Category: family

“Well, we will be very sorry to see you go. You’ll be missed,” she said. “I’ll call Andrea in, she’ll want to see you.”

“Oh… do you have to?” I knew Andrea would try to convince me to stay. But Sandra was insistent. A meeting was set up and later that day I had to again face my team leader and the Area Manager, Andrea, to discuss my decision to leave.

“I hear you’re thinking of leaving us,” Andrea began.

I felt a bit ridiculous as we all sat there in our black power suits around the beautifully polished boardroom table. In such a relatively short space of time, I had grown out of this corporate world where I had always been so comfortable. Now it was holding me back, although I had no idea from what.

“I’m not thinking about it, I have actually made my mind up, I’m afraid,” I replied, somewhat apologetically. My logical mind, even then, was thinking things through. This had all been so hasty. It was as if I had my conscious awareness on one shoulder, reminding me of all the things I was giving up: A great career with a promising outlook – promotion appeared to be a given; a wage I had only dreamed of as a kid out of high school with no savings to my name and trying to find enough for rent; a wide variety of people-contact that never staled; a sense that I was doing something good there and really making a difference.

But on my other shoulder, here was this little presence.

“Just do it”, she coaxed, very simply. “Be strong.” And that’s all she gave me to go on as I made a life altering decision in the presence of my work superiors.

 Extract from “Having & Holding Ellanor” – my memoir

I went into a familiar fog on the weekend.

I was struck down with a weird “cold” that turned into nothing more than a cracker of a headache and an achy throat. A sensation that has persisted the entire week. I know enough to know by now that illness and body discomforts, yes, they come and go. But if I want to, I can look deeper into the wisdom that my body is surfacing. The choice is mine. This time, I chose to delve deeper and not just succumb to the common cold without listening to it.

Stabbing throat. What am I afraid to say? What am I stopping myself from expressing?

On Saturday, I was just quietly resting on the couch by the fire. Dozing, dreaming.
On Sunday, I was wandering the grounds of a local school with my little family, getting completely wrapped up in its magic.
By Sunday night, as I was tucking the LGBB into bed she said to me – without terribly much discussion and no definitive decision yet made – “I’m nervous about changing schools but excited.” I left her with a kiss and a “Good night” but was non-committal, there were still things to consider (like… am I ready for the emotional upheaval of taking on a whole new environment… because my mind was still playing catchup).
Then on Monday morning, it became apparent that Lolly was way ahead of us through a sequence of very short, quick events which set in motion the no-turning-back decision to change schools. Much like in the above extract, which occurred on a normal run-of-the-mill work day without so much as an inkling that I might resign when I had woken that morning, it felt beyond my conscious doing yet so easy to put in motion that it was simply… right. And it would all turn out okay.

As we backed out of the driveway, Lolly exclaimed enthusiastically, “I can’t WAIT to start at my new school!” I thought I’d misheard her.

We hadn’t even properly talked the idea through. Her father and I were still weighing up options and the timing of her moving now, although we’d planned to revisit the idea at the end of the year if the option of moving still held sway with Lolly.  She adores her teacher (we do, too). Her school is fine, we have grown very loyal very quickly – but this was confirmation that, for her, there was another, better fit. I have had a growing suspicion for some time now that there was, sometime, somewhere out there. She is an ever upbeat, positive child, enthusiastic and encouraging of her peers and their efforts – it is hard even for me sometimes to know if she is truly satisfied because genetically, she’s been given a double dose of the ability to make good from any situation. To ride things out, to just get through and retreat to the safety and warmth of home at the end of a trying day out in the world if it is too hard. I have seen her move through various times of deep dissatisfaction, socially, in the past few years and have always marvelled at her innate sense of “getting through”. It’s like watching a plane on auto pilot. But I have also wondered – and worried – more than once if it is ultimately so good to let a child this young learn to cope and adapt to environments that don’t properly nurture her and round out her unique personality.

