to share in seeing such a special place which has for centuries been an important part of Indigenous Australia, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t angered and ashamed of my Caucasian roots when I watched incredulously as tourists mounted the rock for photos. At one point I may have shouted abuse in the direction of a pack of oldies wearing Queensland State of Origin shirts and who were not content with viewing the rock’s splendour from the ground and who instead hoisted their loud, entitled asses off the ground for a better photo opportunity. “Always speak up if you see something that isn’t okay,” we told J. “Sometimes you have to be the person who says something.”

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We stayed at Yulara for 5 days, including a day of hiking through the Olgas, a somewhat ambitious activity given that we had to carry a child each for most of the way. During our time at Yulara we sold our house at auction. A stressful, harrowing Saturday morning was spent with my husband on the phone to his sister who was in attendance at the auction, and me entertaining the crazy children with dirt, cars, and a football. But it sold, we got a good price, and finally the freedom that comes from having fewer responsibilities and assets became closer to being realised.

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From Yulara we detoured to Kings Canyon for a night. I have heard many people speak glowingly of this place but with two young children, a prevalence of dingoes and walking tracks that require more sure-footedness than my 2 and 4 year old possess, it was not a place of magic for us. We headed back to the Stuart Highway the next morning, heading towards Alice Springs where we made our home for 4 days. It was nice enough and I was grateful for the chance to clean out our van, do loads of laundry, and visit the local Flight Centre to book a quick sojourn to Bali.

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We continued north towards Mataranka, but the lure of the Daly Waters pub drew us into its grasp and soon we were drinking jugs of beer under heavily worked fans, while our children slurped ice blocks and coloured in their free activity books. The next morning we arrived in Mataranka, home of the aquamarine thermal pools. Our little N was not a fan, but J and his dad swam for ages spotting turtles and fish and relishing in the tepid water’s gentle current. Although it was a magical experience, my dislike of algae swimming against my skin freaked me out somewhat. The Bitter Springs pool was more child-friendly, and both boys had a ball, at least until J got swept over the waterfall’s barrier and remained upright only due to his strength at holding on to the rocks, and my own strength at hauling him one-armed back to safety.

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From Mataranka our next stop was Katherine, where we stayed at a sprawling property covered with shady trees, and where a large proportion of our days was spent in the shade-sail covered pool. We liked Katherine’s uniqueness combined with its quirky charms – J was amazed that the entire town had flooded so severely in the 80s that crocodiles were swimming through the middle of the shopping centre, and D couldn’t speak more highly of the lovely lady he met at the Tourism Centre, who not only guided him as to the most child-friendly spots to visit in Kakadu, but who also advised us to purchase Solicite from the Chemist to help with our sensitive little N’s reaction to mosquito bites. I too was impressed, albeit mistakenly, when I was asked for identification at the bottle shop. Apparently this has nothing to do with my appearing younger – it is a request asked of everyone buying alcohol.

Before we left, we took a trip on a boat down Katherine Gorge, marvelling at the rock formations, and the next day we left town via Edith Falls where the boys swam and I drank Coke Zero on the grass.

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After Katherine we drove to Litchfield National Park and for two nights we stayed in another green expanse of grass and trees, and where our neighbours had three boys who were all Port Adelaide supporters. J was thrilled to have met some like-minded souls and played with the boys constantly when we were at camp. We took day trips to Florence Falls and all around Litchfield, swam in clear waters and smelled the scent of the ground being quenched with an afternoon downpour. The tropics – oh how we missed you after our six years of living in Melbourne.

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Finally – after weeks since our decision in Adelaide to head north – we reached Darwin. We fell in love almost instantly – the heat, the sunsets, the seafood, the mangoes, the laid-back lifestyle, the existence of Casuarina Shopping Centre which but for a lack of a Myer/David Jones has pretty much everything someone who has been deprived of a shopping centre for weeks could need, our caravan park’s epic pool and the bar’s $20 jugs of Pimms, our proximity to the Palmerston library where I retreated to complete online job applications…Darwin had it all. We became regulars at the Mindil Markets of a Thursday night where we ate a smorgasbord of food on our leaf-strewn picnic blanket before heading on to the sand to watch the sun set over the water. We were in Darwin for over a month, and although we did spend one week of this time in Bali and another week in Brisbane (N and me, for a wedding and a job interview) and Melbourne (D and J, for D’s mum’s 70th birthday and to clear out our house prior to settlement), we could have stayed longer, and we were sad to say goodbye.

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Bali was of course as one would expect from Bali – relaxing and invigorating – but what was even better about our short vacation was that it planted a seed for a life we might be able to pursue now that we are free from material attachments. Why can’t we relocate there for a period of time and just enjoy life by the ocean, teaching our kids about different cultures and lifestyles? Why is that out of the realms of possibility? It’s not, not now anyway. And what does that mean for our kids? Maybe it means they get to see the world through another’s eyes.

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One night after we were walking back to our hotel after dinner, a woman begging on the ground reached up towards J with an outstretched arm, her hand gesturing for money. He asked us immediately why the lady was on the ground. This prompted a long discussion about poverty, about the act of begging, and about being grateful for the kind of life we have that means we do not need to ask others for money. J seemed to understand, but when we stopped off just before our hotel to buy water at a convenience store, he burst into tears and asked if we could buy that lady a lollypop. She doesn’t have any money for a lollypop and i want to give her one. The poor lady.

He cried and cried and cried.

And although I was sad to see my son distressed by what he had witnessed on the streets of Kuta, I was also grateful. How can I teach him to be thankful for the life he has if it is in a vacuum, if he has no context? If he has not seen that there are people in the world who are poor, who do not get a chance to become educated, who do not have the privilege of clean water and nutritious food, and who for whatever reason find themselves on the pavement of a thoroughfare asking strangers for spare change, how does he learn about them? That night, he learned something powerful – that the world is not just limited to his protected circle and that there are many other people living very different lives than the one he knows. I dropped to my knees and held him close to me, and I told him that he was a beautiful and kind soul for feeling sad about the lady he saw. I told him feeling sad about her situation means that he cares. And that sometimes caring hurts, but that having a caring nature is one of the most wonderful things in the world.

I will stop my recount of our adventures there – 3000 words is quite enough for one blog post. Suffice to say that after 113 days the experience has been unforgettable, the lessons learned innumerable and the connection with my boys even stronger than it was 4 months ago.

The journey continues.

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Lessons learned in a van

Sarah,

Remember when you were 14 years old and blasting that Garbage song about only being happy when it rains? You had your yellow Sony Walkman in your ears, the one constantly attached to your head as you wandered the sunny, bright, blue-skied streets of Cleveland, your hometown in the sunshine state? Remember how you longed for the grey, dreary, cold days where you could be for given for huddling inside away from the world? You ached for that weather, the kind of respite from the cheeriness of sun. And yet now here you are, some 20 years later, and guess what – you are goddamn sick of the fucking rain.

One month in a van, at least 75% rain.

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It rained in Melbourne, as it always does, all through winter, making cold, unpalatable days even harder to navigate, especially when you had two small children to entertain. You left Melbourne for Echuca where it was cold but sunny, and where you sat outside drinking wine with your husband as your children played (briefly) at your feet. I could get used to this! – or so you thought. Of course then it rained in Bright, the picturesque town at the base of the mountains, minutes from the snow. It rained so much the ground squelched under your every step. You wore gumboots constantly, as did your boys, and despite your best efforts, your caravan was soon streaked with mud.

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It also rained at the snow, your first trip to what you expected to be a powdery white wonderland. It rained so much you could barely see, your face hurt from the ferocity of the droplets smashing against your freezing cheeks. Your eldest son, J, cried from the sensation as his olive skin turned a blotchy red. Your baby, N, wailed as wetness covered his face, when even the warm embrace of his Dad shielding him from the onslaught could not abate his tears.

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It rained in Mansfield, that freezing little town at the base of yet another mountain. You didn’t even bother trying to entertain your children outdoors in these conditions – instead, you cleverly sought out a DVD from the local Target and played it repeatedly with the boys perched on your bed (God bless you, Zootopia).

It rained when you came back to Melbourne, literally dampening your efforts to prepare your house for upcoming sale. With every job performed outside, you trudged dirt and debris into your momentarily pristine home. Your husband sought refuge in the shed as he completed carpentry tasks with his knuckles clenched and his fingers frozen to the bone. You managed to plant flowers using your bare hands, scraping soil from a pile on the ground and filling planter boxes to line your deck. You didn’t have a spade; it had been packed away, so instead you used a random piece of wood to aid shovelling. By the end of the sixth planter box, your hands were numb.

