Firsts

There’s something culturally celebratory about a child’s firsts.

From first ultrasound, first womb kick, we celebrate and proclaim to all.  Whilst said child is still in utero, we show the black and white paper jellybean to all and any.  This is the first picture.  Then the first kick.  The first time ‘it’ becomes a ‘he’ or ‘she’.

The miracle of firsts continues. At birth, we sigh in relief at the first cry. We are in awe of the first smile. The first giggle, the first real laugh, the first real belly rumbling peal of laughter, we smile proudly – after all – the child is a reflection of ourselves and in those firsts we see our successes.

The first night the babe sleeps through without waking brings two-fold emotion. The satiating relief of a full nights rest combined with the startling realisation that  maybe he’s not breathing, the first the race down the hall to wake the babe, resulting in cries that make your realise for the first time that perhaps he was actually better off asleep after all. As were you.

The first words.  The first “I wuv you”.  The first temper tantrum.

The first lock of hair gives way to the first curl kept from the hairdresser’s shears. The first gummy smile makes way for the first tooth, which is quickly snatched by the tooth fairy attracting a King’s ransom.

Those precious first few wobbly steps. The magic of watching a human become ambulatory. The first realisation that with walking comes danger. The first head knocks. The first cuts and grazes. The first knocked knees and kissed bruises and bitten lips.

Then the real danger begins. Walking becomes running. Running becomes racing, racing becomes riding. The first 3 wheel trike becomes a 2 wheel bike, the removal of training wheels begs the first head-first over the handlebars.

The first scooter is a triumph. The first skateboard is a breeze, the first rollerskates became boring, the first rip-stick arrived.

The first broken bone.

I think I liked it better at “I wuv you”  :(

(taken on the mobile in Emergency, Toowoomba Base Hospital at 1.30 PM 14/2/10)

A Ghost of Christmas Past

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My earliest Christmas memory is one that I keep wrapped in soft gold tissue paper.  It cannot be hung on the tree, or strung on a thread, or displayed like some vintage ornaments. Only I can see it.  I can describe it to you as best I can, if you like.

Growing up in a somewhat dysfunctional family, Christmases were never the big, fun family affair portrayed on the television, greeting cards or in my story books.  As a child, that was what I craved – normality. Christmases were a bleak affair, another reason for adults to drink too much beer, argue and end the day in tears. Christmas Day was a good day to walk off to the park, or visit MissElizabeth who was always closed on Christmas – but we could peek through the windows and spy the treasures. Christmas night was a time to hide in your room and stay very, very quiet.

No, that Christmas memory is not the one for tissue paper. But this one is.

When I was much younger, my maternal grandmother was still alive.  She was a flamboyant woman, who drank sherry out of small decorative cups, had a laugh that tinkled and sang along ~ operatically ~ to Christmas carols belting out of  her cassette player in the living room while preparing Christmas dinner in the kitchen. She wore flamboyant, gauzy floaty clothes that really spoke. She was tall, gorgeous and dramatic. She had presence, my Nanna.  (She also smoked profusely, her cigarettes held in an elegant cigarette holder. In addition, she was very sick, and needed a constant supply of oxygen from tanks she carted everywhere on a mobile stand. He last few years were sadly comical – puff, smoke, wheeze, inhale, repeat. )

But Christmas time – oh, she went all out. Whilst we nibbled on sweets and pretzels served from small wooden dishes, she would wheeze and sing her way around the kitchen, her preparations peppered with the words “Fraa-ank!” and my GG would come running, ready to do her bidding. He adored her.  It showed.

She made everything from scratch, I recall. Turkey, ham, cold meats. Salads, hot potatoes, vegetables, gravies. Cranberry sauce. Everyone helping themselves to a feast from her laminated kitchen table, sitting on various chairs around the house, as many as could fit the adult bottoms, kids on the steps. My mum’s sister, who we only saw at Christmas time, had 4 children. Then there was my mum and dad, my brother and myself. There was my Nanna and GG (our name for grandad). There was my ‘uncle’ B (who turned out to be my brother, but that’s another story) often accompanied by a mate or two and his girlfriend, S. Throw in the dog and you had our family Christmas get together – one I only experienced until I was about 10 years old.  To me, that was a huge family. We would spread out, eat our fill and get ready for the desert. My Nanna made the best pavlova in the universe. Nothing – I mean nothing – ever  comes close.  There was always plum pud and fruit cake and ice cream and fruit and  chocolate hedgehog… but oh, her pavs.

After lunch, the adults would find somewhere to hide have a little nap, while us kids drove them bonkers to pull crackers, play with toys, open gifts (our ‘kid’ gifts were attcked the minute we arrived, pulled out from under the little plastic tree she had set up in her living room, decorated with silver baubles and felt elves and ‘Father Christmases’ wrapped in the obliging thin strand of silver tinsel). Then we would play and run and eat more icecream.

I was so in awe of Christmas. It was these Christmas days the only time I ever saw my family, all together, happy and ‘normal’.  My Nanna’s house did not involve too much beer, harsh words or raised voices. It meant dressing up in good clothes and going ‘out’ for the drive from Mt Hawthorn to Fremantle which was a treat in itself.  My Nanna’s house meant fun, food and play, a chance to be a normal kid, just like my cousins. Although  I know there were several (but not many, or nearly enough) Christmases with Nanna and GG, they have been merged into one special, silver memory. It has been unwrapped many times in the past years, viewed from so many angles, replayed in my head like a seasonal sappy cinema production.

As an adult with her own family, of course I know now that Christmas is not so much the big, blousy affair of fiction and film. It’s about the people, the sharing, the togetherness.