When do we step in and suggest something different? Without influencing our child or giving in to them too much? It’s a fine balance sometimes, isn’t it? As it turns out, this time all I had to do was unlock the gate – Lolly has swung it open for herself to discover what is on the other side. All she needed was our blessing, which we’ve given.

Ultimately, she gave the indicator that spurred me into motion. So it’s settled: next term when she goes to school, it will be in a new space. One that, now she roughly has the hang of how “going to school” works, is a decision made by her and supported by us. I had expected to do this sort of thing with/for her when she was deciding on high schools, or perhaps jobs or university courses. Still, this is how we roll as a family. Boundary keeping for a child who knows where she is headed and who heads us there very gently but always with good humour and enthusiasm.

 

Have you ever moved schools? Have you ever moved your child? How did it go?

 

The only photo I have of me as a baby with my mum, seen here with Lolly Jnr. (aka Me) – 1975

 

 

To be perfectly frank, I had deep personal issues with Mothers Day a long time before giving birth to my own firstborn in 2004. It’s something I’ve been practicing and trying to embrace in recent years (in my family’s own way) and now, I can do it with my child with free abandon. It’s taken years.

People have begun to share their first ever Mothers Day photos. And their first photos as new mothers.

So here is mine:

Me and my girl – Jan. 13th 2004

 

I had never seen anyone more exquisite and delicate before seeing Ellanor. She was wrapped in the feather-soft cloud of Somewhere Else. She never lost the magic of where we come from, in the In-between. She was born with it, and she died with it. But she showed it to me and forever impressed upon me the importance of relishing Life and embracing Death. It is all a part of all of us. We know this. I’m not afraid of it. I just wish it didn’t have to happen to so many of us before we’re ready! Impossible…

My next “brand new mother” photo captures a look on my face that is full of pain, confusion and terror. So I won’t show it. We weren’t sure what was happening to our little Lolly, only that we didn’t hear her cry and that she looked pasty grey upon delivery – worse than her premie sister, in fact. I’m not so sure I’m all too excited that Steve got the photo of my face. But it does tell a story.

So here’s a more pleasant one from a few hours later instead:

"Oh, it's YOU!" – 2006

I’m of the firm belief that mothers are not made from the act of giving birth. I was technically a mother at the point of giving birth to Ellanor. And yet, I know I was a mother before she made an appearance. I considered myself a “real” mother – in the eyes of society, that is – the moment she reached beyond the medically-termed point of “viability”. How cold and harsh; you’re a mother only once your baby (or babies) has passed the gestational age where they give you a birth certificate. That’s 20 weeks to you and me (in this country, at present). I didn’t need either of those photos to tell me I was already mother. I was born a mother. I came out nurturing, for Pete’s sake. Over the years, I’ve just learned to reserve it for the truly needy.

I ponder the animal kingdom quite a bit when I think about “mothers”. Look at how the sea turtle comes up to the beach, lays her eggs and then leaves them to the elements of the sun, the moon, the sea. She does her part and returns to the water to ensure her own chance at longevity, nature takes care of the rest. Instinctively, those little hatchlings know how to make it and where to head. Some will fall prey to hungry predators. Others will be too sick to survive. But each one of them knows how to get back to what will nurture them.

When I was in my years of striving for a child with Steve, I knew that I had the heart of a mother in me already. There were many years of healing to go through, to soothe my heart and gather my strength, and it has taken to the eve of the LGBB’s seventh birthday before I’ve been ready.

I was so confused when child bearing eluded us, for I knew in my depths that I was supposed to have children all around me. Even before we had Lolly, we discussed foster care. It was too hard. We shelved it. Losing Ella had muddied the waters too much. But I still wondered if my future was meant to involve children. Somehow.

The survival instinct is strong in me, thanks to a childhood that had to be survived more than enjoyed. The passion and determination to ensure a child feels heard and counted and loved… that is my utmost drive. I’ve been waiting patiently, often not even thinking about it for months on end, to feel strong enough to take on the task – knowing that when I give, I give my all. Even the passionate need to balance their approach; our history makes me a good candidate but I’ve had to put a lot of time into learning how to carefully cauterize my own wounds now that they have cleared so that they are not reopened (or hardened). The decade of practice and study into ways of self-nurturing and being in service to the All of this Earth led me to realise that what the world needs from me and Steve is not more of our own biological children. Anyway, I gave away that notion several years ago, saying goodbye to the fourteenth tiny life to leave my body in 2010.

