Monday, September 15, 2014

Stranger In A Shopping Centre

Early August, the day before surgery, two weeks into the stress of the financial debacle, I was a knot of live wires and storm clouds. Different muscles zinged instead of pushed, I fumbled or dropped every third thing I touched, and it was obvious no serious work or study was going to be accomplished.

So I went on an errand hunt, knocking minor things off my list, and found myself at a shopping centre. You know when you're out somewhere, and you know someone is looking at you? I got that feeling, like tin-foil against your teeth kind of unease, on my way out of the place.

I kept walking, mind obsessing on the surgery, and glanced around to see who was staring. Woman walking past on a phone? Nope.

Another step.

Some guy sitting down holding a walking cane, looking away.

Another step.

Do I know him?

Another step.

He looks kind of familiar.

Another step closer to the door.

Oh..... CRAP.

It's him.


Another step, while my blood ignites and I taste blood or bile or fury - what is that weird taste? My gut curls.

Another step.

He's looking away. I know that position, you idiot. Deliberate avoidance and ignorance. I haven't seen you in years but I know what you're pretending.

Another step.

I'm walking at a normal pace, still heading towards the car park, but inside there's speed of light movement.

I should go and sit next to him, take a picture of his stupid, startled face as I say "Hey, arsehole, how's life?"

I should go over and break his nose with his walking stick (why the hell does he have a walking stick?)

Another step, and I'm facing ahead again.

Maybe his spinelessness is finally catching up with him.

My lip curls, and I finally identify what the taste is. It's not disgust, surprisingly. It's sharp and pungent, like biting raw celery and parsley.

It's pity.

You poor idiot of a man.

Another step, then another and fifty more, my cadence never pausing even with the circus inside, and soon I'm in the car driving home, thinking about dinner preparation and which book to take to the hospital.

At home, I kick Wong's socks out from under the table, trip over Hatro's shoes, and watch my hands shake as I freak out the adrenelin in messages to Florida. I double, triple, hundred-guess myself-

I should have got in his face, eyeballed him and hissed my opinion

- but the pity washes it away, and Florida soothes the twitchy edges.

Later, in wonder and bewilderment, I think about those few seconds when I didn't recognise him. That moment - having no recognition or awareness of who that random guy was, in spite of having such a loving and disgusting history with him - that moment is one of the saddest and grace drenched moments of my life.


Gratitude, that's what, and mountains of it.

Gratitude for incredible, generous friends who contacted me, and gave love and compassion in the forms of swimming lesson payments for Wong (thank you Queen M!) and being a book club benefactor (thank you Librum!). Tears were shed (mine) and Wong was actually struck mute each time in surprise and incredulity.

Gratitude for the CSA (Child Support Agency) processes working incredibly quickly, which has meant money in my bank, in my wallet, and an easing of the delightful eye twitch I've developed over the last few months.

Gratitude for my work being so busy, which has tided us over the corset-tight times financially, and has taught me more about what I want to do as a career.

Gratitude for friends who listen, who curse and/or pray for the boys and I, who care even with my appalling inability to talk to them or contact them with any decent regularity.

Gratitude for extended family who don't understand me at all, but will be cranky on my behalf in an instant.

Gratitude for my boys, who will sic monsters on each other but rarely me in our card games, and who always yell "I love you!" at me when they leave the house/car/room.

Gratitude amongst the lava and meteor strikes, for being able to laugh and sing and swear and splash in this beautiful mess that is my life.

Friday, August 29, 2014


I've been reluctant to write due to the sheer volume of places my head's been at, but I'm hoping to address that soon.

Here is where my heart has been for a while, being reluctant, over at Segullah.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Fury and Vengeance

Sometimes I write this blog simply to vent, to purge, to work out what I'm feeling. Sometimes - like this post - it's to record something that happened, to remember the good pieces that come from it.

June was an absolute shocker of a month.

First up, and mostly, I rang the Child Support Agency a week after I should have received maintenance from George.

"Hmmm," said the woman on the other end of the phone. "He's not paid - he's defaulted on his agreement."

Nothing new there, I thought.

"So what happens now?" I asked.

