It Wasn’t The Lack Of Compassion That Hurt, It Was The Lack Of Understanding about Mental Illness and Addiction

I had been feeling upbeat over the past few weeks, ahead of our run for breast cancer – which we nailed by the way, raising in excess of $800 for research. And then I stumbled upon a FB share of an old article of mine that was published by News.com last year.

Photo by Matt Collamer on Unsplash

As a writer of contentious topics (for some) – ADHD, feminism, inequality, mental health – I realise that I put myself in a glass house when one of my articles is published, and I have learned not to read comments from trolls.

This particular article was a highly personal piece about Kurt, detailing his struggles with his mental health, and my reasons for coming full circle on my views about cannabis legalisation. It was an opinion piece – hence, bait for comment and constructive criticism – to which I am always open.

However, many of the comments were not constructive. They were subjective – targeted directly at me as the author and mother. They laid the blame for Kurt’s issues squarely at my feet, and it was that lack of understanding about mental health and addiction that hurt the most – even more than their lack of compassion.

It was a slap in the face to realise that in spite of the attempts of fantastic organizations such as Lifeline and Headspace and various media outlets to improve awareness about mental illness, (as well as the increasing numbers of kids that are taking their own lives), that many people still believe that kids with mental health issues deserve no support, and should even be punished for not towing the societal line.

I am used to being held responsible for Kurt’s choices. Sadly, blame starts with the parents when it comes to ADHD, although there has been a gradual shift in attitude in recent years, thanks in part to the increasing acknowledgement and support of the condition by world governments.

And I can (sort of) see why. A child with impulse control or oppositional issues can look like a monster when you peer in from the outside. However, that refusal to show compassion or to probe more deeply into understanding the condition is why so many of these kids end up being bullied, isolated and rejected, leading to depression, self-harm, OCD and self-medication.

When it comes to inclusion, attitude is the biggest problem we face. But trust me when I tell you that any child with mental health issues who self-mutilates or lines up pills on the carpet is not “attention-seeking” (by our common acceptance of the term). They are seeking attention for help.

Beyond the public condemnation, perhaps the hardest part of the journey for parents or carers is the lack of support, the sense of isolation and the self-blame. That’s why I wrote that article. For others out there, like us, going through what we did and feeling alone.

It has taken years for me to come to terms with the fact that I am not to blame for Kurt’s struggles.

Sure, if I had my time again I would handle some things differently, but I know that no child could have been loved more. We raised our kids identically. We put the same boundaries in place that we did for NC, and like any normal teenager, she tested those boundaries. The difference was, NC was able to distinguish which of her strikes for independence were worth the consequences – unlike Kurt, who was encumbered by poor impulse control.

I try to give people the benefit of the doubt – at the very least until I have all the facts or I have met them personally. Rather than judging a book by its cover or from local gossip, I arm myself with as much information as I can before I draw my conclusions. When did we stop doing that as a society? When did we decide that it was acceptable behaviour to take a pop at someone for our own entertainment?

Surely, there can be no excuse for ignorance when we have access to information at our fingertips?

Social media has made it easy to bully without consequences and I fear that we are losing our sense of compassion. So before you jump right in with your heart rather than your head, remember that there is a real person at the other end of posts or comments, who is often motivated by doing good. That person has a heart and possibly a full wardrobe of skeletons that you know nothing about.

Mothers: Admit It, We Never Stop Worrying About Our Kids

Mothers, be careful with those little comments you drop into the conversation each time you see your adult kids (who have left home) and look like they haven’t eaten a square meal that month.

You know the type – How much fruit are you eating? ARE YOU EATING? You’re looking a bit pale, or How firm are your stools? The type that all of us mums just can’t help ourselves from asking.

Well, take my advice and shut the f..ck up, because those comments could come back to haunt you. Such is my fate since I foolishly peered into my son’s fridge and made an innocent comment about his beer diet.

‘Well, I was thinking…’ he replied the other night when he came around to ours for what looked like his first feed this month, (having obviously decided that this was the perfect window of opportunity for some long overdue Mum -manipulation), “that maybe you could deliver me a care package, once a week, for those difficult days leading up to pay day?’

‘What does a care package entail?’ I asked naively.

‘You know…a batch of Shepherd’s Pie, Bubble and Squeak – I’ll even eat your Lasagne if I have to. Something I can knock up easily myself…’ Ie. In his frying pan, which happens to be the only pan in his unit.

‘Perhaps you need to learn some money management,’ I replied wryly, fully aware of how he prioritises the half of his earnings that don’t go on rent.

‘Perhaps you need to remember that you were young once too,’ he reminded me with that twinkle in his eye that he knows makes me melt at the knees.

And he has got a point. I spent a considerable part of my twenties on the Marlboro and hot chip diet, and it’s not like I’ve got anything better to do in between my three jobs and nagging my husband (!). Of course I can sacrifice a few hours a week slaving away in the kitchen to make sure that my twenty-one year old little boy doesn’t waste away.

But just putting this out there – no one bought me care packages.

So, anyway, call me a “Sad-Fuck-Of-A-Helicopter-Parent, but three Shepherds Pies were dutifully delivered to the next suburb on Saturday afternoon, along with step-by-step instructions for how to heat them up. Of course, the old man refused to have any part of what he calls my “pathetic enabling”, although he did mention that if there were any leftovers, he’d have one instead of salmon on our next fish night.

‘Where are my care packages,’ NC grumbled in a text when she sniffed signs of sibling favouritism from the city.

