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WHAT’S IN A NAME

A few years ago I was working for a telecommunications company as secretary to the Operations Manager.  Part of my role was to organise all the paper work, computer logins and orientation for any new employee that joined the department.  In this particular instance I was to arrange everything for a new customer service representative called Clare.

Monday arrived and the lovely Clare was sitting waiting in the foyer.

My phone rang, it was reception.

The new lady is here.

I walked downstairs and towards Clare, my hand outstretched ready to shake hers.

Hi, Clare, I’m Sarah.  I’ll be helping you to settle in today and you will meet with John later.

Anais,” Clare said.

I’m sorry?” I said, not sure what she meant.

My name is Anais.

I looked at my paper work.  Her ID badge clearly said “Clare”.  I looked at her, confused.  Had they employed someone else without telling me?

I changed it, my name.  By deed poll.

I had no idea what to say.

My parents chose my name, and I haven’t spoken to them in 10 years.  I never really liked the name they chose.  This job is a new start for me, so I thought ‘why not completely reinvent myself?’ and so I changed my name.  I named myself Anais, after Anais Nin.

She had also changed her surname to some equally exotic name – all traces of her old life erased.  Well, on paper at least.  I suspect a lot of what caused her to change her name would live with her for many years to come.

I nodded, admittedly dumbfounded, and took her upstairs.  I listened to her repeat the story at least 10 times that day to various people who were expecting “Clare”.

I was named after my great-grandmother.  My mother didn’t know her grandmother.  She had died young, aged just 56, the year my mother was born, but a scandal surrounded her.

The story goes that she was a domestic servant in a manor house, almost certainly not as grand as Downton Abbey, but a manor house none the less.  The family legend says that my grandmother came about as a result of a tryst between Sarah and the lord of the manor.  So strong was this rumour, and the resulting shame she felt because of it, that my grandmother had all evidence of her birth cremated with her when she died.

There are no details of Sarah’s mother, only her father, Charles.

This is my great grandmother Sarah, my namesake, taken I would say around the 1920s
This is my great grandmother Sarah, my namesake, taken I would say around the 1920s

My mom grew up listening to stories about Sarah:

Sarah had to return to work.  She had no alternative.  It is not clear if she returned to the original manor house.  My grandmother, as a consequence, was brought up in a convent, by nuns, until the age of 17.  Up until the age of 5, she had been looked after her aunt and uncle, who by all accounts had not cared for her that well.  My grandmother loved the convent, but saw Sarah very little.

My grandmother unsurprisingly became such a devout catholic that she was on course to become a nun herself when she met my grandfather.  Sadly, the shame surrounding her birth never ever left her.

But my mother fell in love with Sarah.

There was never any question that I was going to be named after her.

I think my mom had this idea that Sarah had been manipulated, that the power the lord of the manor had over her had resulted in my grandmother, that Sarah would have been poor, alone and without means.  It wasn’t an uncommon story of the time.

Somehow an injustice had taken place.  And somehow Sarah’s memory was going to live on in me.

For the longest time I did not like my name.  It was so plain.  I couldn’t shorten it.  I never got a nickname and god, I so wanted a nickname – a cool one like Tif or Kat or Shell.  There was no term of endearment for me.  I lamented how ordinary Sarah was.  And when I met Clare-now-Anais I so desperately wanted an exotic name too.

Yet, as I got older, became more aware, I realised that Sarah, the person, ran in my veins.  And I knew that I was her immortality.  I have no idea what she was like as a person, but I do know she was a survivor.  I know that she gave her daughter up to nuns who would care for her at a time when orphanages would have been the easy option.  I know that Sarah would have had to pay for that care.

I know that through that care my grandmother turned into a woman who, despite years of struggles and ill health, was kind and good and was adored by her family.  I know she gave birth to my mother who likewise was adored.

fh. 032
My grandmother (second from the left) with my mom on her wedding day and my aunt and uncle

 

I know that my mother felt indignant at the shame the catholic church imposed on my grandmother, a shame that never left her, a shame that would reverberate for 60 years until my grandmother’s death, despite the catholic church excommunicating her because my grandfather left her for another woman.

And I know my mother instilled in me an incredibly strong sense of social justice, to question those in power constantly, to keep an eye out for the marginalised and disempowered, especially women.

I know that starting with Sarah a long line of strong women began, women who don’t give up, who persevere and who survive.

I know that as I stand here today, Sarah is a name of which I am very proud.  It carries with it a life line, a heritage that, rather than shame, fills me with pride.  It is the name that my mom uttered as she lay dying,  calling out to my grandmother whom she could seen in her last few days.  It is a name that has come to mean so much for over 120 years.