"Well, we have to follow process. I'll send a letter to him saying he's defaulted, and then I'll send a letter to his employer to garnish his wages" (a weird term which actually means taking the child support directly from his pay BEFORE he gets any of it, as opposed to putting parsley or something pretty on it) "then we have to wait for them to do their paperwork on their end and then...."

"So I have to wait? Without payment?"

"Yes," said the voice. "And, uh, the process is slow. In terms of budgeting, I wouldn't hold your breath for receiving anything before August."




I finished the call with the - it must be said - very helpful and considerate woman, and contemplated physical assault.

I screamed, scaring the dog, and stalked through the house.

Fury. No other word for it. Furious at the man who would so obviously not support his children. Furious at yet another example of his spinelessness. Fury at being so powerless, so financially dependent, so determined to do the right thing for, with and by my sons.

I was so taut with fury and vengeance I know without a shadow of a doubt that if I had known George's work address, I would have gone there and beaten the ever-living snot out of him. And there would have been much snot to be beaten out. I would have been arrested for grievous bodily harm. My arms ached with the overwhelming urge to destroy him, to cause just a tithe of the pain he's inflicted on the boys, and on me.

The next day, the violent tendencies still raised their fists, but I was slogging through the realities of working out how I was literally going to feed my children. How I would pay rent, and bills. In terms of not knowing where the jerk works, in this instance ignorance definitely was a blessing.

I also decided, finally, that I would tell the boyos what was actually going on, and to whom the crap belonged. I wouldn't cover with generalities, or by not attributing blame. The boys are old enough to know the realities of budgeting, of actions and consequences, and I wasn't going to take responsibility for this disaster-in-the-making. Just as this blog will one day be read by the boyos when they are old enough to know the details, George not paying maintenance was something they should know, which was a decision also recommended and supported by a friend who'd been messaging me in the middle of her very busy day - thanks T! 

Then I realised when it was time to collect the boys from school that I hadn’t prepared a thing for dinner, so now I had to go into a BUILDING with other HUMANS and be all RESPONSIBLE for the most important creatures in my world UNLIKE A CERTAIN #$)(^t*)E$%)#@$(^%. Good times. Went into Woolworths with Hatro, who helped by deciding we needed garlic bread for dinner, and icecream to follow. And a choc-mint milk to have while we waited for Wong. (That I went along with this nutritional void indicates my distress and carb-loading reaction/medication).

So, to what happened when I told the boys about the latest failure on George's part. First, for Hatro's response, some background. Hatro still delights in throwing pertinent movie quotes into conversation, and we both love watching movies together. We've been going through some of my old movies (in this case specifically, the Lethal Weapon quad).

This part in particular (it's stereotypical, yes, but it’s Lethal Weapon so whatever). 

This is another clip for context. From the BBC's "ShakespeaRetold: The Taming of the Shrew", the main character is a monstrously cranky politician, who’s trademark answer to stupid people and questions is shown here (and sorry for the appalling clip quality, I couldn’t find anything better):

So then while we waited for Wong, I broached the topic with Hatro.

Me: So, you know money’s been tight. It’s because George [I couldn’t bring myself to say “Your Dad” because, well, you know] hasn’t paid what he was meant to.

Hatro: What, George from your old work?

Me: No, your Dad.

Hatro: Oh, the Plick.

Which was stated quite calmly and matter of fact. He checked me quickly for a reaction but I didn’t have one. At least, not externally.

Me: Yep. The plick.

So then I explained in general terms how I thought the next couple of weeks would go in terms of my workload and finances: really busy with work and uni, painfully tight with money.

Him: Well, as long as you pay tithing, it’ll all work out.

Then he shrugged casually and said “Sure, I’ll make dinner and do stuff while you’re working. And I really need to find a job.”

I think my heart stopped beating - there was a definite moment of absolute silence in my chest. I sucked a breath in, restarted my pulse, and told him by all means he should get a job, but with the focus being for his mission, not for anything else. “Yeah I know” he said, but I could see the gears turning. Twerp.

