Counting Steps

Counting Steps
  • Life with Chronic Pain 

Dealing with chronic pain, on a daily basis, with three small children, is obviously very challenging. I can’t remember having a day without pain. Fortunately, I have adorable kids that make it so much easier. The combination of the pain and kids is all part of a daily game of coping, one that we all experience, for different reasons. My daily challenge is chronic pain, and the only time it really gets me down is when I miss out on something that I was really excited about doing, but I’ll save that for another post.

Today I just want to try and explain to you about the masks I think that we all wear while we try and get on with our day, and my ‘counting steps’ method, that helps me get through mine. Getting the kiddes to and from school without too many hassles (incuding crazy Miss 4 attempts at making us late) and managing my pain throughout it all is hard, but it’s hard for all of us. As my husband likes to say, ‘we all have our own shit to deal with…’, and it’s true. You start talking to anybody, really talk to them – and there is something stressing them out.

My daughter has knee pain, and sometimes she gets really upset that her knee is hurting her again, and keeping her awake late. She will roll around from side to side on the bed crying, saying, ‘it’s not fair…why do I get knee pain?’ I try and explain to her, that we all have something. Mummy has her pain, my sister has her terrible Thyroid condition, Pa has a bad back. Daddy has a bad back. There are children at your school` with nut allergies. I ask her ‘how would you feel if you always had to worry about what you ate? And needed injections if you had the wrong food?’ This strikes a chord with my daughter, as my kiddles are obsessed with peanut butter. In the school holidays, they go crazy, and want peanut butter sandwiches every single day (because they can’t take these to school). We talk about how some people have lost their Mummy or Daddy, or some children get very sick and spend a lot of time in hospital. It’s really hard to talk to a six year old about sick children, because then they start to ask you about death, and kids….and it makes you feel scared and vulnerable about your child, and you don’t want them to be thinking about it themselves. I still haven’t worked this one out, and I’m getting off topic again.

What I try and do is to make her feel grateful that she only has knee pain. It may sound crazy, but I am also grateful for my chronic pain. It may be hideous, and may mean that I spend a lot of my evenings resting on the couch, unable to move, but it’s not fatal. My husband probably isn’t thrilled when he comes home tired to a kitchen as yet unfinished and pots yet unwashed, left because my pain has got so bad that I just can’t do it anymore. There may be mess, but if I’m in pain he is very strict about me not overdoing it. He has repeatedly said he would rather deal with the kitchen mess, or do the washing himself, then have me having to go off in an ambulance for a few nights. Which does happen a few times a year when my pain levels get too far out of control.

On a daily level, I tend to push it to the side and just get on with it. I have a method at home, I call ‘counting steps’, in my head, but it is essentially about picking up things off the floor in the least amount of steps possible. It’s about limiting reaching up and down, which adds to my pain, or walking down the two stairs in our kitchen which can really inflame my condition. So, I’ll bend down to get the dustpan and broom out of the cupboard as I pick up the spoons that Atty dumped out of the drawer, then, staying down low, I’ll sweep up and pick up the few toys that are scattered on the floor. Once I’ve tidied the floor. Then I’ll get the handful of things off the table and walk down the two stairs where I stay kneeling and crawling around putting everything away on that level, counting steps ahead, ‘two more blocks, two more steps, then I’ done.’ I have to plan things out but once I have, I will get some books and get my heat packs and get ready to collapse. Maybe rewarding myself with a cuppa and I might leave some snacks out for the kids if I’ve had them prepared earlier (otherwise that’s too much work in one block for me), leaving some cut up carrots or grapes out so they can self serve when they are hungry. Once I’ve done the kitchen, that’s all I can manage for awhile and the kids and I snuggle and read books. I really struggle to get back up once I’ve finally laid down, so I need to have enough set up for them to be happy to sit with me for awhile. They might ask for something I haven’t got out, a sandwich, cut up apple, but they have to wait. When MJ, our eldest is home she is amazing, and will make the sandwiches for the little ones, and understands that she has to wait. Miss 4 is not so patient, and will whinge at me, but she still has to wait. The baby never fusses. I just have to watch he doesn’t climb anywhere out of sight by bribing him with more ‘Thomas’ books. So, yes, it’s tough, but, it’s not cancer, and I’m not dying. I feel as though my last two surgeries in the past year have both made a more than 50% improvement each time, which is huge progress to say the proceeding five years (having my babies), left me with my condition so debilitating I could barely walk or get out of bed.

I don’t mean to sound too ‘new agey’ about my pain, but the cause of my main pain is a long history of Endometriosis, which often has more complex issues then what I’ve experienced. Most people with Endo as bad as I’ve had, with over eight laparoscopes each excising more Endomeitriosis that had grown back, have problems with fertility. My husband and I didn’t have that. We were actually fortunate enough to fall pregnant without even trying. The first time was completely unplanned and unexpected, but, sadly, ended in miscarriage. Most of my friends probably don’t know this, and miscarriage still isn’t talked about enough, but I don’t have the answers on that today. Losing our first baby, was also a sad way for us to demonstrate to our families our commitment to each other. Instead of celebrating, we found ourselves tearfully informing our parents over the phone about the urgent surgery I required. We only had one week to enjoy our pregnancy before it was over.

We grieved, and got busy choosing our first apartment together, and I was drowning in coursework from my postgraduate teaching degree I had already recently started. Before we realised it, we were pregnant again, this time with our darling daughter, who is now almost seven. We went on to have two more healthy babies; the third was merely a thought before he became a reality. And after two gorgeous girls, we were thrilled to have our lives graced with a cheeky, beautiful little boy.

My body suffered through the pregnancies, and I know my Mum wishes I’d waited longer between having our three babies, as my body was still in severe pain two years after my second, with me barely able to take a step or get out of bed. Yet, this was the life I was given, and my kids are amazingly gorgeous and fun, and even with all my ‘counting steps’, it’s still a bloody beautiful life.