Besides, there are so many other children the world needs, right now – for they are already here – it’s just that sometimes, the way each child’s unique story unfolds, the care and nurture falls away for many and varied reasons. Like the turtle returning to the water for its own survival.

There is so much hope, and such brave and exciting, beautiful potential in these young people.  They have to deal with things, huge things, that most of our children have no concept of. I am well familiar with the pull of the impossible on the heart and all the ways life seems to show no mercy.

We are ready to do this. I, personally, HAVE to do this. The papers are signed.

Fourteen years ago today, it seems hard to believe, I donned an unseasonable halter-neck dress and sat uncharacteristically still with my mouth shut while I had my makeup done. If it was cold I had no idea for I was high as a kite on the anticipation of formalising my already six years-long commitment to the kindest, gentlest, funniest… er, and tallest… man I have still ever met. Hands down. I figure, anyone who has put up with me all this time has got to be a freak of nature. And he’s, like, rool intelligent too. I sure hit the jackpot. And I commend my 17 year-old former self for seeing what she did in that lanky, dorky teenage boy all that time ago in 1992.

To commemorate the momentous occasion of our 20th year of committed bliss (there’s an oxymoron if ever I heard it), I am going to make you endure a slideshow of honeymoon (and a few other) photos. But don’t go! It’s a slideshow with a difference. Let me explain….

 

 

I thought the first half dozen years before we got married, of taking stupid selfies (the sharpness of which were reliant on the distance Steve could get the camera from our faces) before selfies even became a “thing” on the internet… and actually, before the internet even became a thing, would continue.

But in putting together some photos for this post today, I went through our entire digital collection that started in 1997 and am ashamed to say that there are hardly any photos of us in them. Together. It appears evident that we have been hopelessly remiss in taking photos with both of us in them – the couple-selfie, if you will. Therefore, the sum total of our on-camera “togetherness” in these past twenty years is thus:

 

Hello, young people? 1994 called. It wants its long hair back. All of it.

In '99, we scrubbed up ok

 

Ok so far, right? Well, here is where it starts to go pear-shaped… We went to Europe for two months for our honeymoon. You’d think we would get some pretty awesome romantic couple-y shots on our honeymoon, yes? Yes. You would. We may well be the only people who have been to Paris, on their honeymoon no less, and didn’t think to get our photo taken in front of the Eiffel Tower. On a spot of ground that has been worn bare by millions who have come from around the world to do exactly that.

 

Is that an incredibly tall romantic erection? Or are you just happy to see me?

 Wait! I think I see in this next shot… oh. No. It’s not us. It’s just me. And him. Alone. But if you look closely, you might even see Lady Grantham.

At the Colosseum. Looking suitably impressed by the authentic 72AD construction fencing.

Steve. Dwarfed by an abbey. I forget its name. Let's just call it Downton.

 

Lots of beautiful Austrian, Swiss, Italian sunsets. We’re not in a one of ‘em.

Somewhere in or around Innsbruck. Can't be sure. Schnapps was involved.

 

It was around this time that I  (somewhat awkwardly)  became fixated with photographing old men around England.
I won’t even bore you with them all, suffice to say there are more of them than there are shots of my newlywed and me together. Such as…:

A car being driven by a … bowling ball? With ears? Come ON, it's adorable!

 

But sometimes, those kind old gentlemen took the camera from us and made us pose. Like this one bloke in York. We think he offered to take our photo. Perhaps he actually wanted to steal the camera. Well, we posed anyway. Who knew when we’d get another chance to have a photo taken together while we were still young and at our wedding weight?  We thought he was trying to tell us he was travelling too. We weren’t sure. His accent was so strong we couldn’t even be certain he was speaking English. Until I managed to translate that he was visiting from Newcastle. Our first (of several) encounter with an unrecognisable English dialect in their own country. Just… wow.