I let him think about it for a bit. Normally this is really difficult for me to do, but I had my own thoughts galloping around. At the realisation that the first George Hatro thought of was my supervisor when I was a Forklift Diva. That he was so confident and assured that tithing was the solution, and came instantly to his mind. That he accepted the new proof of stupidity, and also felt comfortable enough to share exactly - and cuttingly clear - what he thought of George.

Eventually... Me: Any thoughts about any of it?

Him: Yeah, for him. SWIVEL. That pretty much sums it up.

He grinned, not even looking at me, and I couldn’t help but laugh.

Me: Yep, it sure does.

Fast forward about an hour, when I’m driving Wong to his swim squad. Which I’m about to hand in the cancellation notice for, even though he loves it and needs it long term. I explain to Wong that George hasn’t paid, probably won’t until August, and generally what it will mean for us three.

Him: Ugh, he’s such an IDIOT!

Him: WHY would he do that?

Me: Because he’s an idiot.

He rubs my arm and says: But an even bigger idiot for leaving you.

Me: A bigger idiot for leaving all of us.

Him: Yep.

Him: I love you Mum.

My heart is hating me by this stage, all this emotion and thumping adrenalin and affection. Stupid heart.

After a minute of silence (aka an hour in Wong-time):

Him: I won’t bug you about book club or canteen or stash* or anything, okay Mum?

This, from my book loving, connoisseur and treat-dreaming son. Too many damn feels that day. Seriously.

Of course, the day wasn’t over.

I'd earlier texted my Home Teacher (HT) for a blessing, but he was unavailable. Texted another guy who had previously offered to give blessing if needed, but he was working really late that night. In the end I texted my Bishop (who is the totally spectacular guy who was my HT for ages before and into his calling as Bishop. He came to the hospitals when I, then Wong, were admitted at the different times, has given the boys blessings, he doesn’t even ask for my middle names anymore because he knows them. A totally awesome guy. He conferred the Aaronic priesthood on Wong. But I still felt bad asking because he’s  so busy with everything. Turns out he left work early to come see me. Really, an awesome guy. Who also has never hesitated to give me a hug after every blessing and meeting. He’s way up there on my “Not all men are jerks” list.)

So he comes in, says hi to the boys and they go off to their rooms so we can talk. I tell him about Asshat, the decisions I need to make, the impact on different areas. He gets it, all of it, even the stuff I don’t mention, like if I go part-time with uni it’ll push my graduating further back, and how the boys aren’t seeing any consequence on Pustule, just on us. It was a good talk, and he told me repeatedly to come to him as bishop for help with bills etc. (He knows how stubborn I am, and he’s seen me ugly cry repeatedly. Poor guy!)

So then I got the boys back in, and he gave me a blessing. The blessing was so, so good. Like cold mountain water drenching white hot metal. I was repeatedly counselled to ask for help, for support. To consider all the choices, and know the consequences of them, and to make a decision that’s right for me and my boys. That there is no rush now or in the coming years, things will happen and work out. (I cried harder at this point – the thought of my degree taking longer…Ugh.) To spend time with my wonderful boys, to balance work and uni and my calling. That I would have clarity and peace about the decision I would take to the Lord.

A couple of hours later after the blessing I still felt floppy, the boneless calm like when you float on water for a while, like on a tyre or raft. My brain tried to whizz up a gear or two, but I had finally run out of stress hormones and vinegar for the day. My hands and thighs were killing me, and my jaw – I’m guessing the stress manifested in more ways than I initially realised.

So, in the end, I received an actual blessing at the hands of a man I trust and admire, who gave support and counsel. Through it, I received the continuing, unexpected blessings that come with having the boys as constant, incredible fixtures in my life. Their faith, their love, their easy confidence that everything will work out gave strength to my wavering, exhausted efforts.

In the end, and after years of covering, I stepped away from the grenade and said to the boys "George did this, these are going to be the consequences." Which also gave the boyos the opportunity to say what they thought of him, his actions, and which gave me insight to just how little regard they have for him, and how enormously proud I am of the the choices they have made about who they are, who they want to become, and what they focus their energies on.