 

 

Side note – thanks to my Mum and husband for doing everything they could to be there as much as they could through my pain, and for allowing me as much hospital rest I need when I need it. I love you both so much. Thanks, and thanks to my team of mum helpers – you are all amazing! Love xxxxx

‘The Argyllshire’ (Chapter 20)

‘The Argyllshire’ (Chapter 20)

‘The Argyllshire’ (from Chapter Twenty, draft in progress)

Sydney, 1916

Stella found herself saying goodbye to her parents from Sydney Harbour on May 11thth, 1916. Her pale hand mechanically signalling her farewell, whilst Stella herself watched as if trapped behind glass. The proceeding week had been a maelstrom of goodbyes and organising, and Stella had felt herself carried away. She had been unable to stop and enjoy the endless cups of tea she had shared throughout the week with friends, or to question the energy pushing her towards her anxious departure.

There were thousands there with them to see them off, most of them nervous families farewelling their brave sons. Stella noticed how small her parents looked, not merely because they were lost in a throng of excited onlookers, but because there lives had reached a weary mid point, and they looked aged. Her father didn’t look stern or serious, he looked sad and powerless. Her mother, who cleaned the house from morning until night, didn’t look to have the strength to walk back to the tram station. She looked timid and tired, and had cried as Stella had hugged her goodbye. They reminded Stella of a pair of bedraggled mice she’d once seen in a children’s book, clinging to each other, stranded on a piece of plywood as it sunk in the ocean. Yet it was Stella who was the little bedraggled mouse setting off on the ocean. She yelled out ‘I love you,’ but she may as well have whispered the words, heartfelt as they were. I love you, she thought in her head, hearing the voice tinny in her mind. She thought that she saw her mother’s head move slightly towards her, her chin tilt forward in a proud fashion, and hoped that she felt all the love bursting forth from her eldest daughter.

Stella had the sudden urge to get off the ship, to run back and hug them one last time. She wanted to smell her mother’s floral scent and to feel her father’s rough hand upon her back. Yet the time for farewells had finally halted, as the alarm of the great ship the Argyllshire sounded, and she felt a lurch as it pulled away, carrying with it over five hundred passengers and two thousand soldiers from the 7th Brigade.

‘Don’t cry dear’, here, take my handkerchief,’ said an older woman, smiling at her, as Stella’s single tear wandered uncontrolled down her cheek.

Stella looked at the woman. She looked surprisingly sophisticated against this backdrop of angst and anticipation. The woman, probably closer to fifty than her mother was, seemed to wear her age comfortably as she stood calmly looking out towards the water. As Stella turned to return her handkerchief, she watched as the woman adjusted the scarf that she had been wearing around her neck, gracefully moving it to tie around her head. She was wearing it in a way that reminded Stella of Annette Kellerman, the one they called the ‘Australian mermaid’, the image further solidified by the setting of the ocean surrounding them.

‘So, where are you off to in these testing times?’ the woman asked.

‘I’m off to London. To the Red Cross. To be a Nurse.’ Stella cursed her shy staccato speaking, and wished she had an ounce of the woman’s calmness.

‘Well well, aren’t you a little hero then my dear.’

‘How about you?’ Stella asked, blushing.

‘I’m going home to see my son. He was injured in France, in Verdun. I have to be with him. They were sending him back to England.’

‘Are you from there? Mrs?’ Stella asked, not confident in the accent. There were many born and bred Australians who spoke with a clipped British tongue, as though from the radio. Stella’s mother had encouraged her to open her mouth more when she spoke, but Stella hadn’t wanted to lose her Australian-ness. It was part of her.

‘Yes dear, I’m Hilda, Hilda Ford, and I’m from Cornwall. God’s own country. Haven’t been back there for twenty years.’

‘Why so long? It must have been hard to be away from home all that time?’

Stella asked, then cursed her own insensitivity. ‘I’m sorry,’ she muttered, blushing. ‘I only ask because I don’t know if I can manage to be away from home for a day.’

‘Home is where you are dear. I met my husband here, so love made it much easier to stay. The heart ties you to a place, or to a man. But, he’s gone now so it’s time to for me to return.’

‘I’m sorry.’ Stella’s words sounded empty.

‘That’s quite alright Miss?’

‘Stella. Stella Wright.’ Stella replied, blushing again.

‘My husband died five years ago now. We had a nice life. He’ll be glad he missed all this wretched war going on.’ The two women looked out towards the great emptiness of the ocean that surrounded them, both quiet for a while. Stella began musing on her destination, and the hostile and unfamiliar world of London hospitals and the war she was heading towards.

Stella needed something – an image, a smell of this foreign land to connect her, to help reassure her of her decision to leave her beloved Sydney behind.‘Is there anything else, apart from your son, that you are looking forward to in England?’ Stella wanted an image of their mother country. She was recalling all the stories she’d heard over the years about the poverty and the grime and the smoke, and was desperately hoping that this woman would help to brighten her outlook.

‘Oh no dear, I wouldn’t go back if I didn’t have to. I’m leaving my daughter behind here now. It might be years before I get back to her. Her, and the grandchildren. They get to grow up with the great expanse of sky over here that we really don’t get in England. It suffocates you. It, ah well…the weather…doesn’t let up.’

Stella could feel her chest constricting. She thought of the smell of the fig tree from her window at home and took a deep breath. It was only this morning that she had left it behind, surely she can’t have already forgotten its’ sweetness.

The woman looked at Stella’s downcast face. ‘Don’t worry dear, you do your duty and Europe will be waiting for you right on the doorstep.’

‘And your grandchildren will be here for you.’

‘Oh they’ll be all grown up by time I get back. Won’t remember me at all.’ The woman answered, dismissively.

‘Surely it can’t be that long? We nearly got them in Turkey, we’ll get them in France.’

‘My dear, who ever told you that we nearly got them in Turkey?’ the woman looked at her, her eyes narrowing.