And so, it appears that the old man was right about one thing and wrong about another. He was wrong when he told me that no one really likes my home cooking – as was the dead fox outside our bins all those years ago that I have been reminded about after every one of my cooking fails. But he has been right all of those millions of times when he has said that I will never stop worrying about our kids.

Whereas, he appears to be coping quite admirably.

My Kids Will Be Able To Say A Lot Of Things About Me, But Never That I Didn’t Love them.

people-3080887_1920

A friend asked me the other day about how I felt about Mothers Day, and I knew that the question was loaded – you see, I haven’t had a mother for a long time. And for the first time, it struck me that I don’t view the celebration from the perspective of my own mother. I lost her too young to remember her as a real person, so my only association with the day is as a mother to my own kids.

 

There are times when I would love to be able to recount stories of our time together. And in those fourteen years, we did make stories  – on family days out, cheap holidays, when we grew vegetables together at the end of the garden or searched for our runaway tortoise – and yet most of those memories are clouded by her struggles as a single mother, her battle to keep working to provide for three small children, to keep the car running, to keep the smile on her face.

 

Perhaps, that’s why I’ve never allowed myself to fully commit to Mothers Day, with no mother to spoil, to take out to dinner, or to have a monthly spat with – which I understand is very common. And perhaps that’s why I can be somewhat cynical about these ‘special’ days, which can throw up all sorts of pain for those that are excluded or feel isolated – mothers that have lost children, children that have lost mothers, adopted children, mothers that have lost connection with their children. And Mother Day, in particular, sugarcoats a biological responsibility that is not necessarily ‘the best thing’ EVERY woman has ever done. The day can highlight shame and failure for some, as well as the smug gratitude of those women lucky enough to have cultivated perfect relationships with their children – if they do, in fact, exist.

 

Relationships between parents and their children are not always Waltons or Brady-esque. Sometimes, they are not straightforward, as Nikki Gemmell exposes in her book, ‘After,’ which I picked up recently as research for my manuscript. Nikki’s story covers the ways she handled grief after the death of her mother, and yet for me, the greatest comfort I took from the book is her honesty about her tricky relationship with her mother, because it forced me to recognize similarities between her mother’s behavior and my own.

 

Sadly, only after years of distance between them was Nikki finally able to make peace with her mother, only to be shattered a few years later by her mother’s suicide – perhaps, her final act of revenge, in Nikki’s eyes. Personally, I can’t imagine the guilt attached to losing your mother to suicide. Can you imagine the questions you would be forced to ask yourself, even if you knew that chronic pain was at the root of her reasoning? Can you imagine the sense of betrayal? That the person that gave birth to you should choose to leave you in such a way?

 

I’ve said this many times before, and I’ll say it again: relationships are complicated –  particularly family relationships, where the blood connection can force us to continue with toxic, destructive alliances. Anyone who has produced a child that went against the grain will recognize the sense of shock and the grief for the child you expected to have.

 

The death of my own mother, along with the distant relationship I have experienced with my father at various periods of my life has affected my relationships with my children. Not necessarily for the worst. At times, my insecurity has made me cling too hard and suffocate them; at others, my aloofness, lack of empathy and lack of a filter have left them feeling confused and unloved. I am not a perfect mother; and yet I am the only mother they have. And in the end, when they describe to my grandchildren the ways I fucked up their lives, they won’t be able to say that I didn’t love them. Just like I can’t about my own mother.

 

Motherhood, Togetherness, Warts and All

I’m not proud of the fact that I was so hung-over on Mothers Day that I was on diet soda for my celebratory lunch with my kids. 

chair-1940966_1920

I could blame the friends we had lunch with the day before – a lunch that turned into dinner – although, in our defense, the whole idea of lunch was so we would be able to function the next day. And I might have got away with it if we hadn’t walked into the latest family crisis as soon as we opened the front door – a crisis that required instant love, cuddles and more wine to help us put the pieces back together.

 

It’s called being a mom. It’s not about being perfect and waiting around for the balls to drop, it’s about doing your best when the shit hits the fan. It’s about when your Mother’s Day lunch – meticulously planned by your daughter – goes pear-shaped because everyone’s tired and emotional and one child still hasn’t got over his crisis, turns up an hour late and eyeballs you with genuine hatred throughout the meal. And you feel his pain viscerally – almost as intensely as when you gave birth to him – and want to help him even if he is an adult and has hijacked the one day of the year that should rightfully be yours. Again.

 

But you also know that there is only so much you can do, and your head still hurts from those countless bottles of Rose you succumbed to the day before because kind ears wanted to listen, and although the steak pie is hot and steaming and should be a comfort, there are more mushrooms than steak and it is still not as appealing as your bed.

 

And you look at those two beings opposite you at the table that you made and remember that they are yours, and even if you aren’t that perfect family in the soap powder ads, and those pink balloons above your table are likely to burst at any minute, a rush of emotion and gratitude comes over you, because you are together, warts and all.

Crap Parent Therapy: ‘Consulting’ Rather Than ‘Enabling’

I had to go back for a session of ‘crap parent therapy’ last week, tail between my legs, following another situation with Kurt where the parenting shit hit the fan and the old man and I found ourselves sucked into another potential vacuum of despair. urban-1002149_1280

 

Patiently, the therapist reminded me for the umpteenth time about the distinction between ‘loving’ kids like Kurt rather than ‘enabling’ them, something that is a complicated and fine line in my relationship with my son, due to the allowances I make for his mental health issues.

 

I returned pumped and ready to tow the party line, feeling secure once again in the knowledge that a bit of tough love is what all children need, and that I have to be a “consultant” to my son now rather than a “helicopter;” a “supporter” rather than a “pushover”.