It rained when your children succumbed to one of the worst colds they’ve had, a heaving, hacking cough your accompaniment to drizzly days of nothing but grey. It was perfect weather to curl up inside in front of a fire, snuggling on a well-loved couch with your sick little people. But you don’t own a couch anymore, and you couldn’t risk your kids damaging the hire furniture used to present your home in its most appealing light. You mooched at the home of your sister-in-law, taking over her lounge room and playing hours of lego with your boys, while your husband tended to last-minute jobs in preparation for your home’s advertising photographs. When the photographer arrived, it rained. It rained so much, they photoshopped in a sunset sky.


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You set off on the next leg of your trip, stopping at the beachside town of Torquay where finally there was sun. You inhaled the scent of the ocean and walked along the sand with your children. It didn’t rain once. In a typical response, you almost decided to relocate your family to Torquay permanently.


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You scoured the jobs in the area, noting one position with a past employer who has relocated to Geelong. You looked at the houses for sale in the area, marvelling at the serenity of life by the ocean, the four bedroom homes with open living areas and clean tiles. You told yourself that – after days of wrangling sick, cranky children in close quarters – you could be the one to return to full-time work, bringing in a generous wage that would allow your husband to be the stay-at-home parent. You might have even applied for this job, had your laptop been operational but alas, your husband had accidentally taken the battery lead to your storage shed, meaning it was packed away. By the time you reach Warrnambool, you are so desperate to tap your keyboard that you find the one Apple outlet in the region and fork out $130 to quell your angst. By then, the job applications for that role you were eyeing off had closed, which as you know, is a blessing.

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You drive to Port Campbell and a combination of your own onset of illness and entertaining your children in the cold has caused your already short fuse to be rubbed down to a nib. You think back to what you had imagined this journey to be like – mornings of sunshine, pancakes, smoothies and family bike rides. You wonder how you could have ignored the critical fact that you would not see summer for months. You want to fast-forward time so that you get to that place by the beach, the rolling waves and the yellow streams of sunlight. You want the ritual of slathering up chunky legs with sunscreen and affixing hats to not-so-little heads that try to wriggle free. You want the look of delight when your husband throws one of your children up in the air in the water, the splash of warm liquid on your face, the cool afternoon breeze that moves your maxi dress between your calves.

Dresses! Oh, you miss them too. You packed your corporate attire away so frantically you never even paused to consider you might miss the sensation of a zip running up your spine or sliding on a pair of heels. You live in tights and jeans, hoodies and sneakers. You didn’t bring anything else into the caravan with you. Why would you? You dress for practicality now, not style (although in your defence, you still have most of your jewellery with you because you know it is amazing how one statement piece can transform an otherwise pedestrian outfit).

You drive on to Mount Gambier, where there are shops, a library, cafes and even an art gallery. You quite like Mount Gambier, and how could you not – it is the fertile, stoic ground from which your husband grew. You can tolerate the rain – yes, more rain – because like Melbourne, Mount Gambier’s weather can never quite commit to what it wants to be. When the rain passes, there is a glimmer of sun. But it quickly disappears. You imagine living in a town like this and how you would cope with the extremes in temperature throughout the year. You know you would survive, but suspect you would probably complain constantly.

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You drive through the Coorong to Adelaide and the sun follows you the whole way. Since being in Adelaide it has not rained once. You’ve had bike rides into Glenelg, teaching your son about resilience when his little legs refused to keep pushing for the last leg of the 8km round trip. You have played lego and trucks and cars in a sun-filled annex that keeps you warm. But despite the reprieve of the elements, you finally succumb to the ache of your sinus infection, collapsing in tears as you beg for an ice pack to relieve the pain in your face. Your husband puts you to bed, closes the blinds and makes the space as dark as it can be in spite of the happy sunshine hovering overhead. In a brief moment of desperation you find yourself wanting to call out for your Nanny, for her to make you well again and to push the pain away. But she can’t, Sarah. She can’t.

You chat with the oldies in all of the caravan parks and you like them; they remind you of your own grandparents even though you realise your grandparents would never have considered life in a caravan. Your Nanny would never have agreed to bathing in a communal shower block, and besides, where would she get her perm set every month? “You know I don’t let just anyone touch my hair!” – her words ring in your ears even though it has been years since she said anything like this, to you or to anyone. You also think of your grandfather. The sun-chaser in him would be baulking at the thought of completing a lap of Tasmania in September, “You’re not driving north?” he would question, noting his own hatred of the cold; the boy from Goulburn for whom a winter in Queensland was barely tolerable.

Your children have grown before your eyes. Your baby N responds with a vehement “No!” when he feels like refusing something, his once angelic eyes narrowing to a piercing glare. He is no longer the chubby infant permanently on your hip, who only wanted you all the time. Instead he will squirm from your grasp and run after his brother, copying everything he does. But at lunchtime when N needs his nap, you will no longer have to sit in a darkened room, hunched over at his cot and patting him into sweet oblivion, all the while hoping that J doesn’t make a sound that will wake him. Instead, you darken the caravan and snuggle into him on your bed. He guzzles his bottle and burrows between the safety of your left bicep and your chest, and there he will sleep for an hour, maybe more. You will hold his perfect, plump little foot in your hand as the fine blond hairs on his warm skull tickle your nose. You will stay there for as long as he needs you, because you can. Your husband takes J out during this time – to kick the footy, to ride his bike, or today – to wash the car. So you still have your baby, but now you get him in one concentrated hit.

J has moments of baffling turdiness which you respond to poorly because you forget regularly that he is only 4 years old. He is the boy who asks you questions about the world and who offers suggestions for improving the space around him that never occur to you. He proposes that giant flying foxes be affixed to all street lamps, allowing pedestrians a new form of public transport. “The people could just swing from one to the other, and then they don’t have to worry about driving their cars!” You agree that this would be a far more enjoyable form of public transport than any you have experienced thus far. J accompanies your husband to a night football match and you take a photo of the two of them together that makes you swell with sadness at the disappearance of your chubby toddler, but fills your heart with pride at the handsome, smart young man you are helping to grow.

And as for your husband – that man with whom you butt heads, snap at or pester for an explanation for the occasional stressed, sullen mood? That man is gone, replaced with a relaxed, eager co-parent who tends to every one of the household duties for which you used to be (mainly) solely responsible. He takes the children solo for trips to the bouncing pillow in the caravan park grounds, he smiles at you across the table where you eat breakfast together as a family, and he sets up the barbecue to make dinner, allowing you to continue lego helicopter making duties with J. On sunlit mornings he goes for a run, returning with coffee for you both. Panting and sweaty, he removes his skin-tight running top to reveal the broad shoulders and strong chest you have  clutched for the past eleven years. You run your eyes over his physique, noting the athleticism etched in his muscles, his firm calves, his wide thighs and his ridiculously round derriere. You wrap your arms around his back, running your finger down the shallow trench at his spine, the place where two sides of his back converge. In your wedding vows, you wrote that you had never felt safer than when you were in his arms. You note that this is still true.

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It has been just over a month since you started this journey; since you said goodbye to your jobs, your house, your things. There has been tears, laughter, fury and delight. There has been life lived, edges explored, patience tested and affection shared. You wanted to shake things up, remember? You wanted to get away from the mundane, from labelled Tupperware and frantic Sunday nights. You wanted space and time together, and you must remember this.

Even when the children test you. 
Even when you long for a shower that doesn’t involve the need to wear thongs. 
And even when – ultimately – the rain comes back again.

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(The sun will come back too.)

-S x

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The road ahead

A few months ago I wrote a piece about my longing to get off the wheel. It was a watershed moment where I realised what I wanted my life to look like and what it actually looked like were very different things. In the past I have been reasonably judgmental towards those who complain about situations they have the power to transform, be they an unsatisfying relationship, an unfulfilling job or something even larger, for example, the very make-up of their beings. I am not immune to this malady – I lament a number of my own personal failings and repeat mistakes often; my only redeeming feature in this is that I try to improve the things I dislike. Slowly, much like a snail wading through mud, I am gradually propelling myself toward something more than the version of me I believed I was for so long. No longer am I the bratty, angry child who never thought much about her life, so sure was she that it was bound to end before she reached double-digits, presumably by her own hand.

Now being well into the double-digits and of (reasonably) sound mind, I find myself in a life that is both confronting and inspiring in its departure from what I believed my life would be. For most of my adolescence I did not consider what my adult life would look like, because I reasoned that the chances of me making adulthood seemed so slim, to gaze into the future was simply frivolous. As I got older I lived day to day, stumbling through in a haze of antidepressant medications that sedated me more than boosted my awareness, which I paired with nights of binge drinking to the point of blackouts. I cannot recount the number of times I woke up the next day with what can be eloquently described as fuck-all memory of the night before. And while this kind of experimentation can all be chalked up to youthful exuberance, for me it was always a shade darker, because deep within my soul, I knew that drinking really let me forget who I was, and how utterly futile my attempts at happiness would be.

