Birthday Thoughts

Yesterday I became a year older. “Not a small achievement,” I thought to myself, considering I was convinced I wouldn’t make it past 40 years (I did, have, will continue).

Those were my silly 20-year-old thoughts. The ones you have where you look at your parents and believe them to be ancient. The ones where you can’t imagine growing ‘old’.

Of course, I am now older than my mother was when she became a grandmother. I am twice the age my father was when I was born. I don’t feel old, really, except when my back is sore and I’m limping along, but my mind is not that of a middle-aged woman.

My daughter doesn’t think I’m old. I’ve obviously modelled youthfulness to her. She doesn’t view being over 40 as a fate worse than death. She’s also good for my battle with body image. The thickening is happening and my inability to exercise is not assisting me in my battle to send it packing. She reminds me of all of the things I’ve said to her as she negotiates the maze of the 20s and the expectations on what women her age will look like.

There’s nothing more that I can share with you now. I need to keep things close for a while. I need to process the tumultuous times that have preceded my birthday, the twists and turns that have plagued my little family. We are all coming out the other side. Another year older, maybe wiser, not dead yet.

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Here is the delicious lemon meringue pie, made for me by my whizz-in-the-kitchen daughter, as birthday cake.

From Food And Drink To Life And Death – A Normal Everyday Journey

Tonight’s slow roast topside was delicious. Special beef from our friend’s farm, so tasty, done with a red wine jus. Lacking a serious red to accompany it (the wine for cooking was an older bottle left for cooking) we settled for a lovely méthode champenoise from Phillip Island, a gift from friends whose chickens we fed and plants we tended while they holidayed. It is as delicate and creamy as when we tasted that first bottle at their place. So good.

I’m not sure if you’ve noticed a theme yet here on this blog but I think there’s a bit of discussion of food and alcohol. I must admit I do love eating and drinking. I also love smoking but that has been left by the wayside. It’s something I still miss every day. If my incessant prattle about what I’ve eaten and drank puts you off then you’d best go read another blog. What I eat and drink are as much part of my life as who I’ve seen or what little bit of self-knowledge I’ve gleaned this day.

You cannot separate this woman from her food and drink. We are intimately joined in a relationship that is healthy and necessary. I love to eat and food is made to be eaten. I love a wine (beer, gin, whiskey) and there’s so much lovely stuff to be drunk.

I used to worry that I might end up like my grandfather, an alcoholic, but a few years ago I gave up alcohol, to prove I could. I didn’t drink for three years. I barely missed it. The giving up wasn’t a trial or ordeal. The staying away from it wasn’t difficult or fraught. The hardest part was going to parties and having to refuse a drink offered.

Australia is still all about alcohol as a celebratory tool and my friends were no different. They’d look at me confusedly and, because I could laugh it off, not push it too much but the pressure to drink was strong. I hate to think how that pressure might have felt if I had given up because I was an alcoholic. I remember that feeling now when I’ve friends over or I’m having a party and, although it might seem like I’m a neglectful hostess, I leave each person to get their own drinks, no pressure here.

My grandfather’s alcoholism was a product of his immense grief. His wife (my grandmother) died when she was 51 of a heart attack. It devastated more than just him, there were seven children, my mother the eldest and the only one who had left home (as a married woman). My youngest uncle was eight years old. Nonetheless my grandad fell into a miasma of grief that revolved around his Woodbines (cigarettes) and his whiskey. He left his children to look after each other, interrupting only to exert his will, usually with a strap.

I never saw this side of him, I was too young and then I was in Australia and he was in England. He visited when I was about eight, my youngest uncle was 15 and came with him and so did his brother, 19 and as tall and gangly as their father was short and round. I remember fishing at the river with him and him making ‘cheese dreams’ (bread and cheese fried until the cheese melts – very healthy) for breakfast. He always smelt of whiskey and cigarettes, a smell I found quite pleasant.

He died when he was 68, many years after his wife (he was about 5 years younger than her) from a series of strokes, each leaving him more debilitated. His daughters looked after him. He came out to Australia one last time before he died, for my Aunt’s 40th birthday, about a year before he died. He still smoked and drank, refusing to abandon these addictions that were his undoing.