 

The problem with ‘enabling’ is that our kids never learn about responsibility. Because when you help your child out of every mess they land themselves in, they avoid the consequences of their actions and ultimately that reduces their confidence and self-esteem – something many middle-class families are guilty of. Then, when these children reach their twenties without the ability to problem-solve, or seem apathetic or unfocused, we accuse them of being ‘entitled.’

 

It’s not necessarily their fault, or ours for that matter; the problem has developed from the way society has evolved with the move away from close family and its support and to both parents working.

 

‘We used to learn from tribes, or large extended families and communities. Now we have small, geographically scattered families, often with parents who work long hours. Some transfer skills they learned over years in a goal-oriented job to raising their children in the hope this will give them the resources to withstand unpredictable futures.’ (The Kids Are Alright – If You Leave Them Alone by By Shaoni Bhattacharya)

 

I was given my first test sooner than I expected last night, when Kurt messaged me on FB with the message ‘I’m in trouble’ just after midnight – frankly, the stuff of nightmares.

 

Still groggy from sleep, I called him back immediately, imagining the worst, and felt my blades begin to rotate.

 

He was drunk and had been thrown out of a club for disorderly conduct somewhere in Metropolitan Sydney – he had no idea where. As much as the old man tried to reassure me that this was fairly average teenage behavior…not so much when you’re as anxious AF.

 

As calmly as I could, I reminded our son about the Google App on his phone so that he could determine his location, cursing once again that he hadn’t let me add him to ‘Find My Friends.’

 

When he told me he was in Redfern, I almost lost control of my bodily functions. Redfern is hardly downtown LA, but it’s not where you want your son to be non compos mentis late on a Saturday night.

 

After several vain attempts to get some sense out of Kurt, I told the old man I was going to call a cab, and tried to ignore the way he rolled his eyes in despair.

 

Tell him to walk home, he said helpfully, before reminding me about the times he had been forced to sleep under cars or walk miles to get home. Then, with a shrug of his shoulders that I know to be disappointment he pissed off to sleep in NC’s room, putting on his invisibility cloak at the same time.

 

The voice of the therapist in my head tried to remind me that I shouldn’t be problem-solving for our son, who at nineteen has to take responsibility for his choices, but those two words that haunt all mothers – ‘what if?’ – wouldn’t shut up.

 

I ruminated for a minute or two then decided that I would never live with myself if something happened to him in the four hours that he had to wait for the trains to start up again. Even if the old man never talked to me again, I knew I had to follow my gut instinct.

 

Get yourself a cab‘, I told Kurt, knowing it wasn’t the right resolution but needing confirmation that my son would be safe.

 

He was unable to. He hadn’t taken his bankcard out with him, in case he lost it like he had the other ten bankcards over the past twelve months. He told me he would start to walk, while I began to get heart palpitations.

 

Unable to sleep, I called him back ten minutes later, the helicopter blades above my head roaring now. I was ready to take off. Anxiety had stepped in and in a final desperate attempt to ensure the safe journey of my son back to my bosom I offered to get up and pay for the cab at the door when he arrived.

 

It’s okay, he shouted excitedly, ‘I’ve found a bike and I’m cycling back‘.

 

Problem solved.

 

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I decided not to question him about the bike.

Remember The School Gates? Getting Old Isn’t All Bad

A friend recently wrote to me about how old she feels each time she passes the primary school our children attended and sees all the young, hip mums hanging outside the school gates. jump-1154509_1280

 

Being a mum in the playground is personally one of my least favourite periods of parenthood to reminisce about; post-traumatic memories of which I continue to dilute with wine on a nightly basis. Even now, when I’m old and ugly enough to look back on that period with fresher, more mature eyes, along with the rationality and wisdom I have acquired with age, it remains a testing time of my life.

 

In fact those days of being a young, unconfident mum, being judged by the successes and failures of my children, are more haunting than even my own school days as a teenager, trapped as I was in an all girls boarding school with painfully slowly developing boobs, late periods and no outside connection to interesting boys.

 

The playground highlights publicly your popularity and position (or lack thereof) in the mum group, a shame for those of us who are naturally shy, even if we have just as much to give as the more raucous ‘IT’ mums who dominate with their brash confidence and are loved by all, including the teachers.

 

Sour grapes? A little, perhaps. But they’re not directed at the other mums; rather at myself for not having confidence in myself and allowing that feeling of isolation to affect me so intensely.

 

I could blame my kids, of course, too. My kids were never the uber-sporty, theatrical or ridiculously popular kids who got invited to three parties each weekend. No, I was the mum forced to stand and watch the party invitations being handed out… knowing and dying a little inside as I tried to absorb their pain. In reality, it was MY pain. NC was always the kid with one special friend – usually, equally nerdy – and I was always far more affected than she was by the choosiness of her peer group. Kurt was the kid who charged around the playground like a puppy dog on Speed, in his own world, strangely oblivious to the looks and consequences his behavior encouraged.

 

And then there was the excited chit chat in the mums circle about whichever party or dinner party was happening that weekend – that I wasn’t invited to, leading to paranoia and a need to feign disinterest or lie about being busy.

 

Then I’d go home and finish a bottle of wine while the kids’ scoffed their afternoon tea.

 

I had different tactics to avoid standing alone in the playground and looking like the Mummy-No-Mates I was. Some days I’d arrive early and sit in the car until the last possible moment between the shame of isolation and my kids feeling abandoned. Other days I’d drive in conspicuously late and swoop the kids up from the concrete while the car was still in motion. Sometimes I would arrange to meet a friend beforehand and we’d go in together, armed with the false bravado of togetherness.