Of course, the universe has a way of teaching those of us who want to learn, and for all my failings and self-hatred, I had an interest in unraveling the tightly wound knot that had formed around my soul. I wanted to understand who I was, and what had caused me to become all the things I despised. I wanted the anger to subside, I wanted the burning hateful rage towards my parents to at least be more akin to a manageable back-burning activity than a fiery inferno doomed to engulf me in flames. I wanted to be a better version of myself, but short of self-analysing in what was then the DSM-IV (and becoming convinced I suffered from a number of personality disorders), I had no other tools at my disposal.

It was a work of both luck and kismet that I started seeing a therapist in 2002. For fourteen years we have waded through my psyche, studying the blocks within my own foundation for flawed belief patterns and crumbling debris that leads to self-sabotage. And with a chance to unlock my own story, I have re-written the ending. So now, having overcome (most of) my own demons, I find it difficult to simply exist in an unconscious life. I cannot wed myself to the idea of working long hours, away from my children, in a job that does not satisfy me, so I can pay for a mortgage.

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All I really need is my health and the health of my family, somewhere to write, time with the loved ones I never believed myself worthy to have, and a chance to nourish my soul. And another twist of fate, I have found myself a partner in life who holds the same beliefs as I do. My husband D has been in the workforce for over 20 years and he has worked his ass off to get where he is. And guess what?

He has just resigned.

Why?

So that as a family, we can take 12 months off, away from the daily grind, to rediscover what motivates us and brings us joy, and most importantly, so that we can spend quality time with our children.

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We have bought a caravan that will be ready late next month, and have traded in both our cars to buy a 4WD that I struggle to park. I have commenced the culling process, donating scores of goods to charity, selling some bits and pieces, and throwing out what remains.

Our family will set off on our adventure sometime after July. We have no concrete plans; no itinerary. We have a rough idea of which part of Australia we want to be in at various months of the year, but that is it. We intend to sell our house, and most of our belongings, and commit to a life of minimalism. Instead of the frantic rush out the door of a morning, we will eat breakfast as a family. Instead of frenzied Sundays spent preparing for the demanding week ahead, we will take each day as it comes, without reference to looming deadlines. We will parent together and apart, ensuring we each have space to re-energize and decompress. Our children will learn about life not in a classroom but in the long walks we take as a family, exploring our surroundings and marveling in nature’s beauty. We will read books, play games and rest at midday, without fearing the flow-on effects of naps on bedtime.

We will create the type of life we want to have. And if during this time, we find that we hate being in close quarters and that the only thing that makes our family work is time apart from each other, it’s okay. We can re-jig our plans, because we are answerable to no one but ourselves.

This time away from the typical ‘9-5 hang out with the kids on weekends’ approach to life is also motivated by our combined desire to reevaluate how we interact with the world around us. At present, we live in the inner-west of Melbourne which has a strong community vibe but whose sense of neighbourliness has not graced the street in which we have lived for the past five years. Our neighbours think nothing of calling the pound if our dog accidentally enters their backyard; something that has happened three times in about four years. As an animal lover, I struggle to understand the course of events that sets off such a response to an issue that is part of suburban residential life (if I found a dog in my backyard the owners would be lucky to get it back). Likewise, a neighbour who lives across the road from me, thought nothing of marching over to my house at Arse Hour (i.e. the time between feral children wanting dinner and feral children eating dinner) to school my friend who was visiting on why it was inappropriate for my friend’s car to be parked immediately outside her house. On the road.

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My family got back from Fiji a few weeks ago and while we were there I looked into visiting one of the remaining villages where people still live traditionally. In the tour information booklet, visitors are advised to feel free to compliment villagers on their belongings, but to be careful not to be too complimentary as villagers will always offer the item as a gift, even if they cannot afford to do so.

In the space of two weeks, I went between engaging with people who would share with me even if doing so was to their own detriment, to dealing with the pettiness of someone who feels enraged by their yard or the public road outside their home being infiltrated by some kind of interloper.

I may not be able to move to a traditional Fijian village, but I can create a village of my own with my tribe, where we harness our energy to enjoy the little things in life. And while it means a huge departure from the norm and what is ‘safe’, what is less safe for me is to remain fixed in a lifestyle that no longer reflects the person I am, or the kind of role model I wish to be. I want my boys to question the norm, to be kind to the environment, and to know that there is more to life than exhausting one’s energy at work which leaves nothing to draw from once the work day is over.

I have no idea where this will lead us, but I know it’s the path we are meant to travel, and naturally, I will be writing about all our (mis)adventures.

I hope you’ll come along for the ride.

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Farewell, wheel.

I am seated in the bustling, clinking coffee shop whose caffeinated beverages have sated me for the almost four years I have been a parent. As a baby, I placed J in his pram, snugly secured under a cotton wrap acting as a blanket, and pushed him with aching anxiety towards this cafe. Don’t cry, I whispered, sometimes loud enough for fellow pedestrians to here. Please don’t cry.

If I walked fast enough I could arrive at my destination before J’s wails of distress became bad enough to invoke my own physical uneasiness. Upon arrival, I could scoop him up from the pram and fold his curled little frame into my own, cuddling him with a bottle as he buried into my chest. As I nursed him, I sipped from the enormous coffee that gave me just enough energy to withstand the 3pm sleep refusal, the 4pm wails of discontent, the 5pm attempted (and failed) dinner preparation, and the 6pm reprieve when my husband walked in the door, arms outstretched for a cuddle with the boy who had broken my heart only to glue it all back together with his sticky, vegemite-covered little hands.

When I returned to work when J was seven and a half months old, this place similarly fed me with the fuel I needed to pretend to be competent at my job. On weekends as a family of three, we would stop here for late breakfasts, feeding J our toast and taking turns at eating our meals while the other parent entertained our rambunctious, headstrong, happy boy. We watched in awe as a mother with three children – twin 1 year olds and an older toddler – sat at a table surrounded by highchairs as her well-behaved children nibbled food brought from home, making barely a peep. By comparison, we held onto J as though we were wrestling a giant salmon, whose determination to do what he wanted, regardless of our instructions, made us baffled and bemused all at once.

By the time he was walking, J found entertainment by playing on the large astro-turfed cubes that sit in the courtyard of the café I consider a second home. When I was pregnant with J’s brother, I perched myself onto a bench and watched J play on these blocks, promising him a treat when it was time to go.

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After N, J’s little brother, was born, this place was where we caught up with friends. It is where we went as a family of four, feeling safe in the embrace of our surroundings, and enjoying the cooing over our littlest person from the staff. When J went to childcare on Fridays, I rocked N in the pram with my leg while I typed frantically, desperately willing my fingers to capture the thoughts that bounced through my brain. And when N eventually joined J at childcare, after I dropped the boys off (together, usually with N staying in J’s room for a cuddle with his favourite educators), this is the place I returned to, frenetically typing my stories onto the screen and realising my past was now in my present.

Today, I had a similar plan – to drop the boys at childcare and then retreat to the comfort of this space, where I could do some (paid) work and also some writing of my own. These Friday mornings I treasure; the ritual of writing in a coffee covered cove where the hum of conversation drowns out the sound of my fingers hitting the keyboard. It brings a joy I struggle to describe.

Usually it brings joy. But not today.

Today, instead of running into the arms of a friend and needing me to chase him down for a kiss, J cried when I dropped him off. Bawled, really. Mummy don’t leave, his words. J is not a crier, especially not at childcare, which occurs in a place he loves with faces he adores. N also cried, before his feet had even touched the carpeted, Lego strewn floor. I fled his room in such a hurry that I forgot to sign him in, and needed to creep back stealth-style in order to complete the requisite paperwork. I think N saw me; I definitely saw him.

So now, I ask myself, why? Why am I doing this? Would I derive not as much joy from ONE DAY a week that was truly my own, where I could write in peace and solitude? One day without my boys, one day to just be me again? Do I need three days out of a seven day week away from them?

I like work, in the sense that I like to use my brain and I like to get paid. But I like writing my own pieces more; I like being the master of my own output more than I have ever liked answering to others. I like the idea of leaving a legacy in some form, and I take little pleasure in thinking that my legacy might be summed up in the words “Public servant. Occasional writer.” That isn’t who I want to be.

So what does an ideal life look like? Perhaps I could start with describing what it doesn’t entail. It doesn’t entail waves of guilt at being away from my children so that I can do a job from which I derive little satisfaction other than financial, and which exists largely to pay for the childcare which I would not need if I was at home. It does not include frantic, stressful, angst filled mornings of trying to get non-compliant children to eat, to get dressed and to leave the house, all by a defined time with a ticking-clock soundtrack. It does not include a similarly pained evening ritual where overtired children lament the lack of food in the house but then refuse to eat dinner that I have prepared while holding one or both of them. It does not include snapping at my children for the missing lunchbox lids, for not napping during the day, or for generally turd-ish behaviour because they’re tired and cranky and they just don’t want to.