Turns out that I may not get any maintenance until September or October. Also turns out that my job has been busy enough to cover the essentials, and there have been blessings of generosity, unexpected windfalls and bargains to ease the way. It would be so easy to point and say "Look at this crappy thing that has happened!" but that is nothing compared to recognising the goodness and beauty that has come as a result of it.

There are more wonderful events to share, but that is another couple of posts. I leave this post knowing that the follies and freaking brilliant things have been recorded somewhere else than my stubborn, grateful heart.

*Stash: Our term for personal stockpile of treats, which are not shared.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Fighting and Fatherless

I don’t know what it’s like to miscarry, or to bury a child. I don’t know the weight that comes with organising a parent’s funeral, or seeing disease devour a loved one. I don’t know the monstrous forms grief and pain takes in those instances.

I do know what it is to be a fatherless child, and to raise two fatherless sons. I what it means to be fatherless not by accident, but by deliberate, repeated decisions and actions of the father(s) in question. I am well acquainted with the twisted, barbed tails those monsters wield, how sly and pervasive their stench and slime can be. I know the damage they do, the carnage they leave inside.

I received an email recently from a dear friend, who fights the same demons. The subject line: “I just hate him”.

I hate him so much. I want him to get hit by a bus and lay there suffering. Then as soon as he recovers from that, I wish pancreatic cancer on him. I hope his wife dies before him and leaves all of her money to her kids and leaves him bereft. I hope he has multiple heart attacks and finally dies from the agonizingly slow death of the cancer.

I know this burn. I know the inferno that can roar back to life behind your eyes, explode inside your heart and devour every single piece of quiet determination and positivity that this time, which one once phrased as NEXT time, I will not get upset. I know the white heat which cauterizes every single nerve ending and positive memory you ever had of a guy who was meant to love and protect and care for you, his daughter. This blaze leaves no heartache unpunched, no memory unsmudged.  Being fatherless – by your father’s own deliberate actions – is a vicious, blood-hungry, exhausting condition.

And how is that my fault? What piece of shit. It's not my fault. It will never be my fault. And I wish it WAS because THEN maybe things would be different. And maybe things would be happy. I wish I had something that he gave me so I could break it and burn it and stab it and throw it.

It’s cruel to fight these monsters. To wrestle with if it actually was something I did, or didn’t do. If it was my fault, or what I should have, could have, would have done – would still do – if it’d change anything.  It’s one thing to have an understanding that everyone has agency, the opportunity to make decisions and actions of their own choosing, the consequences be what they may, and know in some sane, clinical part of your head that the dad/father chose what he did on his own. It’s a very different beast to hunt down and destroy who whispers at 2am on some dark night – or 11am on a cheery Tuesday in the supermarket beside the toothpaste – that you obviously weren’t enough, weren’t good enough, weren’t loveable enough, for him to choose you over whatever else it was that won. That beast, with talons long and clever enough to stir through your brain like a spoon through stew, knows exactly where to jab, to wheeze, to slink. But – sweet and righteous fury – the knowledge that it was NEVER and IS NOT your fault, that is a monster hungry axe of fury that can beat the monsters back, bloody and terrified.

Unless you are a deliberately fatherless child, you don’t know how it feels. You don’t know the ache and scar tissue you have to live with, to work around, to adjust to. Another friend of mine – also deliberately abandoned by her father – wrote honestly about her struggle to come to terms with her loss on her blog. It was breathing, so alive with the pump of lifeblood and grief, but was taken down. One comment (I think it was the first) was so callously dismissive and judgemental I shrieked at my computer screen. How DARE you? I don’t expect anyone to understand the war fought in homes and hearts and futures when fathers walk away. But I sure as hell hope that people chew their tongues to scarlet mush before they tell anyone fighting such a battle any “advice”, or call them to repentance.

I know that a sign of the latter days is that the hearts ofthe children will turn to the fathers. I also know that another sign is that the love of many will wax cold, and fathers will betray their children. Living the reality of broken families is far more complicated, more wickedly painful and fraught, than anyone can imagine. Even for those living the consequences and realities that come with losing a father.