'Did you understand what he said?' 'No. Not sure he's even speaking English. Or wanting to take our photo. Just smile, ok?'

 

As an aside, let me veer you over to this photo that I just had to take. To remind me that THIS was why I vowed from that day never to eat meat again. Unfortunately, due to anaemia contraints that crop up each year or two, I have had to phase back in some of the white meat. Still, red meat has been off the menu ever since I discovered they bend down on their knees to eat (I wondered for weeks touring around Britain why all the sheep had dirty front knees). Gorgeous little things.

The pose that single-handedly turned me into a vegetarian. On the spot.

But I digress. Look! An accidental selfie!

Somewhere in Wales. Baffled while listening to some more indecipherable English on the radio. Because it was actually Welsh. D'oh.

 

Okay, so that’s about it. The sum total of our couple-photos from our honeymoon. Underwhelming, right?

Well, what if I told you we inadvertently continued trying for that elusive well-posed, non-duck-mouth, in-focus, flattering couple-selfie? The following are, in order, the only photos of the two of us in our collection between the years 2002 to 2013. Abysmal. But in its own way, a really poignant snapshot (in fast-forward) of our lives over the next few years.

Our second wedding anniversary, somewhere on a Fremantle Beach

There *may* have been quite a bit of alcohol involved in this one, for I felt far less in-focus than I appear – Diabetes Ball, 2002

With baby Ellanor on board, she would be born just three weeks later, forever changing the nature of all our future photos – Christmas, 2003

The very next photo of us was by her side

 

I posted the link recently to the very first photo of me after Ella died. There was, obviously, a pause on all photos and not just the couple selfies.
By September that same year, I wanted to capture how I felt, alone every day without our daughter. So one day in the fading September sunlight, I took my very first own “selfie”:

September 2005 – gazing at the sunset and marvelling how stunningly beautiful and clear everything looked "nowadays". Death is beauty. Losing my child helped me to honour my own life, not just hers.

He’s getting the hang of cutting off his face if it has to be that close to the camera – Sep. 2005

This time with a little Lolly on board and hoping she'd stay, remembering Ella's 2nd birthday at the place where we held her memorial – Jan. 2006

Get yer hand off it, Daryl – on the eve of Lolly's birth, July 2006

 

And then all of a sudden, there she was. The child who would capture and captivate us so that the dwindling couple-selfie would become all but obsolete. We were now a tri-selfie… And it would remain that way until Lolly was old enough to master the camera herself and start taking photos of us. With some considerable practice. We’re actually still waiting for a shot with all of both our heads in frame… But it’s sure fun trying.

Our first proper photo of the three of us, 8 months later… What? So we got distracted easily!

Teaching the art of the hand-held selfie. We still had a ways to go. Because *somebody* didn't quite get it.

A fluke great "tri-selfie" that went out on our first Christmas card as a family

Finally opting for the timer photo, what does he do? Hams up the shot. Daddy… frowny face.

 

But then, progress! Finally we had a little photographer. Now, maybe, just maybe, we would get a decent photo of the two of us…. Maybe.

Her very own first selfie! With the DSLR, no less! Perfect! She'll be great at this photo-taking thing.

Ah.

Ummm…

Hmmm.

 

Our family. So proud.

So there you have it. You’re free to go. “Slideshow” over.

Suffice to say, we’ve never quite mastered it. But who cares? We’ve got enough headless, half faced, dopey-eyed shots that kind of show where we were and what we were doing. Not to mention I’m living with two ham-artistes. Lolly and Steve can barely keep their faces straight at the best of times, let alone for a serious group pose. One of them is always doing something slapstick. I am thankfully outnumbered.

Case in point: Like the time I attempted to get an unposed photo of our daughter…

Yeh, thanks. Thanks a lot for that, Steve. Withered sigh.

