Thursday, March 27, 2014

I could dance all f*ck'n day ... oh yes I could

So ... it's been a while.  A lot has been bubbling away in my mind but nothing I've really wanted to write about.  That is, until today.

You see, I turned fifty last year and oh my goodness ... the moaning and grumbling and dislike for growing older that has spewed forth from me has been, well, a little lot over the top.

A couple of days ago I read something that stopped me in my tracks and gave me cause to take a long hard look at myself and the amazing privilege I have of growing older.

My friend Rebecca Sparrow wrote a blog post about embracing ageing and why her babysitter, Emma has made her feel this way.   Emma is 22 and has stage 4 melanoma ... to put it bluntly, this is a death sentence.  Emma won't turn 50, she won't turn 40 and it's possible she won't even turn 30.   Those years included some of the best times of my life ... life being the operative word.

I am alive and healthy.  I am also fifty and damn lucky to be so.  It's funny how I can look at that number now and not feel the angst I felt as little as seven days ago.  Reading Bec's post gave me cause to sit down and reflect on what being fifty means. 

I am lucky.  So very lucky.   My beautiful friend Suzy Connor died from cancer almost two years ago ... she didn't reach fifty, but while she was with us she gave life a damn good shake.  In fact I have worn a Suzy Connor Challenge charity bracelet on my wrist since she left us, to remind me that I am here.  In a way I have let her down by being so negative about turning fifty.

Another friend Tracy Rudd also died from cancer just over a year ago ... she also didn't reach fifty.  So many other people won't have the privilege of reaching fifty.  I am lucky.  I am fifty.

Over the last few days I've reflected on growing older and have realised some things that I'd not noticed before - some really important and empowering things.

I may be fifty but that doesn't mean I've stopped growing emotionally, spiritually and knowledge wise.  There is still so much I don't know and so much I still want to see and do. 

I will own the wrinkles around my eyes and mouth - they mean I have laughed and laughed and that my life has been filled with joyous moments.

I will also own the mistakes I've made, the lessons I've learned and relish in the way being fifty gives me a different perspective.

I have noticed that I worry less about small things.

I'm less self conscious.  I am much more comfortable with who I am and what I do and don't know.

Of course I still have some insecurities - to not have would make me arrogant.  But I'm okay with that.  Those insecurities will help me to continue to grow.

I will own my grey hairs because, well, they are mine, but I will cover them up with hair dye because I'm not quite ready to embrace grey hair yet.  I 'll save my Helen Mirren phase for when I reach sixty. Then look out ... I'll not only keep the grey hair but I'll be running around, on a beach in a bathing suit.  Oh yes I will!

This morning I saw a video on my Facebook feed ... thank you Nicky Pawsey Foster for sharing it.



The 88 year old lady in this video cemented very clearly in my mind that growing old is to be embraced and those of us who have the privilege of partaking in it ... should grab life as hard as we can and dance the shiz out of it.     As she says at the end of the video ... "I could dance all f*ck'n day".

She's right you know. 

Life may not be the party you expected, but while you are here you might as well dance!


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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Forgive me Father for I have sinned ...

If you are a Catholic and were subjected to the guilt filled upbringing that accompanies Catholic schooling and attending church every Sunday, you will have very strong memories of those words.

Last night I went to bed with a good dose of Catholic guilt - something I haven't had in quite some time.  

Oh don't get me wrong, I feel guilty about a whole lot of things ... working too much, not working enough, lunching with friends while hubby is working, not spending enough time with my teenagers, refusing to do my teenager's washing and the list goes on and on.  But that type of guilt is more "mother and wife" guilt.  

Catholic guilt is a whole other ball game.

Let me explain why I felt so guilty.

Last night I shamed someone on social media.  Shaming people, those less fortunate than me or those who have been caught on camera in awkward and unattractive poses, is not kind and something I have avoided doing.  Until last night.

I can't put my finger on why I thought it was okay to do it last night ... perhaps it was the fact that when I first saw the picture it did make me laugh.  Out.  Loud.  On face value it was very funny and the accompanying caption was very clever, and funny too. 

In hindsight ... not so funny.  Just mean and cruel.

I saw it earlier in the day when I was working, and out of respect for my employer I didn't share it at that time.  I have a rule that if it's not something I'd share to the listeners or on the work Facebook account I can't share it while I'm working.   That in itself should be enough to make me stop, think and assess whether I should share it at all.

Last night I saw it again in my timeline and quickly shared it with my friends.  Almost immediately I began to feel uncomfortable ... not enough to take it down though.   The cloud was starting to settle above me and the slow drizzle of guilt washed slowly over me.  By the time I got into bed the cloud was bucketing down on me and I lay in bed feeling all kinds of awful.  A friend* on Facebook commented that we should be celebrating people who feel comfortable no matter what they look like.  She is right.  So very right.