What is in a name?  A new life, perhaps, like Clare?  Or perhaps a vindicated link to an old one.  What do you think?

How about you, do you like your name?  Were you named after someone?  Have you changed it?

Until next time,

SHW Signature

 

 

 

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WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT DEATH AND DYING

Death.  h?

It is inevitable.  It comes to us all.  But we don’t like to think about that.

Why?

Are we afraid?  Afraid to tempt fate, to court the grim ripper for fear he may choose to come too early.  Before we have had chance to live the life we want, the life we struggle for, the life that has eluded us.  For surely the fear stems from a life not well lived, or a life incomplete somehow.

We just don’t talk about death and dying.

And we should.

We should talk about how we would like to die, even if when the time comes we don’t have that choice.

We should talk about how we would like to be buried, or cremated, or not.

We should talk about how we would like to be remembered, leave a legacy behind somehow of the essence of us, so that in death, our lives have some meaning.

I am reading a beautiful book called Lost & Found by Brooke Davis, an Australian author.  The theme is death.  And it is also about renewed life.  But for me, the death part resonates.  Millie, the central character, a 7 year old girl, is not allowed to talk about death, but she is acutely aware that things die.  She does not know why death is a taboo subject.  “It just is,” her father tells her.

My mom was diagnosed at that age of 61 with lung cancer.  From the time of diagnosis to the time of her death took just 8 weeks.  She did not want to die.  She was not ready for death.  She worried she would miss us too much.  I would lie on her bed next to her and she would cradle me in her arms as my tears would fall on her pillow and she would say to me, “I am going to miss you so much.”  She wasn’t prepared.  I wasn’t prepared.  I wasn’t ready.  Four and a half years later, I am still not ready.

When my mom was diagnosed with cancer she was afraid.  She was afraid of how she would die.  She was afraid, mostly, that she would suffocate to death and be aware of that suffocation.  My dad, a devout Christian, caught in the ravaging grip of grief, couldn’t let her talk about her fears.  He clung to the idea that God would save her.  She was one of the good souls, he had said, and God would save her.

For the longest time she couldn’t express her fear.  And so, I sent Dad on an errand on the same day the palliative nurse came to visit and gave mom the space she needed to face the inevitability of her death.  To face the inevitable reality that for whatever reason her God wasn’t going to save her.  She needed time to talk, to prepare.

How will I die?” she had asked the nurse.

Well, cancer robs your body of energy, so you will feel more and more tired.  You will sleep more, and eventually, in my experience, you will slip into a coma like state and then slip away.”

Will I be aware of dying?”

In my experience, not really.”

Will I be struggling for breath?”

No.  Your body shuts down, so your consciousness is shut down first.  Only the very basic human functions will continue.   Eventually, your breathing will just slow down until it stops.”

The relief on mom’s face, to know that it wasn’t a case of her breathing out and suddenly not being able to breath in again.  She will be unaware, blissfully unaware.

A couple of days later we were in the car.

I want “I am Woman” played at the funeral.

We all jumped.

“And I want Sarah to sing Scarborough Fair and Amazing Grace.”

My poor dad looked at her mortified.  We were on our way to her first radiation therapy session.  The cancer had spread to her brain and they had to treat that before they could ever begin treatment on the inoperable tumour-infested lung.

You can’t have Helen Reddy blasting at your funeral.”  Dad said.  Still so much in denial.

“If that’s what you want mom, then that is what you shall have,” I said, my heart breaking as I gave in to the inevitability of the fact that I would be organising her funeral.

And no one is to wear black.  Only bright colours are allowed.

And so it was.  My mother’s funeral arrangements were made in the car, on the way to the hospital.  Thankfully, she found her voice.  Thankfully, she managed to let us know how she wanted to be honoured on her passing.

The nurse was right, my mom did slip into a coma, just as she said mom would, and her breathing slowed and slowed until, at just after midnight on the 8th July, she took her last breath.  It was a funny breath.   A shallow sigh really.  My dad had witnessed it before, in the passing of his own mother, so when mom took it, he said, “This is it girls.”  We looked at him, confused.  And then he said, “Mom, is gone.”  And then we cried, we howled.  But that is grief, and I will write about that another time.

This is about death and how we really need to be talking about it.

After my mom’s funeral at which “I am woman” was played whilst mom was precessed down the aisle, and whilst a slide show of her beautiful, brave life was shown; at which my sister and I both sang “Scarborough Fair” and “Amazing Grace”; and at which no-one wore black, people came up to us and said it was the best funeral they had ever been to.  My mom would have LOVED that!