Maybe my ideal life entails both parents, or at least an extra set of hands, in the home to ready the kids for school. Maybe it involves a few hours of kindy and a couple of playgroup sessions. Maybe it involves N napping for longer than an hour during the day because he is home and it is quiet and his room is dark. Maybe we sit outside on the grass and play in a space that is so big and secluded that I don’t need to worry about a random stranger snatching them from my front yard while I rush inside to pee. Maybe I work from home and while I am typing my husband is with my boys, playing outside, or if he isn’t home, maybe a trusted friend/family member/nanny is with them so that I can get that crucial me-time, so that I can fit my own oxygen mask first without trying to breathe life into others when my own capacity is dwindling.

Maybe the legacy I leave for my kids is that they have a mother who just followed what she wanted to do, and who didn’t buy into the materialistic world that tells me I must earn money so that I can buy things that will make me happy, or at least happier than I would be without.

So when did I get on this wheel? Was it when I was a teenager and knew I had to escape my home town lest I suffocate underneath the mediocrity of suburbia? Was it when I was at university and reasoned that the only way I would rise above the sludge of my relatives was to succeed in ways they could not? Was it when I married and had a white wedding despite my disdain for princess brides? Was it when we bought a house, a beautiful, quirky, cosy house, parts of which I love and hate simultaneously? Was it when I reasoned that I needed money to buy all the things for the baby who had beautiful outfits but a mother with vacant eyes? Was it when I went back to work to prove to myself that I was still me, that I still had a brain, subconsciously reasoning that staying at home to child-raise would turn my mind to mush? Or was it when I returned to work after a glorious yet challenging 15 months of maternity leave, coming back to grey linoleum and fluorescent lit cubicles, sitting for seven hours a day so that I can be back at work?

I don’t know when it happened, but I know that I want to, I need to, get off the wheel.

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I have spent the best part of nine months distributing my grandfather’s estate, apportioning items of worth to family members lacking in such a quality. I have waded through paperwork, through things, looking for needles in haystacks and golden tickets, and at the end of it all, I will have more stuff. It will mostly be stuff that I want – some books, a vase belonging to my Nanny and my grandfather’s watch. They are small things with big sentiments; the sentiment being, the people who used to own these things are gone.

When I die, I do not want my boys to have to rummage through debris to uncover what I had. I want them to know what I had, because they shared it with me.

So, what to do?

My wise best friend gave me a birthday gift that shows that insight to and awareness of another’s struggles can transcend geography. Sensing my impending exit from a conventional life, she bought me books by Marie Kondo, she of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up acclaim. Although I am neither a hoarder nor a clean-freak, I feel something truly cleansing from the act of a good cull, and although I am yet to read these books, I have a feeling her KonMari Method is something that will resonate, because as I type this I know that the first thing I need to do is to get rid of the stuff. I will donate most of it and will be ruthless in my approach, knowing that memories are not fixed by holding on to mementos; they stay alive when we pause to remember and in the stories we share.

Next, the job. I know it has to go. I want to be with my boys, but I still need that space for my writing, the one day of uninterrupted time to create. J will attend sessional kinder; N will attend childcare one day a week. We will find a playgroup for social activities. We will figure it out.

Thirdly, the house. It needs to be tidied, finessed and sold. No mortgage means no responsibility for a house we are rarely in because we are both at work to pay for the house. Then what? In my dreams of adventure, we leave. We pack our necessities up and we drive. We stop at beaches and swim in the surf. We eat dinner made from produce I buy at the market. I have dedicated time to write while my husband has dedicated daddy-sons time. My husband learns to cook; I learn to stand on a surfboard. I freelance and consider ways in which I can share my love of words with those who need it most; disengaged kids and struggling mums being my target audience, mainly as I have been both of these people at various points in time.

Eventually, we find a huge block of land, surrounded by trees and a large expanse of lawn. It will be close enough to a city so that commuting as part of any work arrangements is not prohibitive. It will be a home I work from, the home my husband works from, and it will be the place where my children grow. J will go to a local school and I will feature in his days, popping up at sports days and swimming carnivals. We will go to the beach during the week. We will grow vegetables and run and play and kick the football and do yoga and laugh and sing and when I start to go a bit crazy from home life, I will take refuge by packing myself off to attend a course aimed at bettering myself. I will attend weekend yoga retreats in Byron or six week internships in creative writing at NYU, dragging my excited Yankees-cap wearing boys with me. We will travel and visit the world and if we don’t want to do it during school holidays, we will work around that. I will give my boys an education that relies little on conventional classroom techniques, surrounding them with creative free thinkers who challenge the norm, and intelligent aunts and uncles who offer conversation that sparks curiosity. Their father, the greatest role model they will ever have, will teach them how to kick a football with their left feet, how to craft items from wood, how to restore a motorbike, how to throw a right hook into a punching bag. I will teach them to be kind to the world around them, to water the flowers, to be gentle with our animals (at least one dog, a pig and maybe some chooks) and how to express themselves through music and words. I will also – inadvertently, and in a way that happens only because I cannot change my spots – teach them to be loyal to each other, to challenge the norm, and to speak up when they see injustice in the world.

In truth, part of me wonders how any of this could be possible. Don’t people just work hard, buy a house, live in their house, buy things, have a family, go on holidays and keep working? Isn’t this how it’s done? If I look around me, I would say that this is the norm. But I don’t want to be the norm, and I fear that if we stay here, stay put, we won’t do any of this. We will remain stuck, wheels spinning, trapped doing what is safe. We will not venture left of centre because we see no one else doing it. We see people working to pay off mortgages and we see parents tired after work and who spend less time with their kids than they would like. We recognise how they look because it is familiar – this is how we see ourselves.

I will miss this coffee shop. I will miss its walking distance, the buzz of community in my inner-west enclave. I will miss watching my sons point to the trains that whiz past the courtyard where they play. I will miss the view of the city on my walks with the boys. I will miss where my boys go to school, and the smiling friendly faces of the beautiful staff. I will miss the cinema where hubby and I used to watch movies weekly, and where I took J to Mums and Bubs sessions as a newborn, one of which I recall with clarity as being one of the most joyful experiences of my life.

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I will miss the Sun bookstore and its gorgeous little warm aisles of paper. I will miss the September weather where the sun shines after so many months of freezing grey days, and I will miss the twilight evenings where darkness doesn’t fall until 9pm. And I will miss the house to which I brought home two babies from hospital and in which I have experienced the brightest moments and deepest lows of parenting.

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I will miss it all.

But, and as I have been at pains to remind myself, leaving it doesn’t mean I will never return. Perhaps in years from now I will again yearn to feel part of city life and the buzz. And although it leaves me with a sad, heavy sense of loss, I know that I need to lighten the load now so that we can carry more joy in our lives for the future.

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Thursday Throwback #9 – Write on

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
― Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

I was speaking to a dear friend of mine today, who is also a writer, about whether the act of writing is one pursued with the fundamental purpose being to tell a story. Do we write because some of us have this insatiable urge to share a tale, be it truth or fiction, in the written form? And if so, do you choose to write or does writing choose you?

When I was a child, being a writer when I grew up was not an option – people grow up to become doctors, teachers, lawyers. But a writer? A writer of what? And although I eventually “became” a lawyer, looking back I know I did it for all the wrong reasons. I wanted to make my grandparents proud of me, and I knew a law degree was a sure-fire way of achieving that. Also, I wanted a little sense of superiority over those who had written me off when I was a teenager. Too stupid to make anything of myself, hey? Well, now who’s laughing in billable six-minute increments? The other appealing part of the law career was that in my mind, it let me use the only two skills I had – speaking and writing – which I reasoned could be combined in such a way so as to make me squillions of dollars. I had watched LA Law; I knew those legal eagles were on easy street. Sure they had alcohol dependence issues and significant relationship dramas, but look at those offices! And a secretary! Where was my goddamn secretary?

Of course the truth of my legal career is so very different to the one I had envisioned – yes, I had a secretary, but she was probably getting paid more than I was. And yes, for awhile I had an office with a river view, but all this did was distract me from the task of looking at things on my desk by giving me things to look at out the window. I simply wasn’t ambitious enough to want to schmooze clients and take files home on weekends, and although I enjoyed my stint in criminal defence, I grew tired of wondering if crimes I saw on the news at dinner would be on my desk to deal with after breakfast the next day.

The disturbing truth about all of my professional career is that it has always been punctuated with a need to write. I had a (now defunct) blog, I carried a notebook around with me anywhere I thought I might need to jot down memories of a moment in time, and for years longed to have the chance to just dedicate my time to simply writing. Even as a child my compulsive need to keep diaries each and every year of my schooling was founded on this long-held belief that writing was just something I needed to do. Like brushing my teeth before bed, I felt the same urge to – often semi-consciously – scrawl “Went to school. Bludged. Had Indian for dinner. Was good” for no other reason than to document my day. It was my way of saying “this is another day I lived in the world, and this is what happened.”