The lady I shamed was someone's daughter, mother, sister, friend ... somewhere she is something special to someone else. 

I was going to remove the post from Facebook this morning, but it seems Facebook has done that for me.  

Life is hard, really bloody hard for some people, and none of us have the right to shame people.  Somewhere, somehow the internet has made it okay to find people who look different and surreptitiously photograph them and post the photos on the internet for the world to ridicule.  We've all laughed at them.  We've all probably shared them.  Thankfully not all of us take the photos.

In a world where I have friends who are right this minute dealing with cancer, death, suicide, mental health and everything in between ... and in a world where millions of people are doing it tougher than I could even imagine ... I think we need to practice a lot more kindness, tolerance and Catholic guilt.  Or whatever it is that makes us stop and think about the things we do and say to others.

* Thank you Sandra Skelton for reminding me to be kind



Sunday, September 22, 2013

Life is a Carnival ... but DON'T send in the clowns!

Brisbane ... my Carnival.

Last week I blogged for the first time about growing up with a pedophile for a father.  I know it was difficult for some people to read and even more difficult for some people to know what to say to me. To those people - that's okay, you didn't need to say anything. 

I am okay.  In fact I am better than okay. On the Tuesday night after I blogged I was asked to talk about my experience on ABC radio with Rebecca Levingston.  Her Taboo Tuesday topic was child sexual abuse. It was nerve wracking to say the least but it was also terribly cathartic.  If you are interested you can listen here ... 

In the space of three days I wrote and spoke a story I've not told before - a story I've kept inside for over 45 years.  During the years I've told bits of it, I've hinted at things and I've also talked on radio briefly about it during my Conversation with ABC's Richard Fidler in 2011 ... but I'd never written down exactly what happened and how I felt. 

Today, one week later, I feel like a different person after these long held onto, unsaid words were finally spoken. I feel like I have moved from a murky pond into a pristine pool of clear water.  I've not talked about it before because I was always scared that once I said the words everything would change. I was right, everything did change, but not in the way I imagined.

I thought I might be judged.  I would always be known as "that girl who was molested" or I would be somehow tainted, used, dirty, different.  I am none of that.  I'm still me.  I am a survivor, but more than that I am happy.  

Someone asked me last week if I wished my life had been different.  I could honestly look them in the eye and say "no".  I do not wish for a different life.  If I had a different life I wouldn't be the me I am today, and damn it, I really like the me I am.

Granted some times have been tough - but that's life.  If I wasn't put up for adoption and if I wasn't adopted out to the family I went to, I wouldn't be sitting here writing this blog post.

I look around and I am so grateful for all that I have and all that I have become.  I've had to learn some tough lessons about love and I've had to live without love at various times in my life, but that has taught me to never underestimate the power of love and friendship when I have had it.  

I care deeply for my friends and family.  I may not be conventional and I may not understand how mothers and daughters love each other and the deep bonds of families, but I do know that I love my children fiercely and I love my husband with all my heart.

So no, I don't wish that my life had of been different.  For me, being able to help people is everything. If I can inspire one person who is struggling through a tough time to know that life is always worth living, and happiness exists in all different forms, it's all been worth it.

Life is what it is. It's how we deal with the hand we are given that makes it either a carnival or a catastrophe.  Personally I like carnivals - minus the clowns. I don't like clowns, or catastrophes.

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Saturday, September 14, 2013

Two Little Girls

Warning:  This blog post deals with child sexual abuse and might be disturbing to some people.

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Once upon a time there was a man and a woman who were unable to have a baby of their own.  They applied to adopt a baby and in August 1963 their dreams came true, a tiny girl baby was given to them by the state of New South Wales.

Two years later they had the joy of bringing home another little bundle of pink, gifted to them by the State.   A few years later a miracle occurred ... they fell pregnant naturally.   Nine months later another little girl was welcomed into the family.

This family of five eventually moved out of the small flat on top of a garage and into the home which had been built for them.  To all looking on it was a normal happy family, a man and a woman who had been blessed with three miraculous little girls.  They were special.

It should have been perfect.

It wasn't.

Behind the walls of the small fibro home, a father who should have been cherishing the daughters he had been gifted, was abusing that power in the most evil of ways.

A little girl should be tucked into bed, kissed good night and left to dream sweet dreams.   She should feel safe in her bed.

From a very young age the oldest of the little girls started getting special late night visits from daddy.

He was sneaky and only came in after she was asleep.  He would touch her with his hands and his penis, ever so softly in the hope she would stay asleep.  She was, by nature, a light sleeper and would wake up and pretend to stay asleep because she didn't know what to do.  At first she felt comforted by her daddy coming in and spending time with her, but there is a point when a little girl knows that what daddy is doing is not what a daddy should be doing.  This is when a little girl's world turns upside down and she is no longer an innocent little girl.