Stella coloured slightly. ‘My father.’

Stella looked at the crowd, to see if they could spot the man that inspired so much love and fear in her simultaneously. She was always trying to do something to make him proud, to make him see her. As she scanned the crowd, and recounted their farewell in her mind, she still had no real idea if she had inspired him or disappointed him with her plans for London and her career as a nurse.

‘Who knows what will occur, but I doubt it will be over soon. I do wonder how many British boys have to die before those Yanks decide to come over and help? And how about all those Australians, refusing to vote for a conscription? Disgusting. We need men to fight those Huns dear, and if we don’t have men, we’ll be dealing with those Nazis running all over the world. They’ll be destroying all in its path, right up to Westminster. It could be years before we clean up this mess, we need help. Although, if America does finally decide to join in, who knows what help they’ll be in ending this mess.’

Stella’s heart was racing. She felt guilty that her body pulsed with a surge of excitement at the talk of the fighting continuing. Part of her was worried that it would all be over before she got to London, but now, it sounded as though she’d actually be there in time to help, to do something.

She also felt sorrow roll over her, the thought of leaving her parents here, to face the changing world if America got involved too. How much bleaker could it get for them? Would they be alright on their own? She looked back down at the shore, trying to make out the city she was leaving, the parents she was leaving behind for god knows what to happen to them, while she went off in the world.

Oh god, please look after them, Stella thought.

Although, she didn’t believe in God.

***

Stella woke up to her first morning on the ship, drowsy from the barbiturates she’d taken the night before. Her mother had pushed them into her hand, reminding her that sleep was a ladies first prerogative. It kept both your complexion and your spirit bright. She didn’t think that she would use them, but finding herself lying alone in a room without her sister sleeping beside had made her feel so unbearably sad, that the unwanted, unasked for tear, began to descend down her cold cheeks again. The thought of the ocean swirling around below her didn’t comfort her either. In an effort to stem the tears, she’d taken them without another thought.

As Stella lay waking in her bed, she felt the tumble of the waves challenge the pit of hunger stranded within. She wasn’t sure that she could eat. She looked around the cabin – sparse and empty of anything. There was a small window through which she could see the grey sea, tumbling and reaching up to her. It looked grey and dirty as it slammed against the boat, not at all like the glistening blue that she remembered from her beach days.

It all felt so strange. She tried to stand up, but was immediately knocked off her feet into the opposite bunk. The woman there smiled at her.

‘Not easy, is it dear?’

Stella recognised her as the woman from the deck, Hilda. She smiled wanly at her.

‘First time on a boat?’ The woman asked her, lying relaxed with a journal across her stomach.

‘Yes,’ Stella muttered grimly, as she attempted to get out of her bed again. Gripping the side rails, she miraculously remained on her feet this time, as she felt the waves smashing against the window.

‘Oh well love, it might take a few days, but then you should be okay. That is, unless we hit some rough weather.’

‘You’ve been on a boat before?’ Stella asked.

‘Yes dear, when I came out from England.’

‘Oh, of course.’ Stella nodded awkwardly. This woman was so worldly and experienced, and here Stella was, a young nobody, who couldn’t even get out of her bed properly.

‘Come on dear, let’s try and leave the cabin together. You can hold on to me for support.’

Stella felt more useless, the woman was nearing her sixties, but she stood up from her bed strongly and surely, and Stella felt her warm arm around her elbow.

‘Now, don’t hold out much hope for good food here either dear – it’s food for fuel not taste, more than anything.’

Stella nodded her head. Her stomach felt as weary as her head, taking the smells and bleak sights as a sign that perhaps she had made a grave error by leaving.

‘Some toast, that will do you some good, with some marmite on it. That’s what they are giving our troops, you know’.

Stella looked about the boat, scanning the passengers. She saw young men, children with their mothers and elderly couples, but not many single young ladies. She was the only one, as far as she could see.

Stella passed by a young man in a uniform smoking off the back, the smoke mixing with the boat’s diesel, forcing the bile to begin its ascent. A rollicking wave knocked the boat up and down, sending Stella stumbling into the side. The soldier turned to steady her, taking her other hand as Hilda had done.

Stella looked at the young man, dark eyes with heavy eyelashes, and immediately thought that he looked far too young to be going off to war. ‘Thank you’, she said, before quickly darting her eyes away. ‘Anytime ma’am’, he said as he returned to his cigarette.

The smell of the smoke reminded her of her father, and kept her stomach churning as easily as the waves below her. Before she could stop herself, she was suddenly doubled over. As she went to reach out for something to hold, suddenly all went black.

‘Here dear, I’d like you to meet Mr Johnson. He’s the ship’s navigator. He’s come out to help.’ Hilda said as she laid a cold compress on Stella’s forehead. Stella found herself sitting in an armchair surrounded by a group of onlookers. There was a group of soldiers who all seemed to be, well, laughing at her.

‘Now, now, what we have here is all nerves. Get a load of this into you’. Mr Johnson said, as he offered Stella a flask. It smelled vaguely of the vagabond that lived in the park at the end of their street. Her father would give him work in the summer, when he’d be clean shaved and didn’t smell to bad, but by winter, all you would smell would be the potent mixture of what her mother called the ‘devil’s liquor’ and urine.

‘No, thank you’, Stella said, pushing the flask away. The potency of the liquid set off another round of retching over board, making Stella so overcome with embarrassment that she could feel sweat greasing her palms that gripped the ship’s barrier.

‘You’ll be surer than sure once you realise this beauty ain’t going to get you into any trouble. It’s the fear that makes you sick. She’ll be keeping at a nice fourteen knots, with over ten thousand tonnes of her cursing through the water, and not a hint of interference from Neptune, I can almost guarantee it.’ Mr Johnson said with a chuckle.

