Tag Archives: work

The sun also burns

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because, Brisbane.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Family. Friends. A different kind of life.

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

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

We could have been really happy here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which I have already done.

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

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

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Sweet Child(care) of Mine

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

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

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

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

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

Dear V, S and M,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I will never forget our time here.

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

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Just write to Jesus, care of The Pentagon.

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

 

 

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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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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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Thursday Throwback #3 – A day in the life of

I have been rather focussed on the past in recent posts, so today, instead of a throwback to what my diary entries used to be like, I thought I would post an example of what a diary entry would look like now, if I actually bothered to write one. Enjoy!

Monday 7 April 2014

0130 – Wake up needing to pee. The joys of pregnancy. Remember from being pregnant with my son how many times I used to have to get up overnight. Currently only need to get up once and am thankful for that. Expect to be back asleep by 0200.

0200 – Am not back asleep. Have instead been kept awake by husband snoring. He is congested and sniffly and soon begins a marathon one hour sneezing fit. Wonder if I should just relocate to the spare bedroom but realise there is clean laundry all over the bed that I am yet to fold. Ask husband to relocate instead, but he assures me the worst is over.

0400 – Husband lied. Worst is not over. In between sneezing, Husband tosses and turns from side to side, ripping the doona off me. When he is still, he is snoring. I prod him in the back and say Shhh, you’re snoring! He replies with No I’m not – I’m not even asleep. I ask him if he thinks I am just making up a story about his snoring to entertain myself at four in the bloody morning. He doesn’t answer because he has fallen back asleep. I know this because he is snoring. Again.

0600 – Am wrenched from the depths of slumber by 2-year-old, shouting as he does every morning MUMMMMMMMMMMAAAAAAAAAAAAA! MUMMMMMMMMMMAAAAAAAAAAA!  Yell out to him that I am on my way. Wonder what sort of crazy child does not like to sleep in.

0601 – Realise I still have headache from the day before. Wish it was due to having a fun-filled bender last night, but as I was in bed at 9.30pm after inhaling a handful of choc chip cookies, this is not possible. Lurch out of bed. My growing bump is already causing me hip pain. Try to stretch. Fail. Instead, stand on child’s matchbox car. Swear. Dog starts barking. Swear at dog.

0602 – Husband still sneezing and complains of dizziness. The room is horizontal, he says. He lies back down in bed, to be horizontal like the room. Wish I was horizontal.

0603 – Enter child’s room. He tells me No, go away! Leave child’s room. He says Mummmaaaaaaa! Back! Wonder if I can appease him by lying on the floor, halfway across doorway. Dog is still barking. Yell at dog.

0610 – Remove child from his toasty, warm sleeping bag. Attempt to change his nappy. He kicks and flails and I try to remain patient whilst secretly wishing I could restrain him in some kind of metal harness. Suddenly he stops, and presents his delicious little feet up to my face for me to give his toes a morning kiss. I momentarily forget that I only narrowly avoided jaw dislocation by the same feet seconds earlier.

0615 – Realise husband is still in bed. Want to be sympathetic but am annoyed instead. Go to bedroom to retrieve work clothes that barely fit due to expanding girth. Change in lounge room, whilst keeping an eye on child who is demanding toast. Can hear husband sneezing from under our doona. Sigh.

0620 – Put bread in toaster. Child has been on a toast-only diet for longer than I can remember. I am nailing this parenting thing. Child sees me with bread and runs to kitchen where he demands, Up, up!  I slump over and hoist up his 15kg frame to allow him to see the toaster. He cries. He wants toast now. Toast has to go pop! I explain, pointing to the toaster. He doesn’t care. He continues to beg for toast. I give him half a piece of bread to shut him up. Tell myself it’s okay because it’s wholemeal.

0625 – Leave child on couch watching television and eating toast because when I attempt to put child in high chair he screams and refuses to bend his legs at the knee. Watch as Vegemite is smeared on my couch. No longer care.

0645 – Start to do hair and makeup in bedroom. My absence is noticed by child, who follows me. Child begins pulling things off dressing table – foundation, nail polish, hair brush. Ask husband to help. Husband is buried under pillows and cannot hear me. End up moving my pre-work preparations to main bathroom so I can keep an eye on child, who I hope will play with one of his gazillions of toys so that I can get ready for work. Child wants to stay with Daddy. Tell child that Daddy is sleeping. Mumble that Daddy is a lucky bastard.

0715 – Am finally ready for work. Pack child’s bag for child care. Cannot find child’s beloved Beebie (sleep toy) and commence frantic search around the house. Find Beebie snugly tucked up next to snoring husband. Grind teeth.