As I was an only child, I often relied upon my own strengths and abilities to entertain myself when I was young. Writing thus played a huge part in my childhood, giving me something to do for which I needed no companion. My grandparents were not really into playing “with” me, which looking back probably helped me develop a number of skills. For example, the ability to amuse myself at the expense of others.

Given my fondness for writing, and my even greater fondness for laughing at my grandparents’ mishaps, on a whim one day when I was 11-years-old, I decided to draft them a letter. I even typed out our address for the envelope and placed it in our mailbox, wishing that time would go faster and that my grandparents would make one of their frequent trips to the mailbox to see if the postie’s been.

And then finally, after hours of waiting, I watched gleefully as my grandparents read the following:

Dear Mr and Mrs X,

I’m sure that you are aware of the terrible droughts in Africa and all of the people desperate for water. We have been pondering on this situation for months and have reached a conclusion. Due to these dreadful circumstances, we have decided to donate water to the victims. Unfortunately, we need to stop some people receiving water in order to give water. From Wednesday, 29 September, to Friday, 1 August 1993 all water supplies to Redland Shire residents shall terminate. Because we all need water for drinking two litre bottles of water can be purchased at the Community Hall for three dollars each. Since everybody needs to keep their personal hygien in tact, showers will be available for seven dollars for five minutes also at the Community Hall.

We hope that this will not effect you alot.

Yours Sincerely,
R.M. Wheately, Executive in Charge

Ignoring the fact that I confused August with October and some significant grammatical errors, I considered this letter to be perfect. How hilarious! I thought to myself. How I will laugh when my grandparents show up at the local hall – Nanny with her shower cap and my grandfather with his can of Brut 33. Unfortunately it did not take very long for my grandparents to realise the letter wasn’t legit. For a start, I hadn’t used letterhead. Secondly, I didn’t know what an Executive in Charge was, but I thought if anyone had this as a job title, it would be someone from the local Council.

But what finally gave the game away, was me. All the drama lessons in the world couldn’t help me to keep a poker face when I wanted to laugh. And so, just as my grandparents were shaking their heads and trying to figure out what on earth would possess someone to stick this oddity of a letter in their mail box, I started to giggle. Which became a laugh. Which became a confession.

My grandparents weren’t angry at me – they thought the whole incident was fairly amusing. They just had one question – why? Why would anyone do this?

At the time, I didn’t have an answer, but more than 20 years later, I now do.
I did it because I wanted to write.

And I still do.

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Not drowning; waving.

Carmela Soprano is good at asking for help. I know this because I saw her do it repeatedly in that glorious series The Sopranos, and in no episode was this more apparent than Sentimental Education. In that episode, Carmela makes a request for help to her son’s high school teacher, with whom she is having a secret post-separation affair. The interesting part about this request is that Carmela makes it with such nonchalance, she doesn’t seem to even realise she is asking for help at all. And true, she eventually asks for too much, gets called a “user” and is humiliated by her rebound guy, but that’s beside the point. Carmela knows what she wants, and when she finds someone who can help her, she requests (or demands) their help, and she definitely takes any offers of help she is given.

In many ways, I am not like Carmela Soprano. For a start, my husband is not the boss of a New Jersey crime family. Also, unlike Carmela, I do not keep firearms hidden in my kitchen. But there is one way I do aspire to be more like Carmela, and that is in her ability to ask for – and accept – help from others. Unfortunately, my aversion to asking for help extends to even the most banal of activities, for example, grocery shopping. In a supermarket, I can easily be spotted frantically searching the aisles, stalking the object of my desire and occasionally leaving without it. It’s not that I am too proud to ask for help; rather it’s that I am too attracted to the glory of knowing I did something all by myself.

When I was in the eighth grade, it was decided by people with far more insight and perception than I that my issues – described as behavioural and characterised by an overwhelming desire to self-destruct in a spectacular fashion – needed to be urgently addressed. To facilitate this, the Head of Students at my high school arranged counseling sessions for me, for one hour a week, at a local youth centre staffed with social workers and psychologists. Learned teachers saw these sessions as an opportunity for me to both understand the ramifications of my actions and to realise my potential by committing to improving my life. I saw these sessions as an opportunity to miss a double maths period.

So every Friday morning, my teacher drove me in her little red car to the local youth service. Each counseling session I would sit in a room with walls covered with anti-drug posters, opposite a portly woman named Coral who wore shirts the same colour as her name, and we would discuss my litany of problems. Coral was nice, but – in a huge personality flaw – she didn’t think I was funny. So when I told her how I had committed the hilarious crime of hiding the contents of a fellow student’s pencil case over the course of several weeks, Coral didn’t laugh. When I told her that my father was an asshole, she just nodded and agreed that some people aren’t great with children. And when I told her I hated living at home – which was not really true, but was something to which I aspired – she eventually looked at alternate accommodation for me, like share houses.

But the idea of sharing anything more than a bong with disillusioned teenagers of the outer-eastern ‘burbs horrified me, so I quickly decided that Coral was trying to have me bashed into submisison by some of her unsavoury clients. Bad enough that I would have to accept Coral’s help once a week, but having her plot my demise during these sessions seemed a bit harsh.

Five years ticked by where my issues lay unaddressed, surfacing only when I went to bed and stalking me to the point of insomnia. It wasn’t until I was 18 years old and had (finally!) been diagnosed with clinical depression that I was sent off to see someone in the hope they could cure what I’d already decided from careful perusal of the DSM IV was some kind of personality disorder. Sadly for me, the shrink entrusted with my care was a slim Spanish woman named Doctor Adina, whose penchant for power suits and jagged, gaudy Eurotrash artwork hurt my eyes. Obviously I would not accept help from her. For a start, I could barely concentrate, such was the assault on my vision.

I decided to instead visit Dr Adina’s colleague, Doctor Roger, who was about $20 a session cheaper than his European counterpart. Doc Roger was an obese man in his fifties, who reminded me of Dr Marvin Monroe. His room was light, but cluttered with too many indoor plants, with rotting vines and dirty saucers of water covering bookcases and filing cabinets. On his desk, Dr Roger kept a pitcher of water on a tray with six small glasses beside it. These objects troubled me endlessly. When would the Doc ever have five people in his office with him who were all thirsty at the same time?

Although I initially resisted Dr Roger’s efforts to assist me, I occasionally shared some stories with him. And despite being largely bereft of personality, he seemed to have some pertinent things to say about my situation. I saw the Doc regularly for a few months, until I received a phone call from his receptionist late one afternoon. To say it confirmed my ongoing belief that everyone is an asshole who will eventually desert me is an understatement.

“Hi Sarah. This is a bit awkward. Err, Dr Roger will have to cancel your next few appointments,”
“Oh, okay. Until when?” I replied.
“Well, we’re not sure,” she said, “Best to just call us back in a few weeks. Actually, maybe give it a month.”
“What am I supposed to do until then?” I asked.
“Well, you can see one of his colleagues. Have you heard of Dr Adina?”

Dr Roger’s unexplained departure from my life certainly did not help my abandonment fears, so after this experience I decided I would not be accepting “help” from anyone ever again.

A few years later and with even more poor judgment calls under my belt, I finally agreed to seek help from Noelle, a psychologist. “You know she can’t prescribe drugs, right?” asked my ever-helpful friend, the one who recommended Noelle in the first place. Notwithstanding this major drawback, I decided to give this “help” thing one last crack.

And I am so grateful I did.

I saw Noelle regularly for almost seven years, until I eventually moved state. She has enabled me to learn so much about myself, without ever preaching or being judgmental. She is someone who has quite literally changed my life, in that my work with her has allowed me to realise – among countless other things – that it is okay to ask for help, and it is definitely okay to accept offers of help I might receive. It doesn’t mean I am weak. It doesn’t mean I haven’t tried hard enough. It is just a way of being efficient, which I guess is how Carmela Soprano sees it too.

Yesterday one of my friends offered help. In short, she offered to put me in touch with someone she hoped could help me further my writing career. If fruitful, this has the potential to start me down a path of sharing my writing with a larger audience. Having long held a desire to put “WRITER” in the occupation section of my tax return, this possibility is huge to me. But as my friend knows me well, she stressed that she didn’t know if I would be okay with her gesture; the subtext being that the extent of my pride is considerable, and she didn’t want to step on my toes.

But although there was a time in my life when this offer of help would have been met defensively with the cries I now hear my almost three-year-old bleating at me repeatedly, namely “I CAN DO IT MYSELF!”, that didn’t happen today. Today, I accepted my friend’s help. And because I did, I now have a chance to share the stories that circulate in my head until I finally commit them to words. A chance to connect with others who may have experienced challenges similar to mine. A chance to improve my enjoyment of life, by giving more to this little writing pastime of mine; making it more of a career and less of a hobby.

And – maybe – a chance to help others, who just like me, are hoping they can be just a little bit more like Carmela Soprano.

