Tag Archives: growth

Sink or swim

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And yet, I was not convinced.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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The good, the bad and the ugly.

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

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

Soon, wine.

My husband is at the gym.

He needs to punch something.

He needs some alone time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How did this happen?

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

Here they are, in no particular order:

Bedtime.

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

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

Space

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

The SAHD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The love

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

Peace of mind

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

Birthday

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

Nanny and Gran

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

But…

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

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

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

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

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My Christmas Gift

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