0730 – Dog barks again at innocent passers-by walking their (well behaved) dog. Again yell at dog. Tidy up remnants of toast scattered around the lounge room, and take toast leftovers to dog outside. Pat dog and tell him he is an idiot but we love him. Realise I am getting rained on while doing this. Hair ruined. Consider wearing baseball cap to work.

0740 – Husband tells me he is staying home from work today. Kiss husband goodbye and tell him to drink water. Husband is barely visible in bed due to ample coverage of doonas and pillows. He looks so comfortable and cosy which of course makes me full of rage. Consider suffocating him in a fit of anger but realise I need him to help me raise our growing brood of children. Leave him to sleep.

0745 – Try to get child to brush his teeth, but instead watch as he smears toothpaste all over one of his trains. Take toothbrush off child. Child cries.

0750 – Juggle child, child’s bag and my handbag and make mad dash to the car. No spare hands for umbrella. Child hates car. Child protests as I attempt to restrain him in his car seat. Child cries again. Very close to joining him.

0755 – Arrive at child care. Hope and pray that one of the educators from child’s usual room have arrived so that I can leave him with a familiar face. Prayers unanswered. Instead, child holds onto my leg and demands that I sit and play cars with him. I comply. Eventually one of child’s favourite carers arrives. He runs to her for a cuddle. I wonder if I could do the same. Kiss child goodbye. Bye bye mummy! he says, waving. Love his delicious little face, even if he can be a royal turd.

0810 – Am now trapped in the thick of peak hour traffic. Asshole in a van will not let me change lanes to gain access to freeway. Have lights flashed at me by enormous truck approaching me from behind. What does truck expect me to do? Turn 14 year old Corolla into a small aircraft and fly over unhelpful lane-blocking van? Swear and rant loudly, eventually pushing in front of van.

0815 – Am cut off on freeway by BMW driver with a personalised plate saying “BOSS”. Mutter special four letter curse word reserved only for driving. Rain is so bad I am now following BOSS’s tail lights and hoping for the best. Windows starting to fog due to Corolla’s temperamental airconditioning. Need to make choice between having a clear windscreen and freezing, or having a fogged windscreen and warmth. Opt to freeze.

work photo 1

0830 – Arrive at work. Catch woollen cardigan on car door as I try to extract myself from vehicle. Swear again. See male colleague I know in carpark and do a snappy trigger hand gesture at him to say hello. Realise as I get closer that I do not know this man. Suspect that this stranger now thinks he was cracked onto by horny pregnant woman. Cringe. Arrive at desk.

photo 2

0835 – Discover 15 emails in inbox, all urgent. Realise I haven’t had breakfast. Leave urgent emails in search of urgent food. Return to desk and hear single, male, childless colleague complaining about how tired he is. Apparently he just couldn’t get comfortable in bed last night. Want to stab him in the eye with my pen.

0900 – Attend meeting. Am barely awake and long for coffee, but the smell of it makes me want to hurl. Soon realise I can smell the coffee of the bloke sitting next to me. Start breathing through my mouth. Look like a panting dog.

1100 – Dangerously close to vomiting. Go in search of more food to keep nausea at bay. Don’t want to eat junk food but nothing of nutritional value is appealing to me. End up buying a Summer Roll. Reassure myself that coconut is healthy.

1200 – Can smell sausage rolls from my desk. Hate the smell of sausage rolls. Discover smell is emanating from a nearby work colleague eating lunch at his desk. Decide he is an inconsiderate prick who I should hit over the head with my keyboard. Infer that it is possible that pregnancy hormones are increasing my irritability.

1300 – Call husband. No answer. Wonder if he is still asleep. Consider doing a George Costanza and hiding under my desk for a nap but do not have a chance – am instead asked to complete more urgent work for another urgent meeting about an urgent matter. Sounds urgent.

1400 – Husband calls back. He was in shower and is feeling a bit better. Good for him. Tell him I am losing the will to live.

1500 – Attend urgent meeting. Discover months of work have been for naught, as proposals we opposed have just been announced as soon to be implemented by government. Put head in hands. Decide to take non-consultative government down from the inside by sleeping on the job.

photo 3

1600 – Discover I have had toothpaste on my dress all day. Child must have wiped his minty little hands on me as I was bundling him into the car. Prospects of climbing the corporate ladder seem slim. I decide I am too tired to be ambitious anyway.

1650 – Try to leave work. Am bailed up by colleague who is keen for a chat. I am keen to lie down. Eventually escape after 10 minutes of agonising small talk. Realise I need food for drive home, lest I throw up in the car. Have no money on me. Go to convenience store near work and buy a Who magazine and a muesli bar using EFTPOS. Shake my head as I leave wondering when I will ever have time to sit and read a Who magazine.