 

In the school playground you were initially judged by the success and popularity of your child, then forced to become friends with the parents of the kids your children connected with – no matter how wierd – rather than the ones you might have had more in common with.

 

What a relief to be judged on my own merits now. 

Technology And Parents

I had to share this Ronny Chieng video with you that Kurt introduced me to the other night. What is it with us middle-aged women and our failure to grasp technology?

We can all identify with Ronny’s mum’s situation. Many of us will have teenagers and younger kids with cruel stories they retell in public that satirise our ineptitude, to match his.

Unless you work in IT (which begs the question WHY?), many of us from Generation X will identify with that same lack of intuition and confidence when it comes to technology, and in particular computers. The sight of a fresh keyboard with its array of buttons, each with the potential to send my work into computer-world Armageddon, is enough to send me into a full body spasm. I blame technology for my anxiety issues. I will never change my job out of fear of some new machine or programme that will out my lack of technology skills; the same skills I highlighted as ‘advanced’ on my CV.

Fujitsu OASYS Pocket, Japanese word processor.
Fujitsu OASYS Pocket, Japanese word processor. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve spoken at length about my own magnetic repulsion to technology before, and like Ronny’s mum’s, it has become a running joke in our family.

The old man was trying to explain to me only yesterday how to download music on my iPhone from iTunes, complicated it by mentioning something about being ‘offline’ and the dreaded ‘dropbox’ (shudder), and I could physically feel my eyes glaze over and my organs begin to shut down. That feeling of shame and frustration at just not getting it, was reminiscent of the feeling I used to experience in my D set maths class at school.

No-one likes to feel a fool, yet they insist on updating technology all the time.

Theoretically, communication should be much easier these days with so many options available, but there are some areas where it just gets harder for the older generations.

Our decision not to get a landline was not a well thought-out plan when it came to our parents overseas, for example. No matter how much we used to explain to the old man’s mother that we didn’t need a landline to call her because we could use the Skype app on our mobile phones, she never understood how we did it, and would talk to us with awe in her voice, like some miracle was being performed.

Catching up with my dad in the UK is always fraught with problems, too.

My dad is far from a technophobe – he was one of the more innovative parents back in the eighties to buy a word processor, even though he didn’t know what the fuck it did. He even worked out how to switch it on that very same day. I still can’t thank him enough for his faith in progress, because without it I’d never have completed my final year dissertation to deadline, and would not now have my worthless degree.

But try organising a phone conversation with him these days.

Aside from the major issue that he still doesn’t understand that you are supposed to respond to texts, there is the added difficulty posed by the time difference.

And let’s not even go near daylight savings…

Having said all that, ten years since we moved to Australia, he thinks he’s a bit of a pro when it comes to Skype – even though sometimes I wonder if he forgets that I can see him too.

‘The tex’t to set up a time is the first step to each call and as I said, for a man who has always been so advanced when it comes to technology, my biggest frustration is when he doesn’t respond to them – to the point where I’ve checked his number several times.

Sometimes, I worry that if anything happened to us over here, he wouldn’t find out until the following Christmas when we pull out all the stops to connect.

I text him. Nothing. I give him the benefit of the time difference of 9-11 hours, even though I know he rarely sleeps more than five hours a night. Still nothing.

Emails are the same. I email him. No response. Sometimes the silence can go on for weeks. When we finally connect his excuse is that he’s been so busy. He’s retired.

‘Dad,’ I say, when we eventually talk, ‘why didn’t you text me back?’

‘I didn’t get a text from you,’ he always responds, defensively.

‘Check your phone.’

Eventually, we agree a slot and I’ll call him at the agreed time. No response. For a highly intelligent man, the whole time difference thing is a step too far. I blame the whisky.

Sydney time zone clock winging it’s way for Christmas.

Don’t Let Your Children Define You  

I reach the other other end of another decade next week, which has given me pause for reflection.

http://www.gettyimages.com/detail/566419105

I entered this last decade with a new life in Australia, but ‘life’ as such is rarely defined by the country you inhabit, rather the people you inhabit it with. Inevitably, my most recent decade has thrown up a myriad of new and memorable experiences, as well as some invaluable learning curves
In this decade we moved into the next phase of parenting – the teenage phase. Whichever stage of parenting you find yourself in, the experience offers unforgettably rewarding moments, but for some of us it can also prove an arduous journey.
Beyond the cute stages of first smiles, first teeth and their precious first days at school, (well before the meaning of ‘adolescence’ truly sinks in) time shifts forward a gear and you’re suddenly there, treading water in the turbulent waters of the terrible teens.
As many of you know, the past couple of years with our son, have been a challenge.
The old man and I have shared the sort of parenting journey that when you discuss it freely with new people at a dinner party, causes an awkward silence that there’s no coming back from. It started when our son free-falled off the rails without warning and did all those things we thought only other people’s kids did. He truanted, got uncontrollably angry for no reason, self-harmed and experimented – leaving us mystified, battered, bruised and guilt-ridden as parents. The wounds were penetrating and remain raw, (although the Band-Aid of ongoing therapy has relieved some of the sting), but what we did learn from the experience is that in order for both he and us to grow and develop, sometimes you have to let them go earlier than you planned.
A positive outcome of the situation we found ourselves in, however, aside from the shock of it bringing the old man and I closer together, was an invaluable, personal lesson. I learned what a terrible mistake it is to allow your children to define you, because I realise now that up until that crisis point I had sacrificed my own identity and future for my children.
Do you ever listen to your alter-ego of fishwife screaming in the morning, as you castigate the kids for not doing all those minor chores they are supposed to do, like brushing teeth, getting dressed, packing homework and eating their breakfast? All that stuff that seems so important at the time, yet strangely becomes less of a priority when you witness their mental stability begin to crack.