At the funeral tea, my aunt told me that she didn’t want to get buried in a cemetery, or have a church funeral.  She said she wanted to be buried under a tree, whole, where her body can become one with the earth.  I know that there are a number of humanist funeral directors that arrange this sort of thing.

Yesterday, I watched a movie called “With Honors” in which Joe Pesci plays a character that is dying.  He writes his own eulogy, beautiful, moving.  When he was writing his eulogy, he seeks advice from Brendon Fraser’s character.  Brendon says, “Write about the things you did for which you are proud.”  I think that is good advice.

I’m still formulating my plan.  I have feared talking about death like everyone else, but I don’t want to fear it anymore. I want to embrace the inevitability of it.  I want to be prepared for it and I want to prepare my family for it.  Because I wasn’t prepared to lose my mom, I wasn’t prepared for her death.  And I think if we talk about it more, then we don’t have to be afraid of it, and then we will be more prepared for it, and then maybe, just maybe, it won’t be scary or hurt quite so much.

Do you talk about death and dying?  Are you afraid of it?  Have you got a plan?

Much love,

SHW Signature

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CHRISTMAS IS OVER, NOW ONTO NEW YEAR

Boxing day here.

Sitting here still feeling somewhat strangely beautifully bloated from yesterday’s festivities.

How was your Christmas beautiful you?  Was it good?  Did you get to spend it with people who make you feel special and loved?  Or was it like pulling teeth and you could not wait to get through it, wishing like hell it was over?

I have had many of those in my time, but yesterday, for me, was lovely.  There were no dramas, no person who spoiled the festivities, no awkward moments.  It was a day filled with the proverbial love and laughter and boy, am I so grateful for that.

Life has an uncanny way of not working out how we want it to go and I have admit that in the run up to Christmas I was not feeling it all that much.  There were Christmas posts by bloggers in their thousands, but I just couldn’t find the mojo to write it.  A sadness settles over me at this time of year, and I do find it difficult to connect with this time of year.

I worry about those people who will be on their own, who don’t have a home or food, who are completely overwhelmed by this time of year.  I worry about the over indulgence of it all, how commercial it has all become.  As I waited in the queues to purchase my own christmas items, I watched with dismay the amount of packaging that covers even the smallest thing, and I couldn’t help but think over 2 billion people world wide celebrate this time of year and all of it is going to find itself into landfill.

Yes, I know, it’s all rather depressing.

But then the day came, and all those worries were suspended for just that day and I was so lucky to have an amazing day to celebrate just being with family and friends that do just love each other, who want to be together.  It is a beautiful thing and for me, truly does represent the true spirit of christmas.

Our christmas tree this year with presents for the 12 people that joined us.
Our christmas tree this year with presents for the 12 people that joined us.
The christmas table all ready for family & friends
The christmas table all ready for family & friends
The table lovingly set to add to the festivities
The table lovingly set to add to the festivities

Despite how commercial Christmas has become, I do love the ritual of the festival.  I imagine what it would have been like in the pagan times, preparing for the winter solstice, gathering food, creating hand made gifts, the congregation of the entire village at a time when hibernation would have been the order of the day.  It is in that spirit that christmas exists and if we can reclaim that in some small way, then it doesn’t become invalidated, doesn’t become tainted somehow.

Miss J and I having some selfie fun
Miss J and I having some selfie fun
Mr C and I getting the food ready for the day
Mr C and I getting the food ready for the day
The one of the four of us.  We haven't had a family photo of us in a while, so this one is extra special
The one of the four of us. We haven’t had a family photo of us in a while, so this one is extra special
This was made my Miss J and Baby C for me.  Gogo is such an unusual name for a grandmother, so this means the world to me.  It now has pride of place on my "special tree"
This was made my Miss J and Baby C for me. Gogo is such an unusual name for a grandmother, so this means the world to me. It now has pride of place on my “special tree”

But that is all over now for another year.

And now it is Boxing Day, and so we look to the New Year.  We look to a new beginning.

But before we can look forward, we have to look back.  It is helpful to reflect.  What was 2014 like for you?  What were your highs, your lows?

2014 promised to be a great new year, but by mid-january, my depression had gripped me so badly that on the recommendation of a friend, I went to see an art therapist.  She recommended I begin a blog and so I started an amazing blogging course with the lovely Pip Lincolne from Meet Me At Mikes, called Blog with Pip.

When I began that course in February, I had absolutely no idea just what journey I would be taking.  To say it has been life changing is not an understatement.  This space, that first began with The Imperfect Crafter, and then transitioned to the Sarah’s Heart Writes that you see today, has opened up my heart, my faith in humanity and has afforded me opportunities I never thought possible.