She would lay awake every night planning how to stop him coming in.  She would get out of bed after she'd been tucked in and leave piles of books and noisy toys in the pathway to her bed.  She would also lie awake as long as she could so she wouldn't wake up to him touching her in places that a little girl should never be touched.

He eventually stopped trying because the obstacles would make too much noise and her mother was sleeping in the room next door.  It didn't stop the little girl from lying awake at night for many years to come, wondering if he would start again.

During the day she managed to hide her bad thoughts away and get on with growing up.  She made friends, went to school and did all the things girls do.  Despite the awfulness of the secret she carried around, she had a full and reasonably happy childhood when she was away from the family home.

On the inside however she was always insecure.  She always had anxiety.  She never felt loved.  She always felt different.  She had a secret no one else had ... or so she believed.

She sometimes thought of telling her mother what her father had done but could never bring herself to do so.   She was scared that once it was said it could never be unsaid and life would change irrevocably for all of them. The strange thing was that even though the life they had wasn't right ... it was the only life she knew and she felt if their lives fell apart it would somehow be her fault.

She didn't know that down the hallway there was another little girl in the house going through the same thing.  She will never know if it was happening at the same time or whether it only started when it stopped happening to her.   For a long time she wondered and occasionally she would almost ask the other little girl, but could never find the right words.

Sexual abuse was never ever talked about in those days and the two little girls really didn't have a name to call what daddy was doing to them.

The two little adopted girls ultimately endured years of sexual abuse at the hands of this man.  This man who applied to adopt children under the guise that he would provide a good life for them.  That he would give them the love and security their natural parents couldn't.  This man abused the trust of the mothers who made the most difficult of choices thinking they were doing the best thing for their babies. This man who never should have been allowed to be a father.

It wasn't until the two little girls were married woman with children of their own that they found out they had both been abused by this man.

Unfortunately they had never been close as sisters and had never supported each other.  In fact the three little girls had never  been close.   They grew up quite a disparate group with the older two spending as much time away from the house as possible.  They were three very different people who shared two parent figures yet each sister led a totally separate life.

The eldest sister spent as much time as she could away from the family, ingraining herself into her friend's families.  She had close friendships which she would maintain for her entire life.  She would grow into a woman who understood friendships yet had no idea how to do love and families.

The middle sister would ultimately lead a troubled life, as she too must have had trouble with love and families.

The younger sister, who was the natural child, seemed okay.

I can only surmise as to how they both feel because this is not their story.  This is my story.  I am the eldest of the three sisters.

When I found out via a chance telephone conversation that my sister had been abused for years by our father everything changed.  I found out that she had made attempts to tell our mother but she was never believed.  Our mother didn't do anything to protect her children.  This was my turning point.

I was a mother and I would have done anything to protect my children.  I could not fathom how our mother could do nothing.  Having that man in my life while my boys were little was always a terrible conflict for me.  I hardly ever saw them and when I did I would never let him hold them nor did I ever let them be alone with him.

The day I found out for sure about my sister It took me ten seconds to tell her that I never ever wanted to see our mother or father again.  It transpired that he had abused my sister's daughter as well and she ultimately had him charged. I declined being part of the court case because I had moved on.  He was found guilty and died before he was sentenced. I never saw him again.

Cutting them out of my life finally gave me the ability deal with this secret I had been carrying around since I was 5 years old.

Dealing with it doesn't mean I can pretend it didn't happen.  I still have occasional flashes of disturbing memories and suspect I always will.  What it does mean is I know it wasn't my fault and I know that there is nothing wrong me.   It also means that I am not reminded of it every time I have dealings with that family.

Walking away wasn't easy ... I did have guilt.  I felt bad for punishing my mother for something my father had done.  She may or may not have known,  I will never know for sure.  But what I do know is she didn't do anything to protect us, especially when my sister had told her.   She is not alone, her natural daughter has always been close to her, and still is... this made it easier for me to walk away.

I am no longer a part of them and after eighteen years I can barely remember what being part of them felt like.   We all deal with things the best way we can ... this was my way.

Why am I writing this tonight?  An old school friend made contact with me today to tell me that my mother was in the hospital ... she had a fall.  I had to read her message a number of times to realise who she was talking about.  I felt strange because I felt nothing.  I felt guilty for feeling nothing.  This is the woman who fed and bathed me and put me through school.  I still felt nothing.  I eventually felt sad ... but only because I felt nothing.   The only thing I felt compelled to do was finally write about why I feel nothing.  I made my decision eighteen years ago and I don't regret it.