Sometimes, it’s in the doing and not in the taking. And Steve and I both know, despite the lack of proof that we were both here, we’ve both remained present. The fact that our child has been front and centre in our relationship is a small and willing sacrifice of our “us time”. We have come to agree that seven years out of all 20 (and counting, blessedly) is more than we could ever dared hope for.

Love is…

You know how you go on holidays and as soon as you open the front door, the feelings of relaxation and languid days and nights drop off you faster than a Labrador can catch a flying crumb? For the first time in my life, it didn’t happen to me when we came back from our latest adventure.

Last school holidays, we went on possibly one of our best family holidays yet. It was a brainwave of Steve’s to hire a campervan. So as well as our campsite, set up with tent, table and chairs and a bit of space for storing clothes and food, we had a ready-made living room on wheels. With the days still long but nights too cool for us wannabe hard-core campers to sleep inside canvas walls, we were set. It was brilliant. We toured half the Great Ocean Road in the week we were down that way, took in the Otway Fly, ate fresh fish and chips for tea and pulled off to the side of the road wherever the view took our breath away (we were spoiled for choice, let’s face it) to have lunch or play board games with an ever-changing panorama for a backdrop.

 

So what was different this time? Simple.

I’ve decided not to enter back into it since coming home. “It” being, of course, the drudgery of life. By keeping out of various things that eventually weigh me down, I’ve noticed I can avoid getting caught – slurped up – back in the circumstances that typically become boggy after a short while; those things I do where I interact with others, with places, with perceived duties and ideals. Of course it can’t all be avoided (well… it can, but I’m not ready just yet to go contemplate my navel on a mountain, never to return). But it’s amazing just how much of the unnecessary we allow ourselves to get immersed in. I know that I need to keep giving myself space, to allow space of time around me, in order to function in a healthy way within my family and those things that are important. It takes time. I blame technology for the associated feelings of guilt that typically creep back in, disallowing me to stay in my backyard long enough to let the heaviness of being “public” wash off.

I’m not talking of the heaviness of grief or depression. This is more a spiritual presence feeling, a density; gravity, put simply!

How do you like your beach? I'll take mine long and solitary, thanks!

This feeling, of simply being human with my feet firmly planted on the ground, is something I first noticed when I was stepping through the days and months after losing Ellanor. I felt it again when I experienced a profound journey through near death with a friend some years after that. My sensation of jolting back into my own body after visiting with her was undeniable. The most recent experience I had with this feeling was watching my stepmother drift further from her own physicality – she was so good at explaining and sharing the exhilaration as her journey towards death drew to a close – and I could feel again the immense amounts of unnecessary we are all weighed down with.

We really are heavy (no matter what the scales say!)…. if we weren’t, I guess we wouldn’t be physical matter. There are ways of remaining buoyant, of course, and this will be unique to everyone. For me, it involves providing my soul experiences to feed from. It sounds so trite – I know – but they are simple things, so simple that I often overlook or avoid doing them, believing (wrongly) that they won’t make any difference to me. Walks in nature (with no other sound but footsteps and birdsong and wind through leaves), rolling hills or stretches of sand – vistas that allow my creativity to expand, getting my hands busy in the dirt in my garden, planting new things.

When I lose this balance, I go grey. I go back to stepping day to day. Then I say, “We need a holiday!” and the family agrees. So we go, we holiday, we enjoy it and then we return. Step and repeat.

Breathtakingly tall

Something happened this time while we were away, though. We have made a promise as a family, a plan, a way to box and shelve (but keep) this feeling. We decided that a permanent place to take time out as a family with no distractions was a perfect way to truly unwind. I find now, after several weeks at home, that I am still expanding my thoughts into this space (wherever it is) and it is allowing me to look ahead to a new life. A creative fulfilling life, living off the land (if we plan properly) and living more simply.

The vision of the home away from home I have in my mind is one that is beckoning and getting stronger, so much so that I am almost yearning for it now.

 

Moggs Creek…. aaaaaaah

Do you have a permanent place to holiday every year or do you go somewhere new every time you get a chance to go away? Which do you prefer?