I had no idea what I wanted to write about, or who would read it.  I went through highs and lows.  I got caught up in the competitiveness of wanting to make heaps of money (with no product to sell) to returning to my authentic self of just writing from the heart.

I wrote a post about how I had Androgenetic Alopecia, how I got a new wig, and even found the courage to post a photo of myself bald, which has had the amazing effect of me now speaking openly about my baldness and even removing my wig to show people how it actually works.  This is something I would never ever have imagined possible just 10 months ago.

As I kept showing up, my voice emerged, speaking more and more of those things that meant the most to me.  I opened up an Instagram account and started to post a regular kindness bomb, to remind people that even though they might not feel like it at the time, they matter, they are valued and they are loved.  The response to those have been humbling.

#kindnessbomb no 71,
#kindnessbomb no 71,

I met an amazing group of women who I now speak to on a daily basis.  We encourage and champion each other every single day.  We all started our blogging journey at the same time, and we all have our own strengths to offer.  Just like friends meeting for coffee for a good old natter, we show up every morning online and talk about life, love and blogging.  I have been astounded how quickly these women have made it into my heart, the depth of which I care for these human beings.  I have also been so grateful for their love and kindness towards me, for it is through this unconditional love and encouragement, that I have learned to trust in life again and Mr C has noticed a marked reduction in my depressive episodes, noting that even when they do occur, they are of a much less intensity and don’t last as long.

That has been the best gift of all with this journey.

But, of course, like the yin and yang of life, there have been some lows.

Mr C and I both had awful health this year.  I had pancreatitis and had to undergo a fairly major operation.  My liver enzymes were so off the chart that the hospital staff did not want to believe that I had been sober for 4 years.  They were convinced I was a heavy alcoholic.  Luckily my surgeon has known me for three of those four years and stepped in to assure them.  The operation brought with it its own complications – it was discovered I have a minor heart condition known as Idiopathic Non-Sustained Ventricular Tachycardia.  I’m highly unlikely to drop dead from it, but it will need monitoring for the rest of my life.

I also broke my wrist which has been a slow healing process.

Mr C had Occipital Neuralgia, a debilitating condition that caused him to have a 96 hour migraine and then later in the new year, Mr C had to undergo emergency surgery for two slipped discs that were at risk of causing him to become permanently incontinent.  Luckily, the operation has been a success, but the healing process has been slow and that is frustrating for a man who cycled the Tour de France route last year.

So heading into 2015, our big goal is our health.

I have undertaken to stop talking about losing weight and to actually do it.  My goal is to be my goal weight by the end of 2015 and that will require a weight loss of 35kgs.  Not a small job, but like my blog, if I just keep showing up, little by little I will find my groove and my health will improve and I know that will have a knock on effect in ways that I probably can’t imagine right now but will be amazing to look back on this time next year.

Some changes will take place on the blog.  I want to talk more of the kindness of humanity, in a world where the only media we are subjected to is its darkness.  I want to talk about social justice and how we can make a difference in practical, easy ways that make sense to us.  I will always talk about what is going on in my heart.

There are some skills I would like to gain:

Learning to use my DSLR camera, learning to do Hand Lettering, learning to get out more (being the reclusive animal I am).

So as we head into 2015, I wish you all health, happiness, self love and care and a healthy dose of sun and laughter.

I look forward to connecting with you all in the new year, so that our journey together can continue, so that we can walk on the boardwalk of life, arm in arm, whistling a tune that makes sense to each of us.

Thank you for reading my blog, especially as I am not one for a short post (1374 words and counting).  I am so grateful to have this space to share with you and for the fact that you read it.

See you on the other side of new year’s eve.  Make it a good one.

Much love,

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Ritual + Routine

 

God I love the holidays.

I sometimes hear other mothers lament how long the summer break is, how bored the children get, how they drive them mad.  And I can sympathise, I honestly can, but it still doesn’t stop me from freaking loving the school holidays.

You see, I am not a ritual and routine kind of girl.  My preferred start to my day is to languish – in bed, in the sitting room, on the computer, with my nose in a book, with whatever takes my fancy.  It is not uncommon to spend the entire day in my pyjamas.  Even the ritual of getting dressed is sometimes more than I can bear.

The school terms are hard work.  Each morning is the same:

Get up (leaving it to the VERY last minute), plod through to the kitchen, greet Master J, get his breakfast (always a sandwich with the same filling – currently tuna mayonnaise), make lunch for him (always the same lunch – currently a peanut butter sandwich, fruit and a muffin), iron his shirt if Mr C hasn’t ironed it for me (which does happen from time to time), plod back to my bedroom, get showered, dressed and with moments to spare before we hit the major traffic thus ensuring our tardiness, we hop into the car for the school run.