I have several wonderful, spectacular friends who are fatherless. I wish with every molecule of my being that we didn’t have that pain in common, but – because we do – I’m grateful to share the stumble across the battlefield with them. With one friend I celebrate “Surviving Fathers Day” – we put the apostrophe wherever we feel like, whenever we feel like. I send her gifts around the American Father’s Day, she returns the love at the Australian date. It’s recognition that still being relatively upright in the face of paternal adversity is a huge achievement, and we ourselves are worth celebrating. It takes away some of the sting of the wounds and arrows we’ve suffered during the year, gives some balm to the aches and burns of words and dreams charred and smoking inside us. It gives a little vital perspective on the war and associated monsters we’re fighting before we head back in, hopefully stronger and more determined. Even if we are still bleeding and raw around the edges.

I hate him so much. I want him to get hit by a bus and lay there suffering.

Don’t judge pain. Don’t decree forgiveness. Is my friend’s wish charitable? Of course not. But by everything that’s raw and human, it’s honest and gushing raw pain and emotion. Truth is, I’d be happy to drive that bus. I’ve spent hours (days) dreaming of punching George’s nose: imagined the meaty thump of knuckles to cartilage, the slow bloom of his nose towards his cheek, the brilliant ruby gush of blood and pain bellowing out of him. Not for the damage he’s caused me, but because my sons are fatherless, and the grief and pain they have suffered (and will suffer) as a result. The gut deep, acid rush of wanting to cause pain in the person who has hurt us and those we love so cruelly, callously, uncaringly is ugly, real, and heartfelt in its rage and intense honesty.

However, since my friend and I live in different continents, instead of hiring a bus we Skyped. I was a listener, a comrade, a sister-in-arms, sitting amid the ashes. She talked, and vented, cried and laughed. So did I. It is a sisterhood of bruised, wounded fighters. Everyone needs to be evacuated at some point or another, to regroup, catch breath, to heal a little.

I wish I had something that he gave me so I could break it and burn it and stab it and throw it.

I've been thinking about all this for ages, especially since the American Father’s Day is this Sunday. I hate that several wonderful women are going to remember again the pain and rejection they've lived through, and still try to deal with. I've been thinking about my own lack of parents, and the tsunami of myself I put into parenting my boyos as a direct result of what I have never had.

Sometimes I think I’m doing an alright job. They’re both fed well, growing, healthy, happy and know that they are loved. Sometimes I think how being fatherless is manifesting in their life, and while I have to organise someone to teach Hatro to change his bike tyres and have Arn come teach him how to shave, and Wong talks about me marrying again every time I mention going on a date, I can’t see grief, or anger, or injury. The worst reaction I see is them sigh when George has delayed paying maintenance again - they're not surprised, not disappointed, just accepting that the stupid, selfish behaviour is typical for some guy they used to know. This year marks six years – half of Wong’s life, a bit under a third of Hatro’s – since they stopped having an involved Dad. I’m left wondering if it’s possible that Hatro and Wong have been without a Dad for so long that it’s just normal for them?

This morning Hatro and I were on our way back from Seminary: Hatro excited about being able to drive in the rain, me trying to distract myself from the fact that Hatro was a. driving and b. in the rain.

“Can I ask you a question – besides that one?” I asked.


“Do you ever think about your Dad?”

“Who?” Hatro said, then laughed.

I laughed before I could help it, and Hatro shot a grin at me.

“What? Can you repeat the question? I didn’t hear all of it, soz.”

I bit down a little on my laugh, though pieces still drizzled through my teeth.

“I said, do you ever think about your Dad-“ I had to stop to laugh again.

“-then YOU said “Who?” and laughed…”

Hatro roared, a bellowing laugh flooding out between us, big and surprised.

“Ha!”, he said, still laughing, then – half muttered but still grinning -  “swivel on THAT, boy!”

Laughter fogged the windows, and our chuckles eventually faded. He checked his mirrors, turned the wipers down a notch.

“Nope, I don’t.” he said simply.

I was watching him, and there no indication of a frown, or hidden pain he’s shown before.

“And you’re okay with that?”

He blinked, in his Mum, you ask the weirdest questions way, and said “Yeah, of course.”

He drove on, rain misting the trees and windscreen.