‘I suggest if you won’t have any here rum, that you then get someone to bring you a hot cup of black tea, same as my grandmama used to always have. Then, miss, you should put yourself down sit here. Be on the watch for the Sirens for me. And, if you see them, well then, the hit to your head was a good one!’ Mr Johnson said laughing as he turned to leave. ‘ Be glad you ain’t one of these brave lads we are ferrying across the ocean to battle, because you’d sure as heck be dead once you reached the shore if you let the sea sickness affect your mind. Gets your balance all off. You are lucky mind! That’s why women ain’t never got a place in the war. They are too soft. This is all men’s work.’ He said as he returned back down into the bowels of ship.

Stella knew that the man was trying to be kind, but he made Stella prickle with anger all the same. It was true that she was soft, she was sickly, but that didn’t mean she enjoyed being laughed at, or made to feel she didn’t belong within the war effort. She was going there to help.

***

Stella remained mainly oblivious to the goings on of the troops from NSW, with their main destination shrouded in secrecy, and her sickness keeping her confined to her bed.

She had a parade of people visiting her room to offer her seasickness remedies, but Stella often felt that all they really wanted to do was gawk at her. There wasn’t much entertainment on board after all.

One passenger, Mrs Jackson, suggested cayenne pepper, which was not to be found anywhere in the galley. Another passenger suggested sitting on brown paper, which someone thought might be in one of the cabins on the upper deck, but to no avail. One of the ladies from the upper deck came and offered Stella one of her garter belts to wear around her stomach, to prevent the sickness from rising. All it did was cut Stella in half. Eventually she gave up, with the realization shortly hitting her that her seasickness was going to be her companion all for the entire trip. She tried to spend as much of her day on the deck, where she could take in the fresh air, that is, as she felt as though the air did help, as long as the boat was moving steadily.

Stella walked on to the deck one morning right into a conversation between Hilda and Mr Johnson. ‘You are right Hilda, they should have more leave.’ He said, trying to be optimistic, ‘and it’s a pretty town, housing a stunning town hall that was built by an Australian. But, you know, it’s not enough. We have ships out there ships waiting for us. But you are right, that’s what it’s about.’ Said Mr Johnson, looking out to the boys on leave for the morning in Durban.

. Let’s hope she gets us there fast enough to see him.’ Hilda said, stroking the boat’s side.

Stella stayed remained sitting on the deck, sitting and watching as the officers clambered back on the boat, full of excitement. ‘You should wait Miss, until we get to Dakar.’ The last officer said as he climbed back on board, grinning wildy. He was smiling so broadly, as though he only had adventure on his horizon. ‘My cousin reckons that there is great fun to be had there with the niggers. He wrote us home that they threw coppers into the water to get them diving in. He reckons that they are the best in the water. They would always dive for the money, and would always bring it up.’ For some reason, this made Stella sad. It was as though he thought he had so much to look forward to, but there was only torment ahead on his horizon. Stella could not even think that far ahead, as her stomach churned and she raced for the side of the ship, again.

‘I’m sorry love, but my grandma used to always say that the best cure for seasickness was to sit under the shade of a tree.’ Said Hilda as she came back out, watching Stella vomiting over the side for the umpteenth time that day.

Stella thought of her tree back home in her courtyard. Her patient and loyal fig tree, and longed to be back under its’ shade, and not in the curse of this storm. ‘Will it pass?’ Stella asked Mavis, hoping that if she could only ride out this trip then it would all get easier, and everything would be alright. That she would be alright.

‘I’m sorry, dearie, but I think the worst is still upon us.’ Hilda said, as though reading her thoughts. Stella took a deep breath, knowing in her bones that Hildawas right. She leant over the side one more time and saw her tree out in the ocean. It was there at home waiting for her, as her parents would be, when all this was over.

 

 

Fields of Gold – The Secret Business of Childcare Waitlists

Fields of Gold – The Secret Business of Childcare Waitlists

There is a battle going on in the Inner West, and it has nothing to do with the housing market. It is all about securing a revered and much demanded childcare spot. As chocolate is an antidote to a breakup, so is childcare an antidote to a mother’s sanity.

Childcare is an opportunity for both us and our children to make friendships, improve our social connections and learn new skills. Unfortunately, securing our darlings a day in these havens, (that come with organic cooked food and yoga classes) is complicated battle. A battle that is fought on a field covered in gold.

My first encounter with the childcare process came under a cloud of intense stress and worry, and made me want to instantly give up. When our first little darling was born, we were living in Balmain, heartland of no chance places. I got scared hearing the stories from all the lovely, organised women in my mother’s group who had already put their names down at half a dozen centres before their child was born. When I heard these stories, mine was already six months old, so, obviously,  my next step was…to do nothing. I could see I didn’t have a shot, and was concerned about the financial sense of committing our names to centres we may not be living near, or need, when we were offered a spot.

To secure a venerated place, there are two types of mothers. Firstly, those Kikki K VIP members that are organised enough to put their child’s name down when they are in utero. I admire them, really I do, and I even tried to be like them. I am like them, a little. I love Kikki K, and I love even more spending money there. I somehow, disappointingly, never manage to actually find time to use the stuff….the beautiful organisational folders sit emptily by my pile of papers in my inbox. It’s one of my many skills my husband marvels at.

Then, there are those mothers like me, who always mean to…..really really plan to. But……don’t quite get the forms finished. Or sent in……another skill I possess.

By baby number 3, I had learnt a bit more about the competitive nature of childcare spots, and had put down my unborn baby’s details down three months before he was born, in 2015. Smugly I sent off the email, only to get a prompt reply that there was not a spot available until at least 2017, two years away. This was a centre that wasn’t even open yet!

Through many boring hours reading the wonders spouted by flashy childcare centre websites, I developed a simple and transparent system of only choosing centres that didn’t charge a fee. This filter narrows your selection to about twenty five percent of centres. If I see a centre that is prepared to not push you for an administration fee, then I am going to instantly feel more love for you than the others. I saw the policy as a symbol of their openness and generosity, not as a tactic of devouring money from desperate parents who probably will never be given the chance to step foot in the centre.