But the memory of the glory day remains special, and I will wrap it in tissue once again and put it away safely with my other Christmas treasures. Merry Christmas Nanna and GG, I miss you.  I thank you.  You would have loved little R, he’s a lot like you both.

Owners Manual for 11 Year Old Boys

Eleven year old boys are no longer infants, not yet men.

Eleven year old boys have rooms that smell like wet sand shoes, or old washing, or wet cat fur.

Eleven year old boys no longer care that ‘stuff’ is all over the floor in their room.

Eleven year olds will leave school lunches in their bags for weeks unless you check the bag yourself. Asking “Where is your lunch box – and what is that smell?” will not produce the desired result.

Eleven year old boys begin their first sentence of their day “You know how they say there is no such thing as a V6 turbo diesel…” Instead of  “Good Morning, Mum, How did you sleep?”

Eleven year old boys have questions that only their Dad can answer.

Eleven year old boys seem to grow a centimetre a day and have developed the skills required to inhale the contents of the refrigerator in one meal.

Eleven year old boys need constant nagging to brush hair, teeth and actually use shampoo.

Eleven year old boys will not choose which new jocks to buy whilst (somebody else’s) mother and 3 girls are in the same aisle at Big W.

Eleven year old boys are old enough to cook meals and can do so with a basic cook book and sidelined supervision.

Eleven year old boys secretly do care that this will make them a good husband, someday. (It will also set you in good steed with future daughter in law, but we won’t go there)

Eleven year old boys will still want cuddles, to hold your hand, sometimes cry and need their mothers, at a time that suits them, not the mother.

Eleven year olds still kiss goodnight.

I’ll love you forever,
I’ll like you for always,
As long as I’m living
my baby you’ll be.

Robert Munsch  

 

Respect Yourself

Sometimes, I think I should have joined the morality police. Perhaps I was signed up at birth and no one told me.

I am aware that within myself I have a strong sense of morality and social justice. I also know that this is increasing as I age. I am not sure if this increase is actually due to my advancing years, or if it is because my suspicions of society becoming too lenient and blase about issues are actually true.  Especially issues of basic judgement. Right and wrong. Know what I mean? What ever happened to ethics and humanism?

I find the ever increasing news stories of child and teen crime have me speaking back to the source. I am talking back to the newspaper, the news reader, the radio announcer, the computer. Reports of arson in the wee small hours: What on earth was the eight year old doing out at 2.00 AM anyway? Reports of thuggery (I love that word, it works, thug-ger-y) at the local service station- kids after cash: Where were your parents when you, at 11 years of age,  were bashing this attendant and what in God’s name lets you think you even have the right to hit another person?

Corruption gives me goosebumps.  Our governemnet bails out millionaire magnates who monopolise industries like child care or health care. Industries that governments chose to deregulate years ago, thus allowing what should be non-profit and community based to be run at big profit, lining pockets of fat cats that could care less.  Pedophiles are released into community without trial.  Pre-teens can brutally bash a classmate for a pair of Nikes, but parents cannot smack a bottom for part of a life lesson.

When I was younger, my grandmother washed my mouth out with soap for saying ‘shit’. Now, morning radio drops the F bomb as part of their breakfast broadcast during the 8.30 AM show. Television soapies depict teen pregnancies as cool, 14 and 15 year olds have sex during 7.00 PM timeslots while 8 year olds watch on, glued to the screen with their Macdonalds dinners.  A certain show about men, men, men has regular bedroom romps of casual sex studded with parenting tips of raising an eleven year old dispersed with humour.

Society has rules because as a people, rules are what keeps us safe. Not all of them make sense. Some of them are downright stupid.  But rules are limits by which a community can set a standard, a standard that says “hey, we live here together, I’ll value you and your life and you value mine”.

We are in a world where teachers must seek written permission to give a child panadol if their temperature spikes at school, must receive a written statement to take their photograph for any kind of school publication but must NOT tell the parents of a 13 year old if they know the child to be sexually active or pregnant.

I write this post at the risk of sounding like a stick-in-the-mud. I am not. Not of archaic thinking, nor of antediluvian properties. I am not religious. I guess you could call me a heathen.  But are basic Christian morals and ethics so hard to teach to our children? To live by? I am not suggesting we preach nor prattle. Nor am I saying that secular teaching should be enforced in education with fire, brimstone and sword. However, it has been said that the Bible tells us about how to live. There are worse guides to leading a civilised life.

If the scales of justice are to be tipped, which side would you prefer weighed in your favour?

Find My Family

You know the show?

It’s one thing watching the show, and feeling the emotion the participants feel.

It’s another thing living it.

All my life I have known there was something missing.  How many times have you heard someone say that? Trust me, if you have ever thought that, or known it deep in your soul, then you are right.

Families of the era of my parents – in their young adult lives – were closed mouthed about such topics. Yet almost everyone I have shared my story with has or has had an aunt, a grandparent, a ‘someone’ who was sent away to an institution, locked up in an attic, ran off, or who had babies taken away / given away at birth.  My experience is the latter. Finding one brother a few years back was an eye opener at the time.

Finding not one, but two more, recently, was another.

And a meeting, all of us together for the first time, was a joy.

Visiting the final resting place of one I never knew, the one I will never know was an experience I cannot put words to.  Youth, motorbike, speed, life snatched away.
 

I grew up as a sister with one brother. Just us.  Below, is the family I now share, the family I now know, the family I belong to. And still there are a few missing. This is not the place to tell why, how or of whom. But I can share the joy of knowing that parts of the puzzle are completed. Things feel more complete.
 

For anyone out there who is involved in a search of any type, be it finding someone you lost, or looking for someone you know existed, I have only a few words of advice. Don’t give up. Ever.