The day looks like any other.

I get up before the sun, pull on shorts and a tee, grab the dog’s lead, tie my laces and we’re away. Half an hour later, I check plants in the front garden. Check for new shoots on the baby gum we planted around Christmas time. Come inside, flick on the kettle and the radio.

After the school dash, I return home. Work a day. Pay some bills, hang some washing. Clean mouse shit out of the pantry from an unexpected visit – for when are rodents expected? Really? – and restack the shelf. Admire my handiwork with those Ikea shelving units I bought a few months back. Collect the LGBB from school again, take her to her after school sport. Come home, give her tea. Say goodnight to Dad via the phone, tuck her into bed and marvel at the skin on her forehead, all rosy-smelling from her bath.

I helped bring that skin to being. This flesh and blood. My own. My only. Her brow furrows. I forgot to read her the story of Little Ella, she reminds me. Ulp. Forgot or conveniently overlooked in the hopes you wouldn’t remember I had promised, I wanted to ask her. [It was the latter, by the way]. So I trudged up and got the story out, brought it back to her bedside and began reading.

Half way through, changing words and skipping some of the harder bits (for her) here and there, she sits up. “Where am I?” she asks. “I want to see my name in there.” I grapple with my maternal instinct that wants to tell her to give her sister a turn…. It’s impossible. I have to try and explain to this kid that sometimes, it’s right for us – her, me and her dad – to give Ellanor some of our conscious attention. Some brain time. A loving thought. A gesture like reading the story about her is one way we do this.

I’m not prepared for nights like these. There have been plenty in Lolly’s young life – but probably not as often as you’d imagine or expect – and they still grip me by the heart. Twist my insides. Keep me close to my fears over Lolly’s own mortality. It reminds me how close underneath the thin surface they lie. Lurking.

Today, I found out about a technique – kinesiology-linked, I believe? – that gets a body in touch with where it is holding its trauma. And helps the inhabitant of that body to actually release it. I’m thinking my current health issues are related to the ongoing post-traumatic stress I have. Most days, months, years, I can walk with it and I’ve learned to walk with it and chip away at it. Sometimes, I even pretend it doesn’t bother me that others in similar shoes to mine seem to be able to “move on” far more quickly and not bring these things to the surface.

Then I slap myself around a bit and remind myself this can’t possibly be true. They just choose to surface it in different (and likely more private than a blog) ways.

“I just want a sister.” My beautiful blonde-haired girl is sobbing deeply into her Scrapsy. His ear gets gently rubbed across her cheek, a comfort move she has done with her little soft dog since she was twelve months old. Thank God for that bit of fur and stuffing. Where would we all be without Scraps, I muse. And how the hell do I reply? So I tell her honestly.

“We tried, darlin’. And you were the only one who stayed. Out of all Mummy and Daddy’s babies, you are the only special one who stayed with us.” And now I’m dripping silent tears I hope she can’t see in the dark.

“I’m sorry, Mummy,” she reaches her hand out and cups my cheek, rubbing it slightly.

“What for?”

“You’re crying,” she says, crying herself. Damn. I assure her my tears are not for her to worry herself over. She goes to sleep knowing she is loved. Holding Scrapsy tight, a smile on her lips.

Each time I think I might turn away from this blog, that it is too morose, that I am not putting enough “fluff and light and funny stuff” here, I am pulled up sharply. By my reality, by my responsibility to actually help to balance out the rest of the privileged world’s crud and fluff and light (and gossip and obsession on material things and image and looks and gains and wins and competitions with each other). There are plenty of places for those things to be found and tapped into.

I’ve got to be real. This is my reality. I can’t say yes all the time, be all the things to all the people. The more peripheral, the more likely they’re the first not to be said yes to, their gaze not going to be met by my eyes. I can’t engage all the time. I’m in constant preparation for the energy it takes to sit by the side of my daughter who hurts in bursts.

I don’t begrudge any of this, regret anything. This is my daily grind. And it is – truly – beautiful.

 


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