Those 10 weeks of term, my mornings feel like I am trudging through mud.  And Master J is the same.

During my teenage years, we were never allowed to languish in bed.  I wish I had known then that research now proves that the energy it takes to grow a teenager is second only to the energy it takes to grow a baby from birth to age 2.  I would have loved to tell my dad as he yelled at me to get up at 8am on a Saturday morning because I was “wasting your life away in bed” that in fact, biologically, I needed the sleep.  I needed to waste the day, I needed to let the best part of the day slip me by.  I needed to conserve energy for the massive prefrontal cortex explosion that was going on inside my head.

Alas, I have not grown out of it.  I still need to languish of a morning.  I am a night owl.  I love to stay up late into the wee hours of the morning.  The quiet of the night settles my soul somehow and I am far more productive than I ever am during the day.  Also, I seem to be a lot more creative.  In the stillness of the night, as the rest of the world slumbers, I find myself in the midst of a creative explosion.  I have books filled with ideas that just scream at me in the dead of night.  It is quite exhausting and exhilarating all at the same time.

I do find routine very difficult.  The idea that I have to stick to something, to a schedule, fills me with dread.  Yet, I am acutely aware that in my spurning ritual and routines, I am in fact creating them.  What a paradox!

I write every day.  I log on every day to speak to my online friends who have become such a vital part of my day.  I email Mr C every single day, even if it is just to say “Hi, I’m thinking of you, I love you.”.  I sit in the same seat every day despite having at least 7 others in which I could sit too.  I have an order to how I get dressed and how I prepare myself for writing.  I have an order to how I check my emails and my social media accounts.  And I always stay up late.  In fact, I live a very ordered life full of ritual and routine.

But don’t tell my brain that.  It abhors ritual and routine.  It likes to think it is a rogue, an adventurer, a misfit, zipping through life with carnal abandon, beholden to no one, a free spirit, a wild horse.

Best to keep it just between me and you.

Until next time,

SHW Signature

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Out with black and white, in with shades of grey

 

The world is not black and white.  It is in fact full of shades of grey, with a good heap of colour, definitely not black and white.

Yet, as humans, we are committed to this notion that life has to be exactly that – black and white, right or wrong, yes or no.

It is this notion that feeds our own critical natures – we are either good at something or bad at something.  It also feeds our opinion of each other – a person, or group is either right or wrong.  It feeds our tolerance levels – if they are in, we forgive the person or group a multitude of sins, but if they are out, even when we actually agree with their behaviour, we don’t want to admit it.

On a day to day basis I am extremely critical of myself.  I am too fat, too lazy, not active enough, not a good mother, not a good housewife, not educated enough. I reinforce the idea that I am a “bad” person and it is this opinion of myself that drives my depression.  My brain tells me I am not good enough, and to drive the point home, it points out all the things that I am bad at.

Yet, when I analyse it, a life lived is a journey and the skills we acquire are on a  spectrum.  Here is what I mean:

I am overweight yes, but certainly not to the point where my life is impeded except for circumstances where I choose to it do so.

I am not lazy – I do not enjoy housework and certain other tasks and I do put them off until I have to do them, but indeed that doesn’t make me lazy, it makes me human.  Some people are born for domesticity and good luck to them, I am not one of them.

On balance, whilst I do not run, swim, or partake in any formal activity, I can shop up a storm like nobody else and quite often my pedometer will tell me that I did over the required 10,000 steps just by moving from shop to shop.  I am active, just not in the conventional sense perhaps.

Being a mother is probably one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do.  Being a mother of a child on the spectrum even more so.  Your sanity comes under fire almost daily.  Your confidence as a person capable of making sound decisions is questioned.  This is because you are acutely aware that you are bringing up another human being and that your responsibility to ensure that human is good, kind, respectful and happy to boot is enormous.  I find I question my ability to fulfil this task all the time.  However, despite my lack of confidence, I have never given up.  My own daughter now has a child of her own and my son, who is on the spectrum, has managed to make it through mainstream school and only has two years to complete his schooling.  He has dreams and aspirations of becoming a video game designer.  He has aspirations.  That comes from being a tenacious parent who may make mistakes a long the way (plenty of them), but who also is prepared to do battle on a daily basis for her children.  I may not be the stereotypical domesticated mother, but my children know I would do anything for them.  That makes me at the very least an okay mother (spectrum, remember?).