What I do regret is not having the ability to say anything when it was happening.  Unfortunately back then speaking up wasn't encouraged or supported.  Anything of a sexual nature was shrouded in secrecy, we were never ever told what sexual abuse was.

We have come a long way in dealing with child sexual abuse and I know if I had been born in this time, I would have spoken up for certain.

We must never stop talking about sexual abuse.

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If this blog post brings up any feelings or concerns that you are unable to deal with ... please call Lifeline 13 11 14 or Adults Surviving Child Abuse
ASCA's 1300 Line operates between 9am-5pm Monday to Sunday EDST*,

should you wish to send an email please email counsellors@asca.org.au

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

It's nice to remember where you came from ...


Those who read my blog may or may not know that I grew up in the town of Parkes ... you know ... that place in Western NSW made famous by "The Dish".   I like to think Parkes is famous because it was, and still is, the home of some really awesome people.

I've been a city girl since I was eighteen, but those first eighteen years I spent well and truly entrenched in country life.  I treasure that life ... whilst it wasn't always rosy ... it was where I grew up, and it made me who I am today.

I remember when I was eighteen I couldn't wait to move to Sydney.  I wanted nothing more than to get away from that small town.  I wanted adventure, freedom and a life where I didn't know what was around every corner.

I also wanted to escape the family I grew up with.  My first eighteen years were such a juxtaposition ... I loved what growing up in the country meant.  I loved the relationships formed and the close knit community.  I loved the values living in a country town taught me.  However at the same time I hated my home life.  I didn't love the life within my family, within the walls of the family home.  Terrible things happened there.  A totally dysfunctional family were living an even more dysfunctional life.

But you know what?  While that dysfunctional life was happening around me, I learnt to shut off from it.  I had an exceptionally strong fantasy world.  In fact, I could read a book and totally put myself in the story, to the point that when I finished a book, I was almost heartbroken.   It is why I loved reading a series so much ... I got to stay with the same people for longer.  Enid Blyton's Famous Five and Secret Seven were a big part of my growing up ... for so many reasons.  Still to this day when I finish a book there is a physical pain I feel when I realise I'm going to miss the people who had become part of my life for that period of time, though it isn't as intense.  These days I have a happy family life and I don't need the fantasy, but I guess old habits die hard.

Along with my books, I had some amazing friendships.  There were families who made me feel like I was one of them.  In my secret fantasy world I was a part of these families.  The Bennett's in particular. Kim Bennett, my best friend since pre school with Mrs Faulkner.  Aileen and Gordon Bennett - treated me like their own daughter.   Lisa Bennett, had to put up with an interloper spending so much time with them, be it roast lunches on a Sunday or going away on holidays.  I was always there.   Without the Bennett's love I doubt very much I'd be the person I am today.

Neighbours also played a huge part in my life ... Warwick and Judy Johnstone and their three children who I babysat for as often as possible.  I spent many a night staying over at their place ... sleep overs were also key to saving my sanity.    Other neighbours also unknowingly gave me a safe place to stay.  Ann & Jim Jennings and Carol Godden.  These people have no idea the huge part they played in my life.

As I'm writing this I'm thinking about how life has a funny way of turning out okay.  If these people didn't open their homes and hearts to me, I doubt I'd be standing here writing this blog post, living the fantastic life I now have and feeling like I have a reasonable dose of sanity.

I have always lived my life as an adult caring about others, putting myself in their shoes and always making sure I have a place in my heart for anyone who needs it.  I haven't consciously tried to be this way, but I guess I am paying forward the love and kindness that was given to me.  No one knew of the life behind the walls of our home, no one knew anything ... yet people cared for me and gave me exactly what I needed.

What I am trying to say is that we really don't know what is happening in the lives of those around us, even those we are very close to, so to one person it might just be a "friendship" yet to someone else it might just be everything.  You never really know.

What started off as a little post to include some audio from a radio interview last night has turned into a missive of sorts.  The words just kept coming and it felt wrong to stop them.

Why am I so nostalgic for my home town?

Geoff Anderson, a boy in the grade above me (correction) my grade - oops, sorry Geoff, has managed to pull together the people of Parkes who are scattered across the world, by creating a wonderful Facebook page ... Parkes - In Photos of Years Gone Past.  In literally a week this page has almost 3,000 followers.   Bear in mind the population of Parkes is only around 10,000.

I am a radio producer at the ABC and I also have a weekly segment on Tuesday nights.  It just so happened that last night we were broadcasting to Queensland, New South Wales and the ACT ... which meant I was being heard in Parkes!   I talked to Rebecca Levingston about the Parkes Facebook page and how lovely it was to be in touch with those from where I once came.

If you missed it, you can download the audio here.   Enjoy!

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