If I think about my family history, medically it’s not so good. My nearest ancestors haven’t lived very long lives. I hope that they lived happy ones, though. I think I’ll keep on living my life with joy and vigour. I hope I’ll last longer than my forebears.

Confessions Of A Woman Who Will Survive

The dull hum of shock is slowly receding and I can start to collect the pieces of my life and reset on my journey. Not so for Rosie Batty, who will carry the hurt and trauma with her forever after.

There are a few things that have been happening of late that have made me re-assess what I’ve held secret and hidden from most people. We all have secrets, some are held in shame, some are held to reduce pain, some are profound, some are simple. My secret has been held, not tightly but relatively closely, for over 20 years. It was a secret just between two people for 11 years before that.

One of the factors that is allowing this secret to now become a story, a touchstone, in my life, is that the one person I felt I needed to protect and keep it secret from has now been told. It wasn’t an easy telling and the timing was pretty lousy. I had to re-tell it, as my brother had decided to blurt it out to my daughter.

Uncaring and with the blinkers of self-interest on, he casually asked her if my father had really sexually abused me as a child. She didn’t have an answer, I’d never discussed it with her. She confusedly hung up the phone and went to her room. I noticed but I didn’t understand. I was in the lounge room. Then the question, yelled from the bedroom. “Mum, did Poppa sexually abuse you when you were a child?” The question cut through me. I’d kept this from her for years and, of late, the imperative to not say anything was more urgent – she had her own hurts to recover from, unrelated to mine – I said no. I said no. I mumbled it but in a raised voice because I couldn’t walk down the hall to her room. “Oh”, she said, her voice shrugging, “________ said you told him he had. He asked me if it was true.”

The subject, according to her, was closed. I had said no, she believed me as I never lie to her. I know I never lie to her. I hold that as a sacred trust that I will not lie to my daughter. She knows I never lie to her.

I call my brother, outside, away from my daughter, and blast him from here to breakfast. It’s a one minute phone call of fury, he doesn’t get to say much. I tell him that of course our father did this. Children don’t make that stuff up. My father sexually abused me for 11 years from the age of six years old until just after I turned 17, a long bloody time. I tell my brother to fuck off and never bother me or my family again if he can’t be bothered to believe me.

I take a deep breath as a I hang up. I look at my wife and say, “I have to tell her, I can’t keep this secret from her any longer”.

I walk down the hall. It’s a long hallway, plenty of time to think about how I’ll say it. I’ve said it before though. I’ve said it to my mother, my sisters, my brother, boyfriends, girlfriends, close friends and other friends, counsellors, psychologists and to my father. Now, though, I have to say it to my daughter. I’ve protected her from this because I wanted her to have a relationship with my family and that included my father.

“Sweetheart, I need to talk to you”, I say as I knock on her door. Her answer is non verbal, her eyes lift from the computer screen and she waves me in. I sit on her bed and take her hand. “You know that question you just asked me before? Well, I didn’t say the truth. I was in shock that you asked me and I blurted out no but really it should have been yes. Yes, my dad sexually abused me as a child. I’m sorry that you had to find out this way. It was thoughtless of my brother to ask you. I’ve blasted him. More importantly I want you to know why I didn’t tell you, until now.” I look at her for cues. She says, “You didn’t have to tell me, I believed you.”
“I know”, I respond, “that’s why I had to tell you. I always tell you the truth, to leave it would be a lie.” I adjust my position on the bed so I’m looking straight at her, “I wanted you to have a relationship with all my family, despite what my father did to me, and so I chose not to tell you until I thought you were ready. First, you were too young, then he died, then you had your own stuff to deal with. I wouldn’t have told you now but this happened. I always watched out for you, though, and my father knew that his life was forfeit if he hurt you – ever.” I took a big breathe to stop the tears from leaking out of my eyes. “If you have questions I will answer them. If you don’t want to talk about it I’ll respect that too. If you want to ask me about it at any time, you can.”

Silence.

Then she reaches over to hug me and says, “I don’t want to talk about it. I didn’t need to know but I understand why you told me.”

I hug her back, “He always loved you. He always loved me too but his actions were wrong”, and I get up and leave.