For those of us who are committed to an area – we have a mortgage, we have connections in the community (through a primary school), then all we can do is wait. And hope. How ethical is it for places to charge fees, knowing that their lists are overflowing with children?Is there any possibility of returning the money to parents once their child doesn’t get a spot. The combination of limited places of preschools in my local area (and I’m sure many others) and the documented evidence that pre-schooling is essential for child’s development adds to this issue. It is scary how slim our chances are of gaining a spot and how desperate we all are to get one.

The problem with this, the issue that underpins our desperate hope, is that childcare centres charge a waitlist fee, some charge a large one. I’ve heard of anything between $20 (average) to $200 on non refundable wait list fees to put your name at the end of a very long list. Some need to pay a deposit, plus the bond, which for one mother was non refundable once they decided they no longer wanted to place. That leaves lots of money sitting around, for the Queen (or King) to be counting in her counting room.

What is this administration fee really for? How much time and effort does it really take to enter the details onto a computer? I know it takes me an incredibly painfully long time to fill in an enrolment form, but do they need to re-enter it, or can’t they merely scan it or file it? I have read that some councils use this for future budgeting and staffing requirements.

In my research, I have come to understand that the situation as it stands is perfectly legal. It continues to be so as the fee is only the promise of a possibility of a place, not a guarantee. I have issues with those high demand centres accepting money from everyone. It seems unethical that those centres know most of the parents applying don’t have any chance as their lists are overflowing like a chocolate fountain at every happening kid’s party. This leads me to me asking ‘show me the money’! How much unjustified administrative fees sit in coffers throughout the inner west, from parents who never even had a chance of a place.

I’ve learnt that there are incredibly organised mothers who are right on top of this issue. They use a tried and tested email of regularly calling the centres and sending off emails checking their child’s wait list status. One Mum, used a copy and paste job – a gentle probe disguised as ‘checking if any more information was required for their child’s enrolment’. Any form of regular contact is apparently an opportunity that could potentially bring us closer to a spot.

Yet, this presents me with further questions – what components underpin the decisions regarding the places that are given? I am too polite to regularly check in for an update on a place, not wanted to disturb people who are busy looking after children. Rather, naively perhaps, I see it as my job to wait for a spot to become available, and to trust in the system. But I wonder, does my meekness imply that I don’t deserve a spot, and furthermore, how do they decide which child is given a spot? Is it order of the child waitlisted, or is it order of priority (parent working, disabled, etc), or is it to appease those desperate parents that continually call the centres? Finally, is there any independent auditor who is monitoring this selection process?

In my research I was told of instances where centres can’t give the place away. They try to contact parents who have changed location or don’t return the centre’s phone calls, so apparently, by not keeping our details current, we are somehow missing out on places. Personally, I think this situation might occur as often as Nessie appears in the Loch. It certainly hasn’t been my experience, I apparently still don’t have a place at any of the centres I put my now four year old daughter’s name down at three years ago.

Is it really ethically acceptable for centres to take money off parents of two or three year old children, knowing that they have children who have been on the list for three or more years before them? The Inner West is a place to raise children, to make money, to spend money – in houses, in the great shops and cafes, and on endless waitlist fees that, similarly to your late night partying Saturday nights, you are never going to get back.

 

 

Final note – dedicated to my Mother’s Group in Balmain, 2010, who gave me many invaluable pieces of advice, including childcare (which although I didn’t follow, was still brilliant and demonstrated to me how much you all knew what they were doing), and who got me through many insane moments with my first darling – a little runner (who you all kindly took turns in running after, thus giving me a break). Thanks ladies!

‘It Ain’t Easy Bein’ Green……or Bein’ Me’ Lesson Eight: Accept Yourself

‘It Ain’t Easy Bein’ Green……or Bein’ Me’ Lesson Eight: Accept Yourself

 

Lesson Eight –  ‘It Ain’t Easy Bein’ Green……or Bein’ Me’

Accept Yourself

My life is pulled in two directions – between my chronic pelvic pain and my two beautiful young girls. Often the pain devours all other demands and sends me to the couch, or bed, and sometimes even to hospital. Through my role as a Mother, I am learning to accept myself.

I may distress people with this diatribe.  For those out there suffering with diseases, or being burdened by life in other ways – my heart goes out to you and I apologise if in anyway I am offending you. This post is part of a blog of  lessons for my girls from my experiences and musings, although I do hope to teach others about chronic pain in the process.

I have had eight surgeries over the past fourteen years. I have suffered with endometriosis – a much maligned disease, since I was fifteen when I started passing out at school in pain with my periods. Although it wasn’t formally diagnosed until I was nineteen. I have had one miscarriage, two beautiful babies, one postpartum haemorrhage and four D&Cs.

I have a lot of scar tissue and a lot of nerve pain.

Although I am very lucky, yes lucky is a hard word to use in this sentence, but lucky that I’ve only been affected by pain with my endometriosis, my girls came to me easily (we didn’t have the fertility issues often associated with this disease).

I have to depend on my Mum a lot of the time to takeover with my girls. As some regular readers of my posts will know, I am a fiercely independent woman who has travelled the world by herself and been through a lot of tough experiences.

I do not like depending on people – but my health has forced me to.

Letting yourself depend on an army of friends/helpers opens you up to getting used to them being there, so that when they are not, or when they stop understanding – it hurts more than if they were never around.

This week, I was in and out of hospital twice. For once, it was not connected to my chronic pain. It was due to a painful infection. I am not relieved…or content…or anything. I am just frustrated. And I hate feeling frustrated almost as much as I hate being in pain. This is where I am trying to change, and where my lesson comes in. Firstly, I should be extremely incredibly grateful that my issues are not terminal.

I do have pain. I do have issues. But doesn’t everybody have some kind of shit to deal with?