He chuffed another laugh. “”Who?”… Awesome!”

Obviously there’s some emotion there, but not grenade or land mine waiting to explode. That gives me hope: for my gorgeous boyos, and for my friends and I still fighting for a measure of peace and acceptance. Over and over again.

I think that about covers it.

*End email*

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Just Another Day

Today was just another day.

The boys - knowing it was Sunday - let me sleep in, and I woke to their laughter punching holes in the argument about who won the last card game.

Today was just another day.

I lay in bed, thinking of what I accomplished yesterday (not as much as I'd hoped), deliberately turned away from this next week, and thought of what needed to be done today. Remembered I had to fix the cuffs on the boys church pants, take posters to church for the SA activities (I promptly forgot), and the memory of buttermilk in the fridge waiting to be made into pancakes hauled me out of my nest.

Today was just another day.

Wong rushed up to me, snuggled in deep under my arm for a hug, his enthusiasm and "Happy Mothers' Day Mum!" warm against my chest. He asked about my sleep, any dreams I remembered, if he could help with dinner, with breakfast, and asked me questions about the heat of the sun and when dragons went extinct and then wandered off to have a read in the bath.

Today was just another day.

Hatro came into the kitchen, sniffing theatrically over my shoulder as I flipped pancakes. He asked how I slept, what was for dinner, if I remembered a cartoon he used to watch when he was little. (It's been so long since he was little!) He chatted about not much at all and one sentence about school as the pancakes sizzled, then ate four the size of his hands as sandwiches, Nutella and ice-cream dripping joyfully from his grip. He yelled out a denial to Wong's accusation of treachery (card game competition had rapidly evolved to best of eleven hands) and they both sat on the veranda, crying foul and laughing as I sat watching them and sewed the temporary cuffs in their suit pants.

Today was just another day.

There were no cards, no breakfast in bed, no wrapped presents. Hatro offered a block of his favourite chocolate from his secret stash, and the offer itself was gift enough.  We watched a movie after dinner, the ancient beloved Atlantis, repeating favourite lines together and laughing. Wong and Hatro are both in bed now, snuggled in deep just the way they like it: Hatro in a knotted twist of blankets, dog and limbs, Wong impossibly pillowed, doona kicked onto the floor.

Today was just another day.

I had kissed them each goodnight in the lounge room, trading "I love you!" against their cheeks. Five, ten minutes later they each yell out again "Love you Mum!" and I yell it back, a tradition and defense against the world for years now, then their sleep playlists drift under their doors and down the hallway.

Today was just another day.

Despite the way Mothers' Day skins me so delicately, so I'm a twitchy bunch of ache but no bleeding, today really was just another day. Another day of being with my boys, listening to them cry foul and debate, having their laughter soak into my bones. To have Hatro want to drive me home from church because of my headache, to Wong bouncing onto my bed to read beside me, to have the last thing they say - and hear - being "I love you", was just another day.

Just another ordinary, familiar and wonderful day.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

To Call Her "Mum" Has To Be Enough

Four Generations of Stubborn

My Mum can remember about four days of the first year of my life. She can remember the days leading up to my birth, scraps of the day I was born, and a couple of events scattered throughout the rest of the year, but everything else is gone.

I’ve always known my relationship with my Mum was different. It was nothing like the relationships I saw my friends have with their Mums, or even what I read in countless books. If anything, it was most evident within my own family, because she mothers my brother and sister but has never, does not and will never mother me. I know she loves me. I know she loves my boys. Her love is undeniable, and just as accepted as knowing that she can’t be the mother I want, or need.

Because to realise that the year I was born was so traumatic for her that she has blocked more than 360 days of it out of her mind is horrifying. Not solely because she’s my Mum, but as one woman – one human – to another. How much was going on, how much support was she NOT getting, that amnesia for thirty-something years and counting is an acceptable and necessary price to pay?

Nobody can tell me details. Not of what went on, who said or did what, why things broke and scattered as they did. Nobody can tell me what happened during my first year of life. At least, not in any more detail than ten sentences.