I’ve held this so close, for so long, I’m not sure what to do with the freedom that this has given me. Now, a few months later, the freedom has started to coalesce into a purpose. I’ve been in a women’s circle, doing a course, and it’s ease and safety makes perfect sense to me as a vehicle to build peer support for women who have experienced sexual violence. I’m building a plan. I’m doing the research. I’m going to start a group. I have my first participant and we will find others and we will talk and laugh and cry and support and recoil and recover and heal and survive.

Joys Of The Day

It’s a grand day when you can sit on your couch, in clothes, and not be losing half your weight in perspiration. Well, it is in my life, anyway. Others may have different joys; that mine is that I can actually enjoy being in my house at 5.30 in the afternoon – on previous days this time has been headed toward that particular torture of your house being hotter than the temperature outside and probably hotter that the top temperature reached that day – is not to be sneered at.

I almost feel like dancing. Almost. It would cause perspiration and, since we are celebrating the lack thereof, it seems self-defeating and counterproductive. Instead, dear reader, you got a blog post that celebrates life rather than bemoans it. I don’t come to my posts with a plan. You get whatever I have buzzing around in my head. Sometimes it’s fuelled by anger, sometimes by pain, sometimes by whimsy. Today it’s joy!

What other joys can I find while I’m in the right mood for joy? Well, even on hot days there is that particular joy of running through the sprinkler. My wife found an old one of her grandfather’s, it’s a little old but it still works. In the days we have had of late it has been glorious to go outside and turn it on, get a little sprinkled, retreat to dry off and be cool, get wet some more moving it to a new location, get another dose of wet trying to get the chickens or the dogs, steam some of it off laying on the freestanding hammocks. Repeat until the mosquitoes start coming out to feed on your blood. Oh, I’m heading out of joy territory.

The joy of watching the room of stink slowly enter boxes and then get moved out into the shed, waiting for the pup’s imminent house move is bittersweet, but it is joy. It means that we may even be able to have guests stay over. Guests! The first time that she left she only took a few things, essentially leaving her room intact. We tried to pack it away, clean it up, tackle the terrible ‘horder’ within, each time we took a bit down to her she’d bring something back, when she visited, to replace it. We fought hard but lost. This time there is a semblance of preparation and the room is being sorted. Admittedly, my sister is doing a wonderful job working in the stink pit. It’s better this way. Her infinite patience means that the pup has actually made some decisions about throwing things out or giving them away. She is finding stuff she forgot she had. We are gaining a room that we can renovate and then put to use. It gives me joy.

This move out of home means the pup will be away and doing her own thing and making her own decisions. This is also joyful. In some ways it is sad, she will again be distancing herself from me, I can’t be too sad though as it is what we both need. The pup needs to grow, in a safe space, and find her way. When she is home with me her tendency to revert to ‘child’ means that growth is stunted and peppered with my staccato denials to her demands that I be her chauffeur or cook or housecleaner or decision maker or knight in armour. I know she can do these things herself and I can show her the evidence of when she did do those things herself, recently, and with aplomb. I am joyful that my daughter is going this time with some sort of a plan and most of her stuff.

Other joys are many. I am healing, my back is gaining strength, my pain is less. The chickens are laying again. They went on strike because of the heat but have had to release eggs the last couple of days. I’ll be getting a little extra in pay this week, we might be able to afford my car registration. I have a roof over my head and food to eat and a crop of peaches about to ripen on the tree outside my lounge room. We have friends who are clever and kind and caring and generous and a delight to be around.

The greatest joy, though, is that through all the joys and all the less than joyful times, I have my wife by my side. We make a good team. We think about things differently, which means when we tackle problems as a team we come up with some great solutions. We talk to each other about stuff, big, little, good and bad. It keeps us together, in harmony, united and strong. We laugh together and face each day knowing that we are both working to make our lives together the best ones they can be. I’m grateful to have found a partner in life who is willing to take on a journey that is only partly hers; some mine, some my daughter’s, but all ours.

Families Can Make You or Break You

Watched a documentary on Andrea Dunbar, British playwright of the 80s. Her first play, written when she was 15, was called The Arbor. It was basically her life on a Council Estate, writ large for stage. Oh my goodness, what a bloody mess her life was. The generational poverty and the neglect that went on and was passed down to her and then her children. Families can be mighty and then they can be prisons.