If I wasn’t the woman the doctors scratched their head at and rolled their eyes over as they scanned over my long history and many medications. I wouldn’t be me.

If I wasn’t the woman who has had to fight for many years for nurses to believe I am truly in excruciating pain when I am not crying or screaming. That is just not me. I sit quietly, in agony. The biggest clue to my pain is my difficulty to stand, or those many days when I don’t leave the house. This is me.

If I wasn’t the woman who has changed specialists every few years as their sympathy and understanding grew thin, I’d be in bed permanently. With patience and re-newed purpose, I would  re-tell my long medical history again. I never gave up or accepted when they said there was nothing more that could be done. That is just not me.

If I wasn’t the woman who has been in three motor vehicle accidents, and had a painfully slow recovery from one in a fancy Croatian Hotel room (thanks to a loan from my parents) with no pain relief and no assistance. I couldn’t get the hospital to admit me – the language barrier was insurmountable. I didn’t complain. That is just not me.

If I wasn’t the woman who has had to continuously cancel on friends, family and events at the last minute…repetitively..losing friendships…for many years. I never sat at home all night crying with disappointment or frustration, (okay…maybe for just a few minutes…but then no longer). That is just not me.

I have been able to fall blessedly pregnant with two beautiful girls. I am writing this blog for you girls to learn from as you get older. I struggled with being me, but because of you two – I came to accept myself.

I have to accept myself because my chronic pain, my endometriosis, my miscarriage, my arthritis – is all part of the woman I am. I have the best life in the world. I am a Mum.

I am turning 32 and I am accepting myself. I am often in pain, but that doesn’t define me. I am a Mum to two amazingly wonderful gems. My girls. My daughters. I am the luckiest woman in the world.

To finish with a literary genuis:

“Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life; define yourself.”
― Robert Frost

I hope my readers have never felt silenced or defined by others.

How do you define yourself today?

Do you truly accept yourself? Or are you struggling with “‘bein’ me

 

Update – I’ve now got a beautiful almost two year old boy, and yes, my body was completely broken by the pregnancy. I’ve gone on to have two more surgeries and now have a Neurostimulator in (but more on that later).

Lesson Seven – The Kindness of Strangers

Lesson Seven – The Kindness of Strangers

Lesson Six

Sometimes, people surprise you…in a wonderful way. I want my girls to be the surprising type. I fancy that my girls will  grow up spreading happiness to others who are lucky enough to cross their paths, and my next lesson is about compliments.

I am still a rookie Mum on co-ordinating the needs of the three of us when we go out, so a short shopping trip to do one thing, can take hours. I had just masterfully negotiated out of the toy shop to the parents’ room with a successful maneouvre around the playground.

I was hastily giving the girls consecutive nappy changes, getting food out for MJ and trying to get ourselves set up for a bf for AM.

I think my two year old thinks that my nappy change bag is a magic carpet bag – every snack option you present to her isn’t the one she is after, and the little angry dances that she does on the floor (of anywhere) are getting more fluid and cacophonous.

Anyway, I was managing all of this bedlam when a Mum of three children walked over to say ‘you are doing a really good job.’

My emotional reactions as a Mother are very easily ignited (as I’m sure most others are) and I could have either cried or hugged her on the spot.

I am a firm believer in telling somebody if they are a tag dag, but complimenting a stranger does not come naturally. I can comfortably strike up a conversation with another woman if they are changing their bubba whilst I am, and might even throw in a compliment about their efficiency or cute child.

However, this angelic woman managed to positively spin my day on its axis, and I will resolve to try and change somebody else’s day, in a startling way, with a thoughtful compliment.

I once read somewhere that Mark Twain said that “I can live for two months on a good compliment”. I can rework that by saying that long days by yourself with two little ones can be injected with renewed viguor when an unexpected compliment comes your way.

Side note – I can add with pleasure and confidence that I have regularly, consistently and often compliment unknown women for the great job they are doing. Now I have 3, I truly understand the struggle that it is just to leave the house. Parenting is hard work. Being out and about is tough! Keep up the compliments ladies, because, let’s be honest, it’s the sister hood that keeps us going, not the men in our lives who are ever going to tell us we are doing a great job!

 

Lesson Six – Oh, the places you’ll go……

Lesson Six – Oh, the places you’ll go……

Lesson Nine

Once your formative school years are behind you, the world is waiting for you to dance upon.

My next lesson is about dreaming, and in the understanding that once you start to unravel the true tenor of one dream you may find yourself starting all over again, or outside your self-designed dreamscape.

I had very clear goals for when I left school. I had saved and booked into an exclusive private college where I was going to study Journalism. A few weeks into my course I found that the structure was very restricted and the timetable and homework were reflective of school practice, and I wanted out.

In danger of losing a lot of money, a second option was presented by the college which was to study their Book Editing and Publishing Course. Although the course was fairly mundane and I made no friends (and had to sit there each week quietly alone at a desk by myself feeling forlorn), I did make some use of my time there. I had finally started to immerse myself in the world of my true passion – Literature.

Curiously, it was the part time job that I got at a local bookshop – solely because of my recent Diploma course, that led me to study English Literature at University. I worked alongside a hip young group of undergraduates from the local university who were all passionately engaged in University life.

I quickly learnt that my unexpected withdrawal from college had drifted me towards my true dream thanks to the people I encountered (the experience of working with great people was tempered by being managed by a cantankerous boss, but that was all a part of that time). I had been too scared and too limited in my ambitions as I had thought Literary study too indulgent and not serious enough. I hadn’t realised that you could go to University to study areas that interested you, and to worry about connecting them to career pathways later. I had always been a worrier, and I finally started to conceive of the big dream as I went along.