I am an okay housewife.  I hadn’t intended on becoming a housewife at all.  I intended on working in the corporate world.  Then Master J was born and his needs superseded my own need to earn money.  I do not clean house very often.  I, in fact, have a wonderful cleaner called Tom, who is my life saver.  I tell myself, as I have mentioned in another post, that I am boosting the economy by providing employment for him.  My house is neat and tidy and my friends tell me that they love coming over as it is a relaxed place to be where I am always with them, not rushing around cleaning up after everyone.  It is true, I don’t even try to do the dishes until everyone has left.  Largely because I hate doing dishes.  It isn’t uncommon for them to be sitting there a couple of days later.  But they do get done, eventually.

My feeling of being uneducated has dogged me for years.  At school I was considered very clever.  The problem is that I hated learning things that I didn’t like.  I loved English and Drama, and other Arts subjects, but as for the other required learning, that really grated me.  The upshot is that whilst everyone expected me to do really well, my school life ended with a mediocre result.  I then went to university to become a biology teacher, because that seemed like a good and noble profession at the time, not because I loved biology which I didn’t.  I hadn’t thought it through as I clearly had no idea how much science was involved.  Who knew biology was a science?  This “failure” set me on a path that would dog me for years.  I could not consider myself educated unless I had a degree – black and white, see?  Life experience and my wealth of knowledge garnered through extensive reading didn’t count in my book.

I am nearing 50.  I have learned that what we thought was absolute 25 years ago does not hold true today.  I have learned that there is no black and white, only greys and that life is smattered with colour along the way.  I have learned that life is a journey.  I have learned that as a species we evolve, that what the media tells us is true today is almost certainly not true tomorrow.  We make decisions in the absolute, but life is not static, it is dynamic and those people that “go with the flow” are the ones that are the most happy, the most well adjusted, the most able to adjust their sails for stormy seas.  I am learning to be that person.  I am learning to be the person that just bobs along on the ocean, not trying to control the direction, but allowing life to take her wherever it sees fit for her to go.  Yes, it feels counterintuitive at times, a lot of the time, but with practice, I am getting better.

How about you?  Is it time to let the black and white go and to finally love your shade of grey?

Much love,

SHW Signature

 

 

 

This post was written as part of #reverb14 – a blogging initiative hosted by Kat McNally.  The month of December is a good time to reflect on the year that was and for us to contemplate the reverberations that we send out into the world.  Please do hop on over to Kat’s blog and if you feel moved to do so, please join in.  Today is Day 9 of the initiative.
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Connections

 

Master J finished school on Friday.

He bounced into the car, full of as much joy as a nearly 17 year old boy can muster.

I’m done.  I’m done for 8 weeks.

I smiled.  I love the school holidays.  It is just he and I at home.  Mornings are lazy.  No time frame constraints and we can do what the hell we like.

Today is Monday, the first day of our summer break.

It is raining outside.

I’m ironing sheets and duvet covers (really exiting summer break this one!).

The holidays are so boring!” Master J has just emerged from his room.  It is 8am.  On the first day of our summer holiday.  The one that we love so much.  The one that, whilst our paths don’t cross that often (meaning he immerses himself in his computer in his room and I busy myself readying for christmas, then relaxing and pottering), we are acutely aware of each others’ presence.  His autism means he finds communication really difficult, but I communicate with him.  I communicate with him through silent connection.  I love that so much.  I love him so much.

What do you mean the holidays are boring,” I protest, “they have barely begun.

Then a few seconds later.

Do you want to go for a movie?

He shakes his head.  I knew he wouldn’t want to – no self respecting teenage boy wants to be seen with his mum in public, autistic or not.

We don’t have parties anymore.  Why don’t we have parties any more?  It is so boring in this house.

It is true.  We used to entertain a lot.  We bought this house for its entertainment value.  Then six months later we became sober, then six months after that my mom died.  I lost my desire to connect.

Then we had a couple of parties,  nothing as plentiful as before, but a few.

Then this year Mr C ended up in hospital.  And I ended up in hospital.  So we haven’t had any parties this year.

Children on the spectrum struggle to connect.

We have parties at our house, and Master J will not move from his room.  But the other children will seek him out and sit with him.  This is him connecting with the world outside.

What he was really saying to me is that he feels isolated, that he needs to connect.

Which may seem weird to people who don’t understand autism, to people who have a stereotypical view of children on the spectrum.

The truth is that whilst anxiety drives them and their subsequent isolation, like any human being, like EVERY human being, they desperately want to connect, even in the smallest way.

I, on the other hand, am driven by depression.  I do not want to connect.  Not right now.  It is christmas and I am sad.  I want to stay indoors with just the two of us.  He in his enclave, me in mine, aware of each other, connecting in our own way.