1    1.    My parents were unmarried and separated when I was born.
2.       The day I was born, my Dad shot himself in the chest.
3.       He survived, though still has metal fragments around his heart.
4.       My parents tried repeatedly to patch things up, but it didn’t work.
5.       My great-grandmother (born and raised in a tiny country town, devout Catholic, mother of a Catholic Nun) told everyone I was a miracle.
6.       I was close to being a forced adoption, being born of an unwed girl of sixteen.
7.       I spent alternate weekends with my dad, starting as just a tiny baby, for months.
8.       The last time my paternal family saw me I was about ten months old. Then no contact at all, in any form, until I was 25.
9.       I was loved.

My Mum told me several of those nine things, but not all of them. A couple of years ago my paternal grandmother had sent me photos, grey and cream cuttings of people I didn’t remember. The stack of prints curled against each other like lovers, still slightly stuck to each other from their decades stuck in a box where my Nan’s grieving heart didn’t have to see them. I sat next to Mum, excited to share, hungry for more stories to flesh out the bones of my own story.

“What about this one?” I asked, looking at a beaming teenager standing next to a pram, the Sydney Opera House soaring over her head. Mum blinked rapidly, spasmed, reached forward to take the photo, frowning.

“It’s you…right? I can tell it’s you.” I insisted, confused, prepared to do who-knew-what if she tried to destroy this archaeological treasure.

Her mouth trembled, pulsed with emotion. “It’s me,” she choked, and looked up at me. Her eyes were red, gushing tears. “But I don’t remember it.”

She looked down at the photo again, hands trembling, tears falling unnoticed to the floor. “I was a country girl – how on earth can I not remember being at the Sydney Opera House?”

She looked at me again, hurt and confusion warping her face. “Sel – I was sure the first time I saw it was with David…. Two years ago.”

I don’t show her photos of that year anymore.

We don’t look at that year, and we don’t speak of it. It is too traumatic for her, to face the nothingness, to smack her face against the reality of a year she can’t – and no doubt doesn’t want  to – remember. She can remember better from when I was about fourteen months old, memories thicker and more constant after I was eighteen months old. Being a single Mum in a tiny country town was not easy, or fun, but she did it. My Poppy Col would come visit, at some stage ask for a drink of water, and when he left Mum would find a twenty dollar note (a lot of money back then) under an ornament on the shelf. Whatever had happened in that first year, she survived it, and I was right there when she did it.

Just before my second Christmas she married the man I grew up thinking was my Dad. She had two more children, a girl then a boy. She always loved me. She bought me books every week, even before I could say I was three. She ran interference between her husband’s moods and the fire and dynamite personalities of her daughters, worked several jobs to make sure there was food, cleaned her house like an avenging angel, did what it took to survive.

Our relationship is weird and bumpy, grown on top of things unknown and ignored under our feet. She doesn’t mother me, but she loves me the best way she knows how. She came to visit the other weekend, and spent most of the time shopping. She bought winter clothes for the boys, filled a trolley to bursting with groceries to stock up my pantry and freezer, and gave me a brand new wool doona “from the boys for Mother’s Day”.

We also confused and frustrated each other. We always have, always will. She was confused because she doesn’t understand why I parent the way I do, the drive I have to learn, to study, my constant agitation to teach the boys to work, to be grateful, to be better people. I was frustrated because she still doesn’t understand or like how I mother my children, and she honestly thinks my going back to university is a stupid idea. We repeatedly agree to disagree, without saying a word. We have our entire history together wrapped tight and bound in silences, avoided topics and a fierce love for each other.

Even – especially – when we drive each other crazy. For me, especially around this time of year, I get all static-y. With all the hype around Mothers’ Day charging the air like a brewing cyclone, sparks and tension sizzle off my fingertips, halo my shoulders with knife edges and longing. The constant advertising, the soft-edged photos with beaming children and overcome mothers in pastels and manicures… I’ve had enough. I’ve had nearly four decades of wanting to be mothered. I’ve had nearly two decades of knowing that she literally cannot mother me, for a whole tangle and burn of unknown reasons. I’ve had decades of being more a mother to my Mum than she is to me – and I accept it as how it is. I do not like it, but for the most part I can swallow or choke it down. I try to remember to mother myself, to be kind to myself, to remind myself that I am not alone in being an emotional orphan. I am in a cadre of many, and many magnificent grown children seeking peace and acceptance for our own hearts.