Don't Allow Your Children To Define You
Found on life-is-worth-it.blogspot.com, via Pinterest.

I spent years worrying about those things, to the point that the stress of getting everything right and not succeeding began to affect my health. I’m an anxious person with a generous side portion of OCD thrown in and I wanted to be that ‘perfect’ parent. But I now know that although I have good kids and love them dearly, neither of them will be grateful for the sacrifices I made until they themselves are parents and make their own self-sacrifices.

You see, I got completely sucked in by the motherhood sales pitch and the promise of parenting glory and so eagerly took up its optional extras of guilt and fear of failure. And before I knew it, I’d sidelined my own personal ambitions and happiness to put my children’s needs ahead of my own.

Until last year, when the realisation eventually dawned on me that not only had I lost sight of who I was (and that it was actually okay to let go of my son, if necessary), but my obsession with doing everything by the parenting book was making me ill and I needed to prioritise my own sanity.

I’m sure that sounds selfish to many of you. My daughter recognised my problem. She has always accused me of ‘not being able to compartmentalise’ my emotions – (a mature level of criticism from a twenty-year old who still believes life rolls like a Disney movie). She noticed that I allowed the fall-out of arguments between myself and her brother to impact everything that happened that day, or even that week.

Therapy has taught me that that when we ‘enable’ our children, rather than ’empower’ them, we are damaging both them and us.

Children and young adults need to be free to make mistakes while they remain in the safety zone of home – in doing so, they learn to take responsibility, value themselves, (and ultimately us) without risk. And the benefit for us parents, is that when we’re not wasting our lives fussing over over decision they make, we make more time for ourselves; to achieve our own personal goals. Which is really important when we’re one of their main role-models.

We western mothers, many of whom have no extended family close by to support us, have had to rely on parenting manuals to teach us how to raise our children. Sadly, the need to attain some sort of altruistic success for ourselves out of parenting – via our kids successes – has devalued our own worth, in some cases. We are guilty of over-protecting our progeny, which is where the ‘helicoptering analogy stemmed from, and this mode of parenting will ultimately damage their confidence in their own abilities too.

I can’t pinpoint exactly when my kids’ needs began to overtake the relevance of my own and I transformed into the type of female doormat I despised when I was a younger woman. I only became fully aware of the implications of that change when we reached crisis point last year, when our son tried to assume full control of the power I had innocently provided him with in our household and made it obvious that he believed our happiness was secondary to his. I’d missed the signs, of course; so busy was I trying to be his perfect mum.

What sort of mother would I have been if I’d allowed him to fail?

It turns out a ‘good’ one. And that shift in focus from the importance of my life versus his not only had a detrimental effect on his development, but it affected mine, too. I became over-anxious, irritable, resentful and less confident in my abilities. I was judging my personal success as being mum to my kids, in spite of having a career I enjoyed, friends and a sound relationship. Which meant when either of the kids tripped over life’s hurdles, I saw those trips as my failures too.

Don’t let your children define who you are. Let them be an extension of you rather than your life’s work.

Family Life Is Not All Cookies And Cream, Sometimes It Is Salad Cream

Family Life Is Not All Cookies and Cream
Heinz_Salad_Cream_285_gram by suetheslowknitta at http://www.flickr.com

Out of all the schmaltz, sad stories, perfect gifts and cheesy quotes to fill my FB homepage on Mothers Day, this article by Rosie Waterland stood out for me.

Thirty Seconds

It’s not pretty because it’s about real family life.

Because Mothers Day isn’t a cookies and cream day for everyone, and although most mums out there love their kids unconditionally and are loved back in return, the reality is that fractured, damaged relationships exist too.

I have a handful of friends in my circle of friends who suffered at the hands of an alcoholic mother, who had mothers taken away from them too soon or mothers who found the connection with their children a complex, hazardous journey.

Family Life Is Not All Cookies and Cream

Life is not always as perfect as the parenting page on Pinterest would suggest.

Parenting is not always pretty. I would never judge those mothers who have struggled with the responsibilities inherent to motherhood. We all have our private crosses to bear and baggage from the past to carry, and I have no doubt that often,  there is a legitimate history that lies behind many of those cases of alcoholism, abuse and neglect.

I approached Mother’s Day cautiously this year. I was contemplating another year without my own mother, whose memory sadly dims a little more each day, and another year with a son whose struggles mean that I can’t help feeling I have failed him in some way, in spite of the protests of my therapist.

So it was with ‘mixed feelings’ that I approached yesterday. It’s all bollocks anyway. I mean, we all have different experiences and expectations about motherhood.

My mother was taken away too soon – when I was only fourteen – leaving me with a self-imposed armour of anger, pain and confusion that encased a cold, damaged heart. I’m not searching for pity – it was a long time ago now – but I’m conscious of all the children out there at this time of the year, whose mothers have been taken from them prematurely, setting them up for a life of questions and pain.

As for my memories of my mother? They aren’t all all cookies and cream, either, but there is enough sugar to make me understand the importance and impact of her short presence in my life.

Her life wasn’t pretty, either. A single mother with three small children by the time she was in her late-twenties, I can’t imagine how tough it must have been for her; how many nights she would have come home from her full-time job and wanted to cave in, sit down and cry from the tiredness and responsibility.