I look at him.  “It’s really late in the year, Master J, people won’t be available for a party.  But we are going to The C’s for christmas drinks.

It wasn’t what he wanted to hear.  That will require effort – to get ready, to travel, to meet people he won’t know.  His face drops.

I tell you what.  How about we have a New Years party?  I don’t know who will be around, but no doubt some people won’t have plans.  Everyone can bring their children.

He nods, contemplating first, then accepting my offer.

I make a mental note to make sure I email everyone to see who might be around.  I also make a mental note to organise a few parties next year.

Connections are important.  They are important to Master C and despite my depression, they are important to me.  And it is important to maintain them throughout the year.  No matter how busy we are, or how ill we may be.  It is too easy to hibernate, to isolate, to lose connection.

You see, we are all connected on this crazy planet we call home.  Whether we like it or not, we are all connected.  We all have a burning desire to belong, to have a tribe of our own.  Even, or perhaps especially, children on the spectrum.  And so it is that I will be working hard to maintain those connections.  And so it is I have written a couple of dates in my diary next year to hold a party or two.  So that I can feel connected.  So that Master J can feel connected.

And so it is that my “I can do what the hell I like” summer holiday has now turned into “who the hell is around on NYE?” summer holiday.

Connections.  They drive us no matter what.  And that isn’t a bad thing.

Until next time,

SHW Signature

 

 

This post was written as part of #reverb14 – a blogging initiative hosted by Kat McNally.  The month of December is a good time to reflect on the year that was and for us to contemplate the reverberations that we send out into the world.  Please do hop on over to Kat’s blog and if you feel moved to do so, please join in.  Today is Day 8 of the initiative.

 

 

Categories
Ramblings

The dreaded selfie

I am not a fan of the selfie.

To be honest, it all seems narcissistic to me.  I love photographs, don’t get me wrong, but this era of The Selfie just seems, well,self indulgent.

Quite often my Instagram account will get “liked” by scantily clad women whose account is nothing more than one boring selfie after another.  It just seems to me nothing more than over-the-top self promotion and I don’t see the point.

This probably makes me boring and staid, and, yes, I am aware, quite judgemental.

I have, of course, taken the odd selfie.  I am not immune.  Which makes my judgement somewhat hypocritical I know.  However, in my defence I don’t plaster said selfies all over the place.  They are primarily used for photos for my various online accounts – you know those little avatars that require an image of you?

Ironically, the most shared selfie I have is this one:

Completely bald, yep, that's me with no hair.  I shave my head every two days to keep it smooth so the wig can suction on and I feel secure.
Completely bald, yep, that’s me with no hair. I shave my head every two days to keep it smooth so the wig that I wear can suction on and I feel secure.

It is me, bald.  It is me laid bare.  It is me showing my vulnerability.  It is me saying “Hey world, this is me, take it or leave it.”

I may not be a fan of the selfie, but I am actually pretty proud of this shot.

It represents my mantra for 2014 – to face and live my truth, to no longer be afraid of not fitting in, to learn to value myself with all of my imperfections, to know that I am enough.

What about you, how do you feel about the selfie?  Fan or not?

Until next time,

SHW Signature

 

 

 

This post was written as part of #reverb14 – a blogging initiative hosted by Kat McNally.  The month of December is a good time to reflect on the year that was and for us to contemplate the reverberations that we send out into the world.  Please do hop on over to Kat’s blog and if you feel moved to do so, please join in.  Today is Day 7 of the initiative.
Categories
Ramblings

The sound of a voice

When my mom was dying with lung cancer, my sister and I travelled up to Birmingham in the UK, where my mother had grown up.

Without consciously realising it, we found ourselves outside my grandmother’s old house, my mother’s childhood home.

I did not know my grandmother that well but my mom would regale stories of her childhood and I would delight at them, hanging on every word.

One of my favourites was the time when my mom and aunt decided that as a treat to my grandmother, who worked as a char lady for other households in the area, they would spring clean the house.  My mother and my aunt, aged probably no older than 8 and 10, dutifully removed every item of furniture from the downstairs and deposited it on the front lawn.  The beauty of this gesture did not dawn on my mom until she was a mother herself.

Of course, once they had ‘cleaned’ the house, the idea of returning all the furniture was just too much for them, so they waited until my grandmother returned to present to her their efforts.

As my mother told it, my grandmother acted dutifully grateful, and without complaint, after a full day’s work of cleaning other people’s houses, returned the furniture on her own to its rightful place inside the house.

This was the enduring vision I had of my grandmother, and I saw my mom very much in the same light.