When I was at Auckland University, my two close friends were a 30 something single mother who partnered cynicism with very dry humour in a Julia Morris sort of way, and a cyclopean Samoan ex-bouncer who loved playing ‘War of Warcraft’. I was drawn to them by their passion and enthusiasm for History and their ability to converse and fervently debate historical issues without self doubt or fear of being in the wrong. I would watch incredulously (because I was still a shy 20 year old) and think – but shouldn’t we be doing something else useful today…other then sit here all day discussing the true beginnings of the Civil Rights Movement..or who the greatest thinkers were in History? For the first time in my life I encountered passionate people pursuing their interests in a professional way. I was inspired to further my love of English Literature and no longer saw it as something frivolous or indulgent.

I changed universities three times over my three degrees and each time I met people who challenged my thinking and my understanding of the world and pushed me closer to dreams I wasn’t aware I was chasing. I am forever grateful to those friendships as they left indelible impressions upon me. Every experience changes you and contributes to the way you build your life and dreams.

I started my last degree, a postgraduate Bachelor of Teaching as a single mid twenty year old, and ended up having to delay my courses and meet half a dozen new cohorts as child rearing took over. I finished my last teaching Prac 6 months pregnant with my second, and studying History (Ancient Roman History, a topic I’d never previously looked at) with the most difficulty I’ve ever had. I remember staying up late, pregnant, emotional, tired, and doing my best to get all the Caesars in the right order as i was teaching a Year 12 class. Fortunately, I had the most wonderful supervising teacher, who really helped my confidence and inspired me to learn more about Ancient Rome. I thank him for my current obsession with that time period.

My discussion on some of my own post school learning experiences, and the ways that they’ve contributed to my current state of happiness ends here for now, with a reminder to my girls, and other readers to see the world with shiny eyes and when ‘things start to happen, don’t worry. Don’t stew. Just go right along. You’ll start happening too.’

– from Dr Seuss ‘Oh, the Places You’ll Go!’

 

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by Elissa in Lessons Tags: ambitions, career, debate, dr seuss quote, dream, dreaming, friendship, goals, happiness, i worry, passion, school, study, thinking, University, worry

Lesson Five – Find a Friend to Lean on

Lesson Five – Find a Friend to Lean on

Lesson Seven

Friendships have been written about using all kinds of cliches and cheesy phrases.

Love has been ravaged and anointed in the same way.

I’m going to make this lesson simple. Work hard on being honest and opening up to the people around you – family, school mates, uni friends and colleagues. These people will all come in and out of your life depending on where you are living, travelling, or how intrusive work life is for them or you.

When you can, spend long insouciant hours in the playground, coffee shops or pubs opening up about your life story and who you really are. Open up your heart by listing your worries and fears, and listen to theirs.

Work hard on this. Your work or study or boyfriend will always (hopefully) be around. It is not a waste of your time to be having girly girl chats.

I say girly girl chats, because in my experience girls have always beautifully featured in my life in this way. I’ve never had a close male friend, except for my husband. But this will always be a different relationship to the one you have with your girlfriends.

BECAUSE when you are having a burdensome run of events, you will need someone who you can just call on and unload to and not be judged or lectured to or misunderstood.

Find that friend and treat them well.

And finally, from another literary great who can astutely embody my lesson with a few words:

“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art… It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival.” – C.S. Lewis

Dedication: to all those women out there who I have called on in tears. I heartfully thank you for being in my life.

Follow up: Since I wrote this post, my darling first born has started school. I thought I had seen the best of female friendships, but nothing had prepared me for the ways women go completely above and beyond once you are part of a school community. Having my third baby, suffering surgeries….pain, and other issues made getting Mj to and from school very hard. Having women drop off dinners, some of whom I barely knew, was life saving. Some picked up and dropped off my daughter many days in a row….their kindness suprising me in ways that made me want to almost cry. I thank you ladies, I could not have survived kindergarten and a newborn without you. You women were truly generous, and I am still so grateful.

Lesson Four – Let it Go

Lesson Four – Let it Go

Lesson Four

This is one of my husband’s favourite phrases and I really am trying…but maybe if I wrote about the ways in which I am doing this, it might help others to implement this valuable (although often annoying) advice faster, and be a helpful lesson for my daughters about living in the present.

There have been two recent incidents that have made me laugh about how much I tend to hold on to things, and how much easier it would be just to let it go.

The first incident involved an old classmate. Having left school over ten years ago, I was finding it ridiculous that I was still distressed over the antics of a few ‘mean girls’ during my schooling days. I managed to reconnect through the omniscient powers of facebook with a girl who often said horrible things about me, and seeing as we both had young babies we thought we’d have a play date and catch up.

I was so nervous about it, both in accepting the invite and during the drive over, but she was lovely and has morphed in to an all embracing Earth Mother type after some hard times and the birth of her beautiful baby.

We both laughed about those days, and as she went on to talk about how bitchy she was at school, I was both relieved and surprised.  This self-awareness made it much easier for me to let it go. And to laugh at how silly I had been.

The second let it go incident was with HP  after we had just had a family picnic end in tears. Our two year old daughter Matilda Jayne (MJ) fell off the picnic table in a sickening two stage collapse. I could only watch hopelessly  as my legs failed to get me there in super(wo)man speed.

HP was the first on the scene and as he was picking MJ up, her eyes locked onto mine with the pain like a forgotten labrador puppy and I rushed to unload AM so that I could hold her.

The only sound I remember before the wailing from MJ burst forth was the sharp intake of shocked sighs emerging from a wedding party who were in the process of being video-graphed and photographed in the park.

I carried MJ away from the trauma scene so that she could be distracted by the boats on the water, but as the volcanic swelling slowly erupted from her forehead, I saw it as our cue to fast track it home to ice pack and rest.

We endeavoured to pack up the picnic food, a rug, a ball that was being blown towards the water, as well as trying to keep all our rubbish from flying away while carrying screaming girls.

What bothered me most as we drove away from the accident site? That nobody in the wedding party had offered to help, or offered any kind words or even sympathetic looks as we struggled in between them all out to our car. The only look I did register was the frustrated look of their videographer as he was obviously foreseeing the audio dramas MJ’s wailing was going to play havoc with.