You watch it with your mouth open, seeing her eldest daughter mirror her mistakes and then magnify them, distort them, create her own hell and eventually (possibly) find a way through it. You watch all the others around this daughter blame her and hold her solely responsible for what she has done without once considering what went into her as a child; what she saw and heard and had done to her.

I know that people are responsible for their actions but abuse and neglect take their toll, exact their penance. Some people find a path through it that leaves them and others fairly intact. Sometimes the path weaves back and forth, between destruction and redemption eventually settling into some happy medium, and other times the path is gone, destroyed, impenetrable, a complete train wreck. We don’t know enough about the human psyche to predict which path someone might take but we know enough about what neglect and abuse can do to a child’s brain development. I watched the show compelled, almost unable to look away. It was quite devastating, actually.

It made me think about my family, not just my immediate birth family but the extended family of both of my parents. There’s some darkness in there, tragedy and hurt and pain and twisted-ness. I don’t know what it was, where it came from. Was it just the times? Was it the place? Was it the war, did that start the damage? It’s something I think I need to explore more about. It’s a mystery I need to try to piece together.

Introducing the Amazing, the Magnificent, the Just Damn Ordinary, Actually.

We have two more mouths to feed as of today. I say we because, even though most of my posts have just been about me (well, enough about me, what do you think about me?), there is more than just me that makes up this unit.

There is my wife. I say wife because we were married on our property a little over three years ago. A celebrant came and performed the ceremony. Our friends and family gathered to witness our union. We crafted our vows together, shopped for our wedding outfits, organised a caterer, set up a party space and, on the day, we both had those permanent ‘wedding smiles’ you see on the faces of all those couples you’ve seen get married. You know, the ones that just can’t be wiped off; every photo of them, together or with others, has them standing there with a stupid grin on their face and the next morning they wake up and their face actually hurts because they were smiling so much. Yeah, that wedding smile.

Of course, as we live in Australia, we are still not equal to most people living in Australia; we can’t actually get legally married. There is no capacity in our country at this stage, because, according to the Marriage Act amendment instigated by ex PM John Howard, and agreed to by the then Labor opposition, marriage is between a man and a woman only. This must be stated by the celebrant at the ceremony, every time, prescribed wording in fact. If the celebrant can’t state that and be telling the truth then there is no legal marriage. I’m not a man and neither is my wife, so we don’t fit the criteria for marriage in our country. It’s doesn’t really matter. I still feel married. I still know that my family and her family witnessed our ceremony and saw us make a commitment to each other but it still, in many ways, makes my relationship seem less important or less legitimate than my sister’s (she married a man).

I know this because my mother rings me to remind me that it is my sister’s wedding anniversary (I know mum, they got married the day before my wife’s birthday) but doesn’t send me an anniversary card for my wedding date. I know this because, now that my sister is married to a man, if either of them dies intestate the other’s worldly goods will go to the surviving partner, but if that happens in my relationship… well suffice to say I’ve made a will.

I thought I might avoid politics in this blog but it does seem that the personal is political. When I write about my relationship as a marriage I am making a political statement. I am not here to debate the merits of marriage equality, though. I’ll leave that to other more eloquent people.

Anyway, I digressed, as I was introducing you to the ‘we’. The other part of the ‘we’ is my 20yo daughter (hereafter referred to as ‘the pup’). She did leave home when she was 18 but was back 18 months later, needing some time and space to recoup and regain her confidence. She is almost ready to leave again (nearly a year later) and has been busy looking at places to rent with some friends. In the meantime, she has been chief animal wrangler while I’ve been out of action with sciatica (when she’s here, of course).

And the mouths I referred to? Well, we are now the careers for two extra chickens, refugees from their home country which was being invaded by foxes (their other two friends were taken in brazen daylight raids). That brings our animal total to:
Two dogs,
Two cats,
Five chickens, and
One rooster.

I don’t think the two extra chickens will cause too much of a burden on our family, and they might provide a pleasant surprise for the pup when she goes in to lock them up on her first night back home since we gained them.

I’m sure there will be more posts about the animal circus we are developing here. The wife wants them all; goats, alpacas, sheep, cows, pigs, but I have resisted so far. We need a bloody good holiday first.