I still remember the huge pile of untouched ironing we found when we cleared out the house after her death.

But there were special moments, too. Our mum loved Christmas and even within the confines of a tiny council house and the finances of a single mother, she made it as special as the toy department at Hamleys on Christmas Day.

I remember her laugh – a cackle really, that I have inherited, apparently – that rears its ugly head when I’m drunk or bullying the old man.

My mother taught me how to cook – something I’ve failed to do as a mother to her grandchildren – I remember just before she died how obsessed I became with the secret to the perfect seventies cheese scone and a flaky apple pie crust.

Then there were the annual holidays to extended family or to Bournemouth, where we stayed in skanky B and Bs, dined on takeaway fish and chips and where all us three city kids needed was the sight of the sea to feel ecstatically privileged.

We spent Sunday afternoon teas at grandma’s, sucking on space saucer lollies, turned our nose up at beetroot and doused everything in Salad Cream.

Remember Salad Cream?

I hope that out of this complicated stage in Kurt’s childhood, one day he will remember the special moments that we’ve shared as a family and be able to separate the sugar from the spice. Real family life is not all cookies and cream. Sometimes it throws curved balls that can be hard to deflect, that crack our veneer and make us vulnerable and defensive and we end up saying things and doing things we wouldn’t normally do.

NC is wise enough already to recognize that no-one is perfect and that all we can truly expect from someone is that they try their best. Her sensible, logical approach to life and her love keep me sane when the ground is shaking.

My mother tried her best, just like we all do.

Overworked And Underpaid: Ever Feel Like Your Family’s Personal Assistant?

I work hard, and sometimes I feel overworked, underpaid and under-valued at home.

When Did Overworked and Underpaid: When Did I Become Personal Assistant To My Family?
Chris Overworked by Ferrell McCollough at http://www.flickr.com

I spend three days of my week doing paid work – I work from home (and as such my job is not truly considered a ‘proper’ job by my family, even though my salary is sucked into the vacuum of the joint bank account, never to be seen again).

 

I’m also trying hard to better myself and I continue to chase my dream of some day being able to make money out of writing at the same time as scaffolding the needs and dodging the bullets of a teenager with ADHD (who finds himself at the pointy end of education without a clue, and seems to attract trouble with the same vigilance as Mr Bean). Oh, and did I mention that I also attempt to manage a household?

 

But recently I’ve noticed that the family has surreptitiously added a new role to my domestic job description – that of unpaid personal assistant, to the lot of them. I’m not sure when exactly my domestic role evolved from mother and wife to personal assistant to the entire family board of directors, but it definitely has. I’m expecting a list of KPIs at my next review.

 

I know that I’m fortunate to be able to work part time, which is why in those two days of the week that I’m not doing my paid work, sometimes I have to take off my writer’s cap, suck it up and sort out the daily domestic shit that the old man and I have to wade through to manage our lifestyle. Customer service and administration are odorous jobs but the benefit of two whole days at home is that I can gorge myself on secret brie and hummus lunchtime binges with no-one to judge me, and then sneak off to the gym for a personal forgiveness session.

 

But a Personal Assistant should be respected and there are certain things on my task list that shouldn’t be assumed. Frankly, some of the tasks assigned to me are not in my job description and then there’s that attitude that I have to drop everything else to do what the board needs me to do, RIGHT NOW. But if I ask ANYTHING of them in return – WHOA! – they’re way too busy. Frankly, it gives me the shits.

 

And they could also learn that decent, respectful communication goes a long way and is vital to a professional relationship. And barked commands, such as the ones I’ve highlighted below, just make me want to add dog food to the family meal:

 

‘Have you sorted out……yet?’

‘Can you buy me a new…today?’

‘Don’t forget to… today?’

 

Did I mention that I have a paid job three days a week?

 

When was I hired for this new role as PA (to the whole fucking family)? And when exactly am I expected to fit in my own paid work, walk the Princess, clean, wash, cook, shop and write when most of the week I am running around like a headless chicken replacing things that have been lost, repairing things that have been broken, booking holidays, paying bills and being THE FAMILY FUCKING DOGS BODY?

 

Having A Baby At 50 – An Act Of Selfishness Or Love?

English: A picture of a young child
English: A picture of a young child (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Personally I can’t imagine anything worse than having a baby at this time in my life, and if I could find a way to blackmail my doctor to rip out my ovaries at my next pap test, I would.

 

But each to their own.

 

I’m nearly fifty and on a good day I’m tired, cranky, exhausted for no reason and my hormones dictate my mood unless I dilute their superpowers with wine. And my body still hasn’t recovered from my last pregnancy, seventeen years ago.

 

Which is why the news that Sonia Kruger is pregnant at the age of 48 has set the cat among the pigeons among many middle-aged women.

 

Admittedly, I also can’t imagine the awfulness of having problems conceiving when you are desperate for a baby and all your peers have popped out babies as easily as rabbits. It certainly sounds as though Sonia and her partner have been through the infertility mill as far as treatments go.

 

And I’m sure that Sonia will make a fantastic mother. She is intelligent, successful, likeable, looks physically fit for her age and there is no doubt that she can provide a safe and financially secure environment for her child.

 

But she’s 48, a time when she should be thinking about flat shoes, the freedom of the elasticated waistband and armchairs with a built in footrest – not changing diapers. What’s more, nature naturally dictates that women shouldn’t bear children that close to ‘the change’, which is why our ovaries stop producing eggs to allow us to become bitter and twisted without risk to our children.

