This morning, while walking the dog, I saw a tiny ring-tailed possum running along a power line, in broad daylight and looking terrified. The dog and I stopped to ensure he wouldn’t scare it any further…barking at possums IS one of his favourite pastimes. Then I saw the actual threat. A currawong (a large-ish bird who is an opportunistic feeder) swooped. As we raced across the road to help scare it away I stopped in my tracks at the most extraordinary sight. A cockatoo had landed close to where the possum was trying to hide in a little tree. He squawked with all his might with wings spread looking as large and scary as he could muster. Then they came. His friends. More and more cockies flew in to join the noise and sit between the possum and the currawong. Just when I questioned whether it could be a coincidence, the possum again scurried along a wire and the currawong swooped. All cockies followed them and interjected as best they could. The dog and I hung back so as not to scare the possum’s protectors. It was a sight to behold. As we walked on I couldn’t see where the possum had gone but the sulphur crested birds were vigilant. Isn’t that amazing? A bunch of birds from a different species recognised a creature in trouble and went to help. It struck me as something we can all do and all benefit from. A simple act of kindness and assistance.
So often in our world, the reaction from a stranger can make or break our day. I took a deep breath on Sunday and went with Miss K to a big shopping centre at her request. (Apparently birthday vouchers don’t spend themselves!) People are curious beings. When that curiosity oversteps the mark Missy is frequently the brunt of rude staring. So I was prepared but hoping for a fun outing. People were kind. So many strangers looked at us chatting with Miss K’s PODD book and smiled. So many. It was such a pleasant surprise. I don’t know what sort of special energy my girl was emanating but folks responded and it was lovely. Several people said hello. But it was the simple smiles that I felt the most. One bloke said so much with his kind face that I actually mouthed thank you as he passed.
They were the cockies for us yesterday. The smiling strangers were creatures from a slightly different world who took a moment to see a girl and her mum chatting in a different way and simply acknowledged it with a smile. I have been asked many times how I would prefer people to react to our girl. This is how. In the same way you would with any one whose eye you happen to catch. With kindness. People and cockatoos are not so different. We all have the capability to go that little step further and alleviate despair or loneliness or a menacing currawong with a little empathy. Tomorrow I hope to face the world with my little yellow crest out and be like that first cockatoo. Maybe I’ll have the opportunity to stand up for someone who needs a boost or smile at a fellow mum at the supermarket wrangling a I’m-too-tired-to-manage-this-without-screaming toddler. I don’t know yet but I do know connections are out there just waiting to be made.
Tomorrow my sweet girl turns sixteen. I can’t believe we are here. I feel blessed to have her and surprised at the speed time is moving. In Kmart the other day I asked what sort of birthday cake she would like and what she might like to take to school when she goes back. She said cupcakes and “Sweet kissed not.” “Oh”, I replied in a matter-of-fact that’s-a-cute-theme way. Then, a pause, and “Ohhh”, in a this-is-bigger-than-cake-toppers wobbly-voiced way. She has heard it many times in the last couple of weeks….sweet sixteen and never been kissed.
I don’t know what it means to her. I haven’t been game to ask. To me…it makes me sad. While I have every expectation that this feisty kid will live her life well and on her own terms I can’t foresee what that might look like. This kid is so loved and yet birthday party invitations are rare. She has lovely friends but never has she had a sleep over. Life is pretty good but different. Relationships are difficult for us all to build and maintain and she has a few extra challenges. Will she find a special friend who will recognise the worth of getting to know her?
This birthday eve I was hoping not to ponder a big question. This annual night has a tradition of finding the grief that has been silently walking alongside and throwing it in my path. Contemplating the meaning of life and love is important and significant. It is also risks derailing my heart. All young ladies should be able to titter behind their hands with friends over that special someone. I’m not saying she can’t or won’t I just recognise the extra layer of trickiness that will entail if she does indeed wish to titter. Sigh. Sweet 16 and never been kissed…yet. I shall bow to higher wisdom and leave it at that and up to her. Happy birthday gorgeous girl.
Miss K had her first seizure on the day she was born. Imagine that. Your introduction to the strange new world outside the womb culminates in your brain randomly firing with uncontrollable body jerks and medical teams running. I’m not sure whether she understands just how terrifying those early days were or how much she remembers from that time. I hope she doesn’t remember. Her eyes would stare as her tiny body contracted and shook. It was all so new to me that I didn’t notice all of it. I see through different eyes now.
Looking back through photos there is one that stands out. She is floating in a plastic hospital bath with my hands supporting her and her doting brother watching. Then, it seemed like as normal an activity as we could hope for in an unnatural environment. Now, I see clenched fists and staring, deviated pupils. Epilepsy was at work even in that peaceful moment. Specialists came and went. Medications were trialled and failed. After two months we brought home a baby who had a tube down her nose to feed and who seized every day.
Visitors would remark how cute she looked moving her legs like she was riding a bike. Seizure. Ambos would say she seems alright now she just laughing. Seizure. Missy would stare seemingly at the trees and the world going by. Seizure. Urinary tract infections became a nasty and frequent occurrence bringing with them massive seizures that lasted up to two hours and meant a ride with lights flashing and hospital sleepovers. The lead up to puberty was awful. Our poor poppet who could now both understand and remember had a horrid time and hormones flying and brain waves sizzling.