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Second thoughts

When you have had an experience that is burned into your memory much like a branding iron onto a cow’s rump, it is easy to lose a smidgen of perspective. In my world, my experience of a situation stains me for life, soaking into my psyche and refusing to budge, no matter how hard I mentally scrub away at it. So you can imagine just how much trepidation and worry fills me when I have to again – gasp! – face a scenario that caused me trauma. My usual process for dealing with such a situation is to use a clever mix of avoidance and denial. Unfortunately I can’t always do this, though. And that’s when I need to be creative, and make my next experience as different as possible from the stressful one of the past.

Which is exactly what I did for the recent birth of my second child, N.

My little N is the younger brother to our beloved, rambunctious first born, J.  J is two-and-a-half years old, going on 16. He has cheeky brown eyes and a sparkling smile. People say he looks like me, and I am proud, for to be compared to him is a wonderful compliment.

J is a ball of energy, solid and fearless. He is overwhelmingly affectionate, which tempers his stubborn, strong-willed moments. He is clever and funny, and often has us in hysterics, usually when we are attempting to discipline him. He is naughty, loud, and confident. And even when he is being a turd (which is often), we adore him.

But J’s experience of the world was not always the fun and frivolity he knows today. In fact, J’s first sensation of life was struggling to breathe, before being ripped out of my arms and calling a humidicrib in a special care nursery his home for almost two weeks. In a situation described by medical professionals in highly scientific language as just bad luck, J contracted a form of bacteria at birth, which turned into pneumonia. He was hooked up to drips, and heart rate monitors, and was only able to be held after we had scrubbed our hands raw with hospital-strength soap. The germs were easy to shake; my nauseating sense of blame for J’s illness less so.

J’s sickness was the final straw on what I considered would inevitably break my resolve to survive both childbirth and motherhood. Having been induced for labour at 7am on a Sunday morning, it was an agonising 41 hours until J was born after midnight on Tuesday. I consider it miraculous that I did not end up needing an emergency caesarian, given that I experienced a labour that took almost longer to progress than an iTunes upgrade.

When J finally emerged from my body, I of course responded the complete opposite from what I had expected, as a giddy, endorphin-filled rush of love was nowhere to be found. Instead, I went completely into shock, which is exactly what every new mother hopes for. As I held this gooey, squirming baby in my arms, the only thought going through my mind was trying to work out how to escape the hospital. I literally had not slept for days, and could barely speak coherently. I wanted nothing but to rip the drips from my arms and flee into the night.

Was I about to become my mother? Was I going to abandon this baby as she had abandoned me?

I didn’t know how to hold J and a midwife who would later tug violently at my nipples in an attempt to procure milk, was concerned about his lack of crying. J was making a grunting, gurgling sound – erratic and raspy. Within minutes I was holding an oxygen tube up to his nose. D accompanied the midwives as they whisked J away to the special care nursery, meaning that I remained in a state of mental chaos, tethered to a bed, and completely alone. For almost an hour, I sat semi-upright in my own blood, with nothing but irrational thoughts keeping me company. I would later learn that the delivery of J caused me to lose twice as much blood as is “normal”. I suspect that a fair amount of this blood loss occurred as I lay naked in a hospital room, wondering what was happening to that little boy who just came out of my body.

Eventually I tried to push the call button for someone – anyone – to return to my room. I didn’t necessarily need a medical professional; I’d have welcomed in one of the Turkish cleaning ladies I’d met earlier in my stay if they were free. Unfortunately I had dropped the buzzer off the bed, but my phone was in reach. I ended up calling D who was by now on a different floor of the hospital with J. A few minutes later, D and one of the midwives, Nin, returned. Nin was of Asian descent, bespectacled and young, in her early twenties. As she started unhooking me from tubes, she jubilantly told me how much she was enjoying her first day at work; information that I’d have preferred she keep to herself. Whoops! she laughed, fumbling with the cannula in my wrist. I turned my head to see both Nin’s hand and mine were covered in blood. I think it came out too fast! she confessed bashfully, still smiling.

I wanted to punch her.

After being sent to our new room with the futile instructions of Try to get some sleep, D was tasked with the job of bathing me and tending to the severe psychological break I was experiencing. So while battling his own fatigue and worry, D was also required to ensure that I did not throw myself off a balcony, as had crossed my mind. At one point, D had to physically restrain me on the bed, preventing me from pacing the room and babbling incoherently. Although he had tried to obtain assistance from staff, it was not forthcoming – it was a public holiday, and the hospital was short staffed. We were new parents, without a baby, and but for each other, we were totally alone.

Over the next four days of our hospital stay, D and I watched blissfully happy new parents wander the hospital halls, pushing small bassinets in front of them with teenie people snoozing inside. This was not our reality. I attended the post-birth physiotherapy class as the only new mum without her baby in tow, and D sat through the hospital’s discharge session on his own, as I couldn’t bear to hear about what life would be like with a new baby, when we were being sent home the next day with an empty baby capsule in our car.

We missed a lot of firsts because of J’s sickness. J’s first nappy was changed by a nurse in our absence. His first bath was given by another nurse, who told us apologetically when we visited that she had to bathe him as he had vomited and pooped all over his humidicrib. And J’s first feed was from formula fed to him via nasogastric tube, as he was too weak to suck for milk either from a bottle or from me.

J’s birth was everything I didn’t want it to be.
N’s was the opposite.

For N, we opted for a planned caesarian. This meant we knew the time, the date, and the names of the people in the room where he would be born. We weren’t fearful or in pain – we were excited by the surreal feeling of knowing we were about to meet our second child; the child who was still kicking my tummy from the inside, mere minutes before his little feet were to experience the world outside my body.

op room

We entered the operating theatre at 9.25am. By 9.35am, baby N had been born, crying his little lungs out. We were elated – our baby was healthy and he was in our arms almost immediately, which is essentially where he stayed for the next five days while I recovered in hospital; the same hospital that had two years ago been the site of an experience worlds away from the one we were now living.

In the comfort of our room, D and I got to know N. I got to breastfeed N at my own pace. D got to give N his first bath, and change his first nappy, while I barked less than helpful instructions from my bed. We had visitors to our room, who got to hold N and shower him with love, including his adoring big brother J. I went to the physiotherapy class with N by my side. And when I was discharged from the hospital, N was in my arms.

On our last night in hospital, a nurse came to take my blood pressure. It was Nin. The same nurse who had been present at the birth of J, and who had clumsily handled my body in the aftermath of childbirth. Nin didn’t recognise me, nor did I mention we had met before. Our interaction was in the past, which is where I wanted it to stay.

Whilst J’s birth was far from pleasant, it had a purpose (other than allowing my delicious first born to enter the world). As the saying goes, you won’t appreciate sunshine if you’ve never seen rain, and we had it in bucket-loads with J. Although I didn’t fall in love with J at first sight, I got to enjoy this sensation with N. He was beautiful. He was healthy. And he was wrapped in a little blanket (and not gooey at all!).

I am always aghast when women are told what they should do with their bodies. When I announced my planned caesarian I was asked by some to explain my choice. Why was I embarking on something so “invasive” and “unnatural”? Without weighing too heavily into the ideal mode of childbirth debate, I will simply say this: My caesarian was amazing. It was without question one of the best moments of my life, because it allowed me to go through childbirth in a completely different way from the shitty experience I’d had before. I gave birth exactly as I wanted. And whilst there were no scented candles, Tibetan monk chants or hypno-birthing techniques, it doesn’t mean N’s birth is less special or that my body is less worthy of admiration. I left the operating room with my emotions intact, which is more than can be said of my past experience of childbirth.

But the best part of all is that my beautiful little N got to experience the start of his life as every baby should – wrapped in his ecstatic mother’s arms.

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Thursday Throwback #8 – The Letter D

Today is the 5th of June, 2014.

Today was a typical day. I woke early to the sound of my husband, D, bumping around in the dark as he readied himself for a visit to the gym. He kissed me on the head as he left, tucked the doona around me, and told me I looked as toasty as a cinnamon bun.

toasty

Moments after I heard D leave, I heard the faint footsteps of my smallest man as he shuffled up the hallway to my bedroom. Still snug in his sleeping bag, he tiptoed along our floorboards looking like a glow worm, on his way to his Mumma’s bed. After cuddles in bed and a viewing of Play School, it was a frantic rush to have breakfast, get ready for daycare/work, and leave the house without food on our clothes/faces (one of was was successful in this regard; it wasn’t me). I made it to work by 8.30am.

Nine years ago, on the 5th of June, the start of my day was very different.
It started with the letter, D.

I woke up in a bed that wasn’t mine, in a room I’d never seen before.
I woke up with a slight hangover and little idea as to where I was.
I woke up next to a man I had met the night before.

Luckily for me, that man was D. I didn’t know it nine years ago, but he would be the man who would change my world, in ways I never thought possible.