 

I know it’s not my place to decide who should and shouldn’t have a baby and usually I have a very open mind, but I can’t help thinking that this is not about me or Sonia.

 

Surely this is about whether her pregnancy is the right decision for the child too?

 

I don’t judge her for wanting a baby. It’s all I ever wanted and in spite of the challenges that parenting has thrown up, my life is complete because of my children.

 

But…

 

Embed from Getty Images

 

I question whether Sonia and her partner have thought this through objectively? Ideally kids need more than love. They need continuity and  a future with their parents. Just because the science is out there to help us procreate from donor eggs beyond the natural age of child-rearing, does that mean we should do it?

 

There have been a lot of scientific discoveries that we have to consider the consequences of wisely before use. Nuclear warfare is one. An incredible discovery but one that if abused, we now know is not necessarily the right thing to do.

 

I am Sonia’s age and will be nearly fifty when NC turns twenty at the end of this week. But in spite of the generation between us, I am still young and fit enough to keep up with her physically and mentally, empathise with her emotions, give her boyfriend- advice, and I should still have enough years ahead of me to be around for those pivotal moments in her life such as her wedding day and the birth of her children.

 

I didn’t have my mother around for those life events and it had a devastating effect on my growth that has transmitted through to my own children.

 

Sonia will be nearly seventy when her baby turns twenty and their relationship should evolve into a friendship. Has she considered that her child’s peers may think that she is the grandmother when she accompanies them on a tour of uni or goes to the parents evening at school?

 

Of course it can be argued that as long as a child is loved, age shouldn’t matter, and I respect that opinion wholeheartedly if you don’t have a choice like many menopausal women who accidentally fall pregnant.

 

But to choose to have a baby at 48 – is that an act of selfishness or love?

 

 

How Would You Score In Your Performance Review As A Mother?

What would your performance review be like as a mother?
Picture found on babble.com

It seemed appropriate on Mothers Day for me to agree to a performance review done by the teens. 

 

I admit that I felt quietly confident. The hastily scribbled Mother’s Day note, the late and drooping petrol station flowers and the child who didn’t turn up until mid-afternoon on my special day had all proved that they obviously love me a lot!

 

And I know that as mothers we beat ourselves up about not doing a good job with the spawn but, ultimately, we can only do our best. Sometimes a thinking-on-your-feet approach to parenting can have benefits to our kids …like backbone development.

 

So here are my results:

 

Current Responsibilities:

 

Cook, cleaner, taxi service, counsellor, referee, dog-walker, therapist, smoothie-maker, mediator…..(shall I go on?)

 

New Responsibilities Since Last Review:

 

Drug sniffer, HSC tutor, surrogate mother to boyfriend, wannabe Masterchef to all the stragglers and travellers that come to the hostel, towel retriever, school advocate, teenage doormat.

 

Performance Assessment

 

  1. Evaluation of Your Performance – There has been some improvement in you ‘not losing the plot irrationally every time we breathe’ and the day-to-day running of the hostel. The board has noticed a laxness in certain areas of cleaning, cooking and domestic chores, though, due to your prioritisation of your personal interests, like writing and eating chocolate. The board had reached the decision that new recipes should not be attempted for the foreseeable future.

 

  1. Areas of Exceptional Performance – Your Chocolate Refrigerator cake and peanut butter smoothie, extermination of cockroaches and moths (without squealing), calling the decision on the maximum time-lapse between bed linen changes for health and safety reasons, reading English texts in appropriately stupid accents, as a secondary source of wardrobe, make-up and tampons and boyfriend/friend advice.

 

  1. Areas of Performance needing improvement – The board would like to see an acknowledgement from the employee that she is now too old to shop in surf shops now, ogle men under the age of thirty, write to Chris Hemsworth’s fan club and dance awkwardly at live music gigs.

    English: Chris Hemsworth at the 2010 San Deigo...
    English: Chris Hemsworth at the 2010 San Deigo Comic-Con International. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    The washing turnaround could be improved and if the employee could make a different meal for each employer (without throwing a hissy fit) every night, the board would be appreciative. The employee should make a renewed effort to be out of her dressing gown by 10am or when the employer’s friends visit. On this point, the employee needs to understand that the employer’s friends are not the HER friends.

 

Professional Development Plan for 2014:

Expectations and Goals for Upcoming Review Period as part of your professional development:

The employee should dress appropriately for her age and her role.

The employee should stop at two glasses of wine per evening so that the highly successful 24hr taxi service can be reinstated.

The employee should walk at least ten steps behind her employer in public and if the employer sees someone they know, the employee should disappear.

The employee should know intuitively when it is the right time to leave the employer’s parties.

The employee should be aware of her employer’s policy regarding sexual harassment of young, attractive men and should stop objectifying them and feeding them up.

The employee is to finish her project of writing her book (FINALLY!) so that the employer can be cared for properly.

The use of social media in the workplace is frowned upon and should certainly not be prioritised above responsibilities to the employer.

The employee should refrain from commenting on the Facebook pages of the employer and stop reading their phone texts.

Presentation is important to the employer and the employee should present correctly and stop wearing sports clothes to the office when a) it is not dress-down Friday or b) she is not doing any sport.

 

Overall Rating: 3.5

 

Employee Comment: Meh!

 

 

Enhanced by Zemanta

Mother Love And Taking Revenge On Your Teenagers

English: Gollum sculpture at Wax Museum in Mex...

Sometimes God smiles down on us.