‘Just let it go sweetie…just let it go’, said HP as I fumed away in the car.

I went on and on about the ignorance and rudeness of people. There were no interruptions to my tirade as MJ, traumatised, had immediately fallen asleep in her car seat.

We had been in a park only ten minutes away from home, and as I got out to carry her inside, I suddenly saw her bruised forehead, grazed arms, and the clean streaks that the tears had made through dirty face, and I felt nauseaus.

I didn’t have time to think about those people again until today, three days later, now that the drama and fear over MJ’s potential head injury has passed.

Worrying about the past, or other people’s reactions to events, or worrying about anything outside my little family has no place in my life today.

Sometimes our girls take up so much of our time that I really don’t have the time to even remember how to let it go. It just happens. So being a Mum is healthy for my worries and healthy for my girls who benefit from my constant focus and thoughts…if they aren’t with me then I am thinking about them.

I only hope that my daughters don’t have to wait until they are my age to retain focus on their own life. The phrase, Let it Go should be the soundtrack to your teen years when people around you wrong you, which they will..and disappoint you, which they will..and anger you, which they will.

Don’t wait until being a Mum to start learning how to let it go – practise it as early as you can!

And in honour of my husband who has been doing his best to get me to practise living his favourite phrases, here is a quote from an author he introduced me to when we first started dating (and is the reason I discovered the brilliant ‘fahrenheit 451′)

“Learning to let go should be learned before learning to get. Life should be touched, not strangled. You’ve got to relax, let it happen at times, and at others move forward with it. It’s like boats. You keep your motor on so you can steer with the current. And when you hear the sound of the waterfall coming nearer and nearer, tidy up the boat, put on your best tie and hat, and smoke a cigar right up till the moment you go over. That’s a triumph.”
― Ray BradburyFarewell Summer

 

Final note: I wrote this before ‘Frozen’ came out obviously, so I find it quite funny looking back that adults could get away with saying ‘let it go’ to each other without instantly conjuring up images of an Ice Queen. Bloody Disney! Nah, I still love it, even though Miss 6 has moved on.

 

Lesson Three – Know your Limits

Lesson Three – Know your Limits

Lesson Three

This is something that I continue to struggle with, and I must admit, I do admire the way my sister, RG, has always managed to clearly articulate her limits.

The problem with pushing yourself beyond your limits, is that you can become frustrated and agitated towards the very people you were trying to please by extending yourself.

Having my girls has meant that I can take breaks for myself in a much more authentic and reasonable manner.

Instead of forcing myself to go out, and then needing to sit for a rest break quite frequently, I can turn these rest breaks into ways of connecting with my girls. Sometimes MJ and I go through the alphabet, other times we go through all the colours of the dresses in the shops nearby. Or we notice the colours of cars, people’s tops, or the type of pets.

Having daughters means that my failings never have to be explained. MJ doesn’t notice that I’m siting again, or that we are spending a lot of time laying on the bed reading this morning – because anytime spent together is valued.

So, I will try and translate that in to my adult life, and instead of forcing myself to go out and do something I’m not up to doing, I will have a long phone chat instead, or invite those friends over and sit and chat to them on the couch, without worrying about the state of my house. I’m sure that my friends, like my daughters, only notice my conversation and the time we are spending together.

That is something that I am learning….and, as a literary heroine of mine has put it:

“I can never read all the books I want; I can never be all the people I want and live all the lives I want. I can never train myself in all the skills I want. And why do I want? I want to live and feel all the shades, tones and variations of mental and physical experience possible in life. And I am horribly limited.”
― Sylvia Plath

from Sylvia Plath’s The Unabridged Journals (2000)

Lesson Two – Be True

Lesson Two – Be True

Lesson Two

My second lesson for my daughters is about trying to accept who you are and to honour your self above the needs of others.

As with all of the lessons that I am considering and reflecting upon, I probably should preface them with the confession that they are all works in progress. By creating the lesson, it is not a completed understanding, but a point to make about something I’ve encountered or considered in my day, in the hope that my girls can learn from my reflections and make changes to their own life faster than I’ve been able to do in mine.

Over the fifteen years or so that I was dating before I got married, I came up against many fights and arguments within my relationships, where I had to sacrifice and compromise my own needs.

In my first relationship, I exhausted myself over four years (when I should have cut it off at 4 weeks), by taking on the emotional issues and worrying about the anger of the boy I was with, instead of looking after me. I hadn’t worked out the importance of my self and spent hours and nights trying to keep him happy, and then later, trying to keep him away from me.

In a later relationship, I even considered giving up my life in Sydney with all my friends and dear family, to move to the Czech Republic where I was attempting to master the language and cultural quirks. That man struggled in saying ‘I love you’….a simple ask really, and something myself, who really wears her heart on her sleeve, needs.

Of course, it is okay to give up things that are important to you if it is for the greater good of your relationship, and will lead to a happy ever after….but if it will lead to the sickening niggling feeling that you are giving up too much – please be true to yourself!

Now, to end this lesson on a lighter note, a little story for you.

One day, when I had given up on relationships and was experiencing a tumultuous time in my family life, I met a man who took me as I was. I told him my whole story in one night – about my health issues, all my surgeries, my struggle with chronic pain, and the chaos that was occurring at home.

And, well, apparently, there is such thing as love at first sight.

We have our one year wedding anniversary coming up next month – and we have two beautiful girls!

 

Be true to yourself! Or, as one of my heroines more eloquently put it:

“The beauty of a woman is not in the clothes she wears, the figure that she carries, or the way she combs her hair. The beauty of a woman is seen in her eyes, because that is the doorway to her heart, the place where love resides. True beauty in a woman is reflected in her soul. It’s the caring that she lovingly gives, the passion that she shows & the beauty of a woman only grows with passing years.”
― Audrey Hepburn