I touch wood, cross fingers and toes and invoke all possible other parental superstitious rituals when I say she has settled into wellness. She still has epilepsy with an EEG reading of her own funky version of normal and ten daily doses of anti-epileptics but she’s ok. It’s a tough gig but you can have epilepsy and live life. And that’s something our girl does so well. A purple heart is awarded for injury in the face of battle. I hope it is appropriate to say I think our girl has earned her own purple heart.
I remember a lemon tree. Giant and laden.
I remember a hair treatment. Lemon leaves seeped in boiling water to make shining, lightened hair.
I remember a cousin who felt it needed more. Whole lemons vitamised with water would surely give her golden locks.
I remember picking tiny pieces of lemony flesh from the littlest, guinea-pig cousins hair for hours.
I remember laughing.
I remember boxed garden beds of lush greens.
I remember him blue-singleted with hose in hand.
I remember a sandy dog bouncing near by.
I remember smiling.
I remember the “money tree” with round shiny coin- like leaves as childhood currency.
I remember the paperbark tree out the front giving us dollar bills to complete our banking.
I remember the beauty shop laid out on the concrete front porch.
I remember happy chatter.
I remember radio race calls and television exercises.
I remember excitement and disappointment too.
I remember her “ta-da-da-daa” to the music with her bum in the air.
I remember knowing them.
I remember floral carpet with mattresses all in a row.
I remember cousin-y giggles under scratchy woollen blankets.
I remember epic breakfasts prepared intricately.
I remember strong tea from a pot and white bread toast.
I remember all of this as love…their pure acceptance and joy of us.
I remember lemons wrapped in newspaper in the hall cupboard across the way from a musky bathroom with a “St Kilda premiers” poster on the toilet door.
I remember vinyl dining chairs that stuck to your thighs.
I remember backyard celebrations and choking on a lolly too perfectly round.
I remember hot Christmas days around tables joined together with warm vegies and cool salads.
I remember everyone was welcome.
I remember Greville Street and I remember them.
“No.” She wondered if the word escaped her lips at the volume it was in her head. The eyes looking at her said it did.
“Sorry.” No. I don’t need to apologise. Now the voice in her head sang even louder.
“I mean I can’t do that right now. You’ll have to find someone else.”
The feeling was unfamiliar. What was it? Satisfaction? Pride? Ange turned and walked away. It was her first time and it felt so good. She practised all day.
“Would you like a drink with that?”
“Do you need a bag today?”
“No.” The cashiers eyebrows raised and softened into a smile. Ange could tell from their shared glance that she was one too. A yes woman. But no more.
No longer would she take every offering of junk so as not to offend. She would not investigate the intricacies of school carpet rather than making eye contact with fellow committee members. There would not be six extra children at her house after school every day. And she would not take fries with that…unless she wanted to. The weight of obligation and compliance slid off her with one buttery word.
“Excuse me Madam. Are you ok?”
“No. I mean yes thanks, I’m terrific.”
Over the last couple of days I have had a break. Fantastic right? Well…maybe. I’m not relaxed. I still feel tired. I have tried to do some of all-the-things-I-think-I-want-to-do-when-I-have-time, and have managed a couple of them. “Why are you not taking full advantage?” you ask. I’m asking that too. So what makes a break effective? Maybe it’s time away, rather than time out.
You see while my kid is in respite, I am here too. I visit a few times a day and wonder how she’s going most of the rest of the time. It’s an unusual situation. She had a difficult break away from us a while ago, so we are helping her to become comfortable again and own the power of her independence when she is away from us. I am having a break from the body-tiring aspects of caring for her but my mind is not resting. I’m still thinking and worrying and answering questions when I pop over there. It seems that although feeding and rolling and hoisting and changing are all tiring, the most wearying aspect of care is mental and emotional.
The year so far has involved more paperwork and management than a small company. This kid deserves the very best out of life, yet bureaucracy determines a huge amount of work is needed just to hope for a level playing field for her. I can feel the energy draining with every call/email/complaint/form. Some prefer not to use the term carer but I use it to differentiate between “mum stuff” and the rest. Being her mum is a pleasure…the rest can be exhausting. Even while having a physical break the mental work continues. To really rest I need to be able to hand it all over. To trust she is cared for and comfortable is a challenge. But she, the sassy teenager, needs time away from me. And I need time to switch off. So this is a start.
I have made myself literally (yes I know what it means and yes I actually am) laugh aloud. This is a piece I wrote in 2009 when attending a creative writing class at the local community centre. I love finding these old pieces. It helps me to remember that when I wrote regularly, I wrote better. Deadlines are good for that. To friends out there that share my shorter stature…this is for you.
In High School I was known as
“Short Ass”, Shorty or worse
My lack of verticality
Definitely a curse.
Oh to be taller
Oh wouldn’t I give it all
Imagine what I could achieve
If only I were tall.
School photos were a nightmare
“Shortest to the front”
And so I’d sit down again
With an unimpressed grunt.
At concerts, assemblies and fights in the yard
I could never get a view
If you were this close to the ground
You’d be grumpy too!
And why re all the useful things
Put on a higher shelf?
Oh how I wished for platform shoes
So I could reach them for myself.
Oh to be taller
Oh wouldn’t I give it all
Imagine what I could achieve
If only I were tall.