The morning of June 5th, 2005, I watched as D threw on jeans, a t-shirt and a baseball cap, before telling me to stay in bed while he walked to the shops to buy the paper. This obviously struck me as odd. He wasn’t offering to call me a cab. He wasn’t in a hurry to see me off the premises. He was incredibly relaxed and nice. What the hell was going on?

I decided that D obviously didn’t live in this house and was cleverly escaping using an urgent newspaper purchase as his excuse to leave. I would probably never see him again, and I would be stuck trying to explain to whoever did live here why the hell I was in their house.
Lovely, just lovely, I thought.

But D laughed, and assured me he would be returning. He told me he would make me pancakes for breakfast, as he had promised during one of our earlier phone conversations.

I knew for sure D wasn’t coming back. What sort of a handsome, funny, intelligent, paper-reading bloke would want to make pancakes for some chick from Cleveland who got so drunk the night before that she gave her name and address to the cabbie who drove her and D home, just in case D turned out to be a murderer and she was never seen again?

After D left, I put on my smoke-infested clothes from the night before, and tried to make myself remotely presentable using a stick of concealer and a compact mirror from my handbag. I decided I would wait fifteen minutes for D to return. If he didn’t come back, I would walk out the door, heels in hand. Then I would abuse D on MSN messenger later in the day. Take that, D! I thought to myself, How dare you reject me in such a sneaky way!

But D returned in under ten minutes. He had gone to the corner shop, and bought himself an iced coffee and The Weekend Australian.
He had bought me an orange juice and a Who magazine. I thought you could read in bed while I make pancakes, he said.

Pancakes AND a magazine? This guy had just outdone all of my ex-boyfriends’ efforts in a matter of minutes.

But I had a little surprise of my own. Little did D know that my name was actually in The Australian that weekend. Well, more accurately, my name was in the magazine inside The Australian. I wondered if I should draw his attention to it; maybe he would skim over it and be none the wiser. Would showing him why it was there be the start of a conversation neither of us were ready for?
Would he run?
Would I still get pancakes?

I decided to take a punt. I told him to open the letters to the editor. I told him he would see what I meant.

mag2 mag3

“I was so relieved to read your article celebrating the role of grandparents in raising their otherwise orphaned grandchildren [May 14-15]. My paternal grandparents have raised me from the age of five weeks, and, 23 years later, I am indebted for the opportunity to publicly praise all they have given me. These two wonderful people, now aged 77 and 79, have watched me transform from a rebellious, self-destructive teenager to a confident and outgoing student in the third year of a law degree. As a result of inconsistent and negligent parenting from my biological parents, I have struggled with many issues regarding my upbringing. Without the love, kindness and forgiveness of my grandparents, I most certainly would have destroyed my life irreparably. To my grandparents, I owe everything. In essence, I owe them my life.”

I watched as D read what I had written. I looked for any sign of discomfort or unease on his face. I held my breath while fear raced through my head.
Would he ask about the inconsistent and negligent parenting?
Would he ask how I had nearly destroyed my life?
Would he ask why I was still in his bed?

He did none of those things. Instead, he smiled at me. He told me I was a good writer. He said they must get heaps of letters! He didn’t push for anything else. He told me how close he was to his grandparents. He said grandparents are really special. He said my grandparents must be just like parents to me.

Holy shit I thought. He just might get me.

Even though I was very close to being smitten, I didn’t let myself get too carried away with planning a future for D and me. I was 23; he was 30. He was in the army; I was still at university and slugging it out as a checkout chick to make ends meet. He was a man. I felt like a schoolgirl around him. I liked him, and amazingly, he liked me. I found this very unsettling.

One month later, my name appeared in The Australian magazine again.

mag6

I’d won June’s best letter. And a coffee machine!

But better than that, by July, I’d won D. I didn’t know where we were going or how long we would last, but I knew I wanted to be with him. He was so different from every man I had ever met. He listened when I explained the litany of issues I’d had with my family. He asked questions when I confessed that I’d been on antidepressants for years, and would probably need them for the rest of my life. In four weeks, I had laid myself bare. I decided if he wanted to be with me, he should know what he was getting into. I should at least give this poor bloke a chance to run.

But he didn’t run. And nine years later, he still hasn’t run.

So to my darling D – thank you for sharing the past nine years with me. You were by my side when our son entered the world, and by my side when my Nanny was farewelled from it. You have made me laugh every single day, even on the days where you have held me as I have wept.

In June of 2005, I wrote that I owed my grandparents my life. But in June of 2014, I can safely say that I owe you my life, because you gave me a new one.

Happy anniversary, D.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Thicker than blood

A few days ago, a brand new little person entered the world. She is the second child and the first daughter of my best friend. This makes her my niece, and makes me a very proud and excited Aunty.

As an Aunty, I take my role very seriously and want to be as involved as possible with Miss G (well, as much as I can when I currently live interstate). I will buy her all the cool clothes that elude her well-intentioned but street-cred challenged parents, and have already sourced some teenie little pink Converse sneakers for her pretty little feet. When Miss G is older, I will regale her with many tales of her Mother’s awkward teenage years, our shared perusal of VC Andrews books in the school library, and the time a bat pooed on her Mum’s head. I will tell her how I set her Mum and Dad up, meaning that in effect she and her big brother owe their entire existence to me.  

In time, I hope I will give Miss G a playmate who can be as much of a friend to her as her mum has been to me. Our respective bubs will be only four months apart in age, an arrangement completely unplanned and very much a surprise to both Miss G’s mum and to me. And although we are currently separated by distance, I know that it won’t always be this way. It is my sincerest hope that our families will once again live close to one another, allowing for play-dates and all kinds of toddler madness. I can picture it now – my ever-responsible friend watching over our children with a dutiful and caring eye, while I yell out Is it too early to open a beer? from the kitchen.

Because I am currently in Melbourne, and my niece is in Brisbane, I will be booking a flight to visit her as soon as funds allow. When I meet her I will steal her away from her besotted parents, and I will cuddle her close and smell her sweet little baby hair. I will offload countless items onto her – gifts, hand-me-downs, books about fairies that my son dismisses with a look of disgust. I could not be more excited, happy or proud to have this new little bundle of beauty taking up a very special place in my world.

So why then, have people felt the need to say to me Well, she’s not really your niece is she? I mean, she’s not blood.

  Angry marge

Back. The. Fuck. Up.

As previously highlighted in much rambling on this blog, I am an only child. I lived for 14 years without a sibling. It is true that I now have a half-sister and two-half brothers, but as I have only met my half-sister once (shortly after her birth) and have never met or spoken with my half-brothers, I do not consider myself one of four. My half sister and her brothers were raised by a different family, in a different country. So in my mind, it is, and has always been, just me.

So what does this mean? That I am doomed to never be an Aunty because biologically I will never have the same blood link with a niece or nephew as those with siblings have with theirs? That the only family I have is the one from which I have fled (excluding my delicious son, who thankfully passes the blood test)? Does it mean that I am forsaken with a substandard “family”, one comprised of well-wishers who charitably offer me a place in their brood, but in name only?

What about my nieces that are my husband’s sister’s children – are they insignificant too? And what about my son – will he only ever have one true Aunty because his Dad only has one sister?

hell no photo

I have known my best friend since we were 11 years old. That is twenty years of friendship. We have seen each other finish school, graduate from university, and enter our respective careers. We have welcomed the arrival of each other’s children, and lamented the difficult times with ample servings of chocolate (which I have topped up with wine. As a true friend, I have also consumed my friend’s share of wine. I am good like that).

My friend and I are very different people, and growing up, had very different experiences of the often troublesome teenage years. My friend was a straight-A student who excelled in all areas of academia, and who set incredibly high expectations for herself to achieve her best at all times. The level of focus and commitment she can give to a task is phenomenal, and with her work ethic and dedication, it is little wonder that she has achieved so much professionally in a highly competitive and stressful vocation. Now, she is a working mum who manages to juggle family and home, giving her all to everyone, often at the expense of herself. In addition to this, she has fought her own battles, and has never backed down from these struggles. She has set a remarkable example for both her children, showing them that with hard work and commitment, anything is possible.  

I, on the other hand, was quite happy being mediocre throughout school, only ever flexing my intellect when it would allow me to get what I wanted. I lost motivation easily and was prone to self-destructive habits that caused me no end of drama. But I am more street smart than my friend; more able to smell insincerity and bullshit from miles away. I am a better judge of character than she is – she will give everyone a chance, seeing the best in people whereas I will stand on-guard, ready to put up an emotional wall at a moment’s notice.

If my friend and I were dogs, I would be much like my blue heeler – loyal, protective and aggressive when provoked. My friend is more like a labrador – happy to please everyone and as a result, loved by all. But the fact that we were born from different breeds does not mean that we don’t share a special bond, and it does not mean that my relationship with her pups should be considered any less significant than if we had been expelled in the same litter (gross but apt).