My friend Tay emailed me about my “There Was Love” post, and in part wrote “I'm having a visceral reaction to it. But I'm not angry for you. I just feel this overwhelming sadness that could cause me to spend too much money just to fly down and almost strangle him to death but then stop because, as you put it, there was love. And I find myself loving how much Hatro looks like him. Which is leading me to also not hate how much my boys look like my dad's family and forgiving my genetics for manifesting in that way in them.” This made me laugh, and cry a little, and be thankful again for having Tay as a friend and her also being a friend who understands the damage parents can do. Tay knows that there is sadness, and fury, and love - and always, forever, a visceral reaction to being more parent-less than we hope, want and need.

I know my Mum. I know her heart, I know her fears, I know the joy she finds in her grandchildren is the greatest happiness she has ever experienced. I know she worries about me, loves me, prays for me, talks about me, is proud of me. I look like her, from her eyes to the nose we both inherited from her Dad, my beloved Pop. We have our own shorthand language, where one word conveys paragraphs of meaning. We drive each other demented with our stubbornness, our determination to do what we see as right despite, well, everything. I understand her better than anyone else on the planet.

She’s my Mum, who has made sure that I had food to eat, clothes to wear, the hard won opportunities that shine brightly in my memory from years ago. She has survived more than anyone can imagine, herself included. She loves me, with all that she can, the way she knows how. That she cannot be everything I want, or what I need in a mother, is an adjustment I’ve made, and I continue to make. You can’t curse the earth for spinning, when that spinning is what gives life.

From her life, I have life. From my life, I have life with my sons and with it the opportunity to mother deeply, passionately, to be the best Mum I can hope to be for them.

She loves me. She lost a year, but managed to keep hold of me through it.

She loves me. She loves my boys.

Calling her “Mum” has to be enough.

Friday, May 02, 2014

There Was Love

My favourite wedding photo

Seventeen years ago exactly, there was love. Love caused a bunch of people to arrive on a little man-made island in the nation’s capital, and then stand in motley groups under willow trees. Love danced around ankles, glittered on the buttons of ceremonial uniforms and dress swords, shone brightly in the smiles of the people who mattered. Love sang sweeter than the bells which pealed through the air when the loved groom kissed the beloved bride.

My sons, never doubt that there was love. Love drenched your parents, soaked us to our core, was the constant pull in our universe keeping us dancing a close orbit. Love cluttered every breath, fed every dream, billowed in the silky swirls of my wedding dress, and glittered in the gold of our wedding rings.

Boys, there was love bigger than words to explain it. My love for George was the song my blood danced to, what made the planets spin and the sun shine so brightly. His love for me filled the sky with stars and fiery sunsets, made home wherever we were together, painted laughter through every day.

There was love. We loved enough to weather the early struggles, the newly-wed realisation that we had each married crazy people, the stresses of being young, poor and stupidly in love, the chaos of intentions and reality colliding. There was love enough and then some to survive being in love, and to sweeten, deepen into loving. There was love. Love in kissing hellos and goodbyes, love in favourite foods and midnight nightmares, love in grocery shopping and scattered toenail clippings. There was love in walking away from arguments, in kissing in the kitchen, in the way we would lie in summers with our ankles nestled against each other, and how he would mutter in winter while still letting me warm my frozen hands under his arms. There was love.

There was love. And loving meant there was hurting when it ended. It’s a law of physics, to have an equal and opposite reaction. We had loved – hard and deep, sweet and heavy, tart and fiery. The loss of love was as equally momentous, as tends to happen when stars fall, skies collapse, tsunamis rise.

Despite all that came after, there was love.

Love curled between us seventeen years ago, clung to our shoulders and shouted to the heavens. It beamed rudely, exultantly at everyone who looked at us, while we were busy watching each other. There was love, love combusting between us then spiraling into the both of you. You were both created from love, made with love, love pressed deep into your very molecules and existence.

There was love. You both carry that love with you.

Know that there was love.