1715 – Battle peak hour traffic home again, in even more rain. Seven kilometre journey takes almost 50 minutes. Groan loudly.

1800 – Arrive home. Son and husband are playing on the floor and watching television. Cuddle and kiss them both. Want to collapse into bed but now need to make dinner. Frantically peel and cut vegetables and throw them into a saucepan with stock to make soup. Child is underneath my feet, demanding bikkie! Husband has already given child two bikkies. Tell child he has to wait until after dinner for bikkie number three. Child cries. Swear at husband.

1830 – Serve dinner to boys. Biggest boy is still sniffling and gratefully inhales my tasty soup. Smallest boy announces yucky! as soon as the bowl of soup is placed in front of him, and tries to tip it out. Catch bowl just in time. Try to reason with child that he has to try soup before deciding it’s yucky. He is not interested. Toast?  he asks. Give child toast. Again.

1845 – Guzzle my own (now cold) soup while child attempts to put his hands in my bowl. Offer child an apple. He takes two bites then gives it to me to finish. Tell myself child has now eaten a serving of fruit for the day. Feel better about my parenting.

1900 – Bath time. Child going through annoying phase of hating bath. Feel like child hates everything at the moment (except toast). Put child in bath. Child screams and cries, and will not sit down. Child begins to stamp his feet, which means chances of slipping over and cracking his head open are significantly increased. End up stripping off and getting in bath with child to hold him still. Consider concussing myself on purpose just to get a nap.

1915 – Husband removes child from bath and wraps him in a clean soft towel. I get no towel and am dripping wet. Child announces Poo, poo! Husband takes child back to bathroom to sit on toilet while I try to find a towel for myself. Child screams when put on toilet. Husband takes him off. Child screams when taken off toilet. Husband puts him back on. I consider checking into a hotel for the night.

1920 – Husband gets child dressed for bed and I throw on trackies and an oversized grey t-shirt with GOOD MORNING, VIETNAM! written on it. Wonder if husband still finds me attractive. Decide to ask him later.

1930 – Husband and I read book after book to child, who is now happily guzzling warm milk in bed, snuggling Beebie close. This is child’s favourite time of the day. I lie down next to child in bed, and cuddle up to his soft little face. Child pulls away as he cannot see the book properly. Sigh.

2000 – Husband leaves child’s room to bring crazy barking nut of a dog inside to our bedroom. I turn child’s bedroom lights off and kiss him goodnight. Child is still thrashing around on his bed like a giant fish and refusing to sleep. I lie next to him in the dark, patting his back and saying comforting words like shhhh and deep breaths. Child is eventually quiet. He is nearly asleep, as am I. We are jolted awake by the sound of a sneeze coming from the lounge room. Daddy go atchoo! child announces, now wide awake again. Curse Husband’s inability to muffle sneezes. Start to foam at the mouth.

2030 – Child is finally asleep. I tip-toe out of his room. Now have a chance for a shower of my own. Happily take my time enjoying steam, suds, silence. My peaceful moment ends abruptly when my hot shower starts to lose heat. Realise that husband has turned on the dishwasher. Frantically wash conditioner out of hair as hot water turns cold. Have never wanted a drink more in my life.

2100 – Husband asks if I want to watch a movie. Is he out of his mind? It is 9pm!

2130 – Realise I haven’t had my daily vitamin tablet, again. Every time I have it, it makes me want to vomit. Eat three choc chip cookies, take tablet, and then eat another cookie for good measure. Feel okay. Tablet should stay down.

2135 – Throw up cookies and tablet. Decide this is the perfect time to ask Husband if he still finds me attractive. He diplomatically touches my arm and says Well, you have been vomiting a lot of late. I have no comeback. Drag myself to bed while husband watches Fox Footy.

2140 – Quickly check Facebook and see status updates that annoy me. Decide to block/de-friend a number of people. Wonder if I am being irrational. Too tired to think straight.

2200 – Husband comes to bed. It is still raining and cold, so dog is sleeping in our bedroom tonight. Dog jumps up on the bed and lands on my ankle. Swear loudly. Tell dog to get off bed. Dog happily prances around bedroom, making sleep impossible due to jingling sound of his collar. Beg him to lie down.

2210 – Lights out. Cuddle up to husband. Eventually roll over to get ready for sleep. Oh how I have longed for this moment.

2220 – Husband starts to snore.

2225 – Husband continues to snore. Hit him. Hard.

2300 – Husband banished to spare room. He can sleep with the laundry.

2330– Finally get some peace and quiet. Will enjoy every blissful moment of it, until I am inevitably woken at 1am, needing to pee again.

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