So when people make comments to me suggesting that my bond to her children, (or the bond that any of my friends share with my child) is somehow worth less because blood is thicker than water, I get a bit like this:

marge stab

I have heard this blood v water phrase uttered by well-wishers when I have announced the arrival of a niece/nephew. I have heard it used by people who have lamented my decision to distance myself as much as humanly possible from my train wreck relationships with my relatives. And I have heard it said by my own grandparents, who would implore me to build relationships with my absent and disinterested parents.

But the problem with the blood v water phrase is that it is often relied upon by idiots to suggest that that the bond between family members (i.e. blood relations), is stronger than one between people only connected by water. I have no idea what type of “water” this relates to, but in my own experience I would far rather my water connections than the ones with whom I have been linked with familial DNA. Because in addition to being able to call my best friend family, I am also blessed that her family have welcomed me into their home(s), more so than my blood family ever have. It was my best friend’s Mum who came to my wedding dress fitting (and who made sure I had no visible back fat); her Mum who always offers me spare room at their house when I am visiting, and her Mum who sends my little boy birthday and Christmas gifts when his own biological grandparents (on his mother’s side) ignore his existence (much to my relief).

At my Nanny’s funeral, my friends in attendance outnumbered my relatives by almost 2:1. Many of these friends had not even met my Nanny but they came to offer their support to me. Every one of my friends hugged me or offered me a kind word that day. In contrast, only two of my blood relatives spoke to me – the rest merely ignored me (which would have been hard to do, given that I organised the event, read the eulogy, and looked amazeballs. Nanny would have been proud).

Blood will stain the surface of anything it touches. It is hard to remove; harder still to eliminate from detection (thank you, Dexter). Blood is heavy, clotting, messy.

Water cleans. It purifies. Life as we know it on this earth cannot exist without it. And, just as the love from the family I have made for myself – comprising of all my dear friends – has almost eliminated the hurtful stain left by my blood relatives, water will remove blood

But despite the wondrous healing properties of H2O, what I find to be the funniest part about people busting out the blood v water quote is that it is technically being misused. Blood is thicker than water, but not for the reasons you may think. The phrase actually originated from the notion that “The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb”, meaning literal blood, i.e. the blood shed by soldiers on the battlefield. The phrase was intended to convey that this shedded blood creates stronger bonds than those of the family one is born into (take that, all you sanctimonious morons from large families who have looked down your noses at me for my lack of blood ties!).

So, to my little niece who is only a few days old, I want you to know that you have another Aunty in me. I may not be linked to you because of blood, but I am linked to you because I want to be. That is thicker than water.

And much thicker than blood.

 

 

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Thursday Throwback #5 – In sickness

When I was little, the overarching fear that pervaded almost every part of my life, was that my grandparents were going to die, soon. It was always in the back of my mind, which meant that at the slightest hint of sickness, I became convinced they were destined for a trip to the local funeral home, and I was destined for a future that looked like this:

Note: I didn't expect to have cash like this industrious young lady. Or a hairband, for that matter.
Note: I didn’t expect to have cash like this industrious young orphan. Or a hairband, for that matter.

This of course would not have been as much of an issue, if my beloved Nanny wasn’t always sick with something. Her exotic and terrifying conditions included, but were not limited to:

  • high blood pressure;
  • strokes;
  • skin cancers;
  • vision impairment (Nanny was blind in her left eye and as a child, I could never remember which eye was her “bad” one. This meant I would inadvertently sneak up on her from her blind side, giving her a considerable fright when she finally realised I was beside her. This then resulted in Nanny swearing loudly before composing herself. I asked Nanny to wear a patch over her “bad” eye – You can be like a pirate! –  to make things easier for me, but she refused);
  • stomach ulcers;
  • osteoporosis/arthritis/torn ligaments and the occasional broken bone;
  • asthma and allergies;
  • cardiovascular disease that resulted in a relatively minor procedure known as a quadruple bypass;
  • some blood disease, the name of which I cannot remember, suffice to say that when Nanny described it as being like leukemia, I was less than comforted; and
  • eventual dementia and all its wondrous degenerative accessories.

When I was 6 years old, Nanny had a lump on her tummy. This meant yet another hospital admission, which of course meant that I was convinced she would never come home. I decided to unburden myself at school, where my teacher helpfully transcribed my ramblings:

Written when i was 6 years old (well, dictated whenI was 6 years old. My handwriting wasn't quite this neat).
Note to future self: Never buy books for the ill. They do no good.

Later the same year, Nanny was in hospital again. I didn’t write down what her ailment was this time, but made a note of it in my diary nonetheless:

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Dated 30 October 1988. Yes, I know I forgot to write “Diary” after “Dear”. Give me a break; I was sad.

Because I was so dependent on Nanny for stability, when she became sick, it was not uncommon for me to also become unwell. Usually this would be evidenced by severe anxiety and stomach cramps, that would conveniently happen almost as soon as I learned of Nanny’s illness or impending absence from my life.

Or the day after:

You know things are bad when you vomit lemonade. Those panes in my tummy probably were to blame.
Dated 31 October 1988. You know things are bad when you vomit lemonade. Those panes in my tummy probably were to blame.

But even though my Nanny was frequently unwell, if I became sick, she would dote on me for days. She would bring me cool flannels for my head if I had a fever, and would sit beside me on my bed, stroking the hair out of my face with her soft, dainty hands. When cold and flu season struck, she would hover over me with a homemade concoction of honey mixed with freshly squeezed lemon that had been chilled in the fridge, feeding me spoonfuls in an attempt to stifle my coughing.

Sadly for Nanny, no amount of home remedies could cure her various illnesses, so it was no surprise that when I was 16 years old, she needed another major operation. This time, it was to fix her blocked carotid artery. Wikipedia explains what this means this much better than I ever could:

The internal carotid artery supplies the brain, and the external carotid artery supplies the face. This fork is a common site for atherosclerosis, an inflammatory buildup of atheromatous plaque that can narrow the lumen of the common or internal carotid arteries.The plaque can be stable and asymptomatic, or it can be a source of embolization. Emboli break off from the plaque and travel through the circulation to blood vessels in the brain. As the vessel gets smaller, they can lodge in the vessel wall and restrict blood flow to parts of the brain which that vessel supplies. This ischemia can either be temporary, yielding a transient ischemic attack, or permanent resulting in a thromboembolic stroke.

Nanny had suffered more mini-strokes that I can remember. Some left her face altered for weeks, until eventual movement returned. She collapsed in my arms in on so many occasions that I was soon an expert at what to do in this kind of emergency: Turn Nanny on side; run to phone; call ambulance; return to Nanny; hold her hand and tell her it will be okay.

Tell self it will be okay.

Over the next few years, I would have the opportunity to improve my skill of caring for Nanny, and to repay Nanny for all the times she sat with me when I was little, looking after me when I was unwell. When Nanny had a massive skin cancer removed from her forehead, I wiped her oozing skin and changed her dressing every day. When she was too sick to get out of bed, I would make her meals and bring them to her, sitting beside her on the bed as we watched daytime television. And when her asthma caused her breathing to falter, I would hook her up to the nebuliser, and hold her hand as she inhaled misted Ventolin during the wee hours of the morning.

Eventually, when Nanny’s dementia progressed to the point where she could no longer take care of herself, I would file and paint her brittle nails. I would bathe her in the shower, where she sat on a chair as I directed warm water over her back and soaped her body in shower gel. I would wash her hair and blow dry the curls into place, finishing with a spritz of hairspray. And finally, I would ensure she was Nanny again, by giving her an ample spray of her favourite Christian Dior perfume.

I liked being Nanny’s nurse. I was good at it. If nothing else, it gave me a chance to assuage some of my guilt at causing her so must stress and worry in the past. In a way, it was almost selfish.

There are many parts of being a mother that I have had to learn from scratch – changing a nappy, dismantling a pram, driving in traffic with one arm behind me wrenched into a bizarre angle to hold my screaming child’s dummy in his mouth. Every day I am learning how this gig works, usually by trial and error. Fortunately, there is one thing that has come naturally to me, and that is caring for my son when he is sick. And just a couple of days ago, I unexpectedly needed to brush up on these skills.

With expert timing, my big man developed croup just seven hours after my husband had left the state. Our normally vibrant two-year-old was making the worst Darth Vader-meets-phone-stalker sounds I’ve ever heard. It was midnight, and I was on my own.

But unlike the times where I have freaked out in a parenting crisis and called my husband in a panic, convinced I have caused our child irreparable harm, in sickness, I am okay. This is one time where I know what to do. My son was safe in my arms (and even safer once I had sourced some Prednisone). I held him close, and kept him calm. I was patient and kind. I was Florence freaking Nightingale.

So although I may not know how to fold hospital corners on bed sheets, or how to iron a shirt properly, I am remarkably knowledgeable when it comes to medical ailments, thanks to my many years of practice.

My son is okay, and he is getting better. I am looking after him.
Just as I once looked after Nanny.
And just as Nanny once looked after me.

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