 

Sometimes, during this life sentence they call parenting, we parents are given a tantalizing reprieve – a few precious moments to exact some revenge on our little monsters.

 

I love my children and I certainly don’t begrudge them the interminable sacrifices I have been forced to make over the last twenty years.

 

But…sometimes you need something to ease the pain.

 

In so far as offspring go, NC is a pretty good child these days and I am not one to bear grudges, but there are still times from our murky past together that I deeply resent.

 

Well, finally, last weekend, NC gave something back. She gave me the biggest belly-laugh at her expense that I’ve had in a while.

 

NC is the second little princess (after the dog) in our family. She is a girl who likes her comforts. This is the girl we had to book a hotel for when she was backpacking around Thailand because she had a tummy bug and apparently the hostel was just ‘too gross’ to stay in.

 

Those of you who live in Sydney might remember that last weekend was one of the coldest on record for Spring.

 

And poor NC had to go on a geology excursion to Orange. To be honest, I don’t even know where the fuck Orange is – all I know is that it’s somewhere in REALLYCOLDSVILLE.

 

Not only that, but she had to endure a six hour coach journey with a bunch of students she had never spoken to before, (because all her interesting/nerdy (note: oxymoron) friends did the more glamorous NZ trip while she was living it up in 4 star hotels in Thailand), and stay in a hostel with aforementioned no-hopers (poor love), with no heating and bunk beds – yes, I did just say BUNK BEDS – and then analyse rocks all day.

 

If there were a face to depict abject misery, they would have used NC’s for the brand.

 

Prior to her departure she made her displeasure known around the house in typical teenage style. She mooched around the house, slamming doors intermittently, until she eventually lost the ability to speak as she stoically collated as many jumpers as she could physically carry in her tiny rucksack (as NB would not be at her command as her caddie).

 

She then prepared herself for the war ahead. Unlike Mel Gibson in Braveheart, when NC prepares for battle, she is more a wan version of Joan of Arc as she strips herself bare of all makeup to show you just how fucking miserable she is her natural strength.

 

Imagine an image of Gollum from LOTR and you’ll get the picture.

 

As I hugged her hard before her departure to 24hrs of a fate worse than a full body wax, I tried to ignore the muffled sobs and feign some motherly empathy.

 

But I just couldn’t do it.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Feeling Clucky In Middle Age

My sister is pregnant at the moment.

Mother's Love
Mother’s Love (Photo credit: Fabio Trifoni)

When I first received the news and the very special photo of ‘the bump’ that arrived in my inbox, and is soon to evolve into a new niece or nephew, they had a peculiar effect on me.

One that I wasn’t expecting.

Because I’m in parenting free fall at the moment. Close enough to taste the tantalising endpoint, where I can finally see light at the end of the tunnel of full-time parenting. For the first time in a long time I can taste the freedom that the gentle shove (that might be required) to persuade my offspring that it’s time to get out of the nest will give me; after what sometimes has felt like a life-term.

I can understand the euphoria Mandela must have felt as his freedom finally turned into a reality. The old man and I have already began surreptitiously looking at one bedroom apartments.

Which is why I thought I’d never want to see another child for at least ten years.

(There is also the added awkwardness of being nearly old enough to be the baby’s grandmother, too.)

You see, I worried that I might feel a little distanced from this new addition to the family. Because the timing of it’s arrival might coincide with the period where I get to lick my parental wounds, to reassure myself I’ve done the best job I could and then avoid contact with anything under the age of twenty-five for reasons of self-protection.

But that doesn’t seem to be the case. I’ve been feeling worryingly clucky about the whole event.

Part of the reason is that I know how much my sister wants this baby and I know that she will make a wonderful mother. A more natural mother than I ever was.

Then, of course, there is the added bonus that I can hand this one back, too. 

Nelson Mandela silhouette
Nelson Mandela silhouette (Photo credit: HelenSTB)

But I’ve found myself surfing deliriously through baby websites, stalking teddies, and only the other day I found myself scouring through rails of baby-grows when I should have been in Zara, squeezing my butt into tight leather pants.

I can’t help touching newborn clothes, either, in a very suspicious way. Then I demonstrated just how completely out of touch I am with all things ‘newborn’ when I picked an outfit for ‘the bump’, only to discover it was for a child of 3 -4 years of age.

When did they get so small?

Our sense of scale gets a bit screwed up when our children become teenagers. NC is reasonably tall but my cougar heels balance out the height difference. Kurt is a good 6” taller than me now and often leans down above me, menacingly, and says,

‘Gonna send me to my room now, Mum?’

There’s that unbeatable circle of life again.

So I seriously can’t imagine just how small this little ‘thing’ is going to be now.

Of course ‘cluckiness’ (or ‘broodiness’, as we call it in the UK) deletes all the shit about having newborns from memory and forces us to focus on their utter gorgeousness.

Remember that smell?

I can still remember how each of my baby’s skins felt and smelt next to my face; they were surprisingly very different. I can still visualise NC’s chubby little thighs, at odds with the rest of her small bird body, because she was premature. I remember those special breastfeeding moments, when the two of us would be alone together in the quiet of night and that orgasmic sensation of milk being drawn down in response to those first hungry sucks.

That feeling of giving life to life.

Baby Rubens Barrichello
Baby Rubens Barrichello (Photo credit: Kradlum)

It almost hurts to remember that psychotic feeling of protectiveness that took over my body in such a short space of time. It was frightening in its intensity.

That feeling has never diminished – if anything, it has matured and grown more threatening.

I hope that my sister is prepared.

 

 

 

 

 

Enhanced by Zemanta