My cousin decided to join us to visit my grandmother’s house.  Her mom was my mom’s sister.  The house had changed.  An extension to the side had been added.

We started to take some photos when a woman came rushing out of the front door.

Can I help you?” she demanded.

I am sorry,” I said, “our moms grew up in this house.  They lived here from around 1950 and my grandmother lived here until her death in 1978.  Now, my mom is dying of lung cancer and I thought it would be nice to take some photos of her old childhood home.  I promise I am not being creepy or anything.

Without batting an eyelid, the woman offered to show us around.  As I walked inside the front door, crossing that threshold, familiarity wrapped me up like a warm blanket.  I looked up the stairs directly in front of me and remembered walking up them to go to the toilet as a little girl.  An image of my mom, holding my baby sister whilst she held my hand flashed before me, white blanket trailing down her dress.

To the left was the front room, where my grandmother, sickly for most of her life would have a bed covered with an oxygen tent in which she would lie when we came to visit.  On very lucky days she would be well enough to sit with us on the settee.

My grandmother in the middle, my brother to the left, me to the right and my uncle behind us (circa 1977)
My grandmother in the middle, my brother to the left, me to the right and my uncle behind us (circa 1977)

To the back of the house was the kitchen, updated now, but all I could see was her old kitchen, and the washing ringer that I used to love, watching her as she passed her clothing through it ready to go on the line.

I drank in the smell of the kitchen, the taste of the evaporated milk that my grandmother, Peggy, used to put in her tea still fresh on my tongue.  As we stepped out of the kitchen and into the back garden I remembered the tart taste of the gooseberries as we picked them off the bush at bottom of the garden (why do we call it the bottom, I wonder).

Mom, sitting in the back garden as a young girl (circa 1953)
Mom, sitting in the back garden as a young girl (circa 1953)

Moving upstairs, we peeked into the back room, once the sleeping quarters of my mom and her sister, but in later years would be the bedroom of her much younger brother, only 8 years older than I.  I used to love his room, filled to the brim with comics of all description.  He would never let me touch or read them, they were his treasures, but I was content with the smell of all that paper.  Even at such a young age, written words on paper had found their way into my psyche.

We remodelled a couple of years ago,” the woman said.  “Added an extra bedroom and bathroom.  Would you believe that when we ripped off the wallpaper, layers of it there was, we found the names of three children written on the walls downstairs with heights marked for each one.  Elaine, Sandra and Jon.”

Yes, I had said, they were the names of my mom and her siblings.

I wish I had taken a photograph of them now,” she said wistfully.

I do too.

Later that day, as we drove away, photographs in hand, my cousin admitted to me that she had never actually been inside the house before.  My grandmother had passed before she had returned from Africa where her parents used to work.  I was glad that we were able to give her that gift, that she had some tangible memory to hold on to of where her own mom had shaped her own life.

The family home, remodelled
The family home, remodelled

My sister’s memory of that house is also sketchy, but also tinged with sadness as she was there, staying in the house, when my grandmother’s illness got the better of her.  My sister was only five.

I took the photos to my mom, who, weak now and confined to bed, looked at them with fondness and a certain longing, I felt.  She declared to me later that day that she had seen my grandmother at the bottom of her bed.  I knew my own mom’s time was coming, her mom was calling her.

So many times I have been asked how we find our voice, how do we know the sound of our own voice.  It isn’t something we find, or create.  It is something that is within us.  It envelopes us and shapes us.  It is born with us inside our DNA.  We just have to listen.  Just listen.  And then you start to hear the thump inside your heart, the rhythm, the tone, the pitch.  And everything you become, everything you are is as a result of all the people that have come before you.  Your voice is right there.

The women in my family are strong.  At her funeral my mom requested that as they processed her down the aisle I am Woman by Helen Reddy be played and that during the service my sister and I sing Scarborough Fair and Amazing Grace.  It was also requested that no one wear black.  I have no idea where we found the strength, but our voices sounded like angels that day.  People kept telling us we had such beautiful voices.

From those humble beginnings in that humble council house, that is now shaping another new family, my voice has been forged.  I am woman, hear me roar.

Where was your voice forged, I wonder?

Until next time,

SHW Signature

 

 

 

This post was written as part of #reverb14 – a blogging initiative hosted by Kat McNally.  The month of December is a good time to reflect on the year that was and for us to contemplate the reverberations that we send out into the world.  Please do hop on over to Kat’s blog and if you feel moved to do so, please join in.  
Categories
Ramblings

Answering the call to write

 

For as long as I can remember people have told me that I could write.

My earliest memory is when my first grade teacher told my mom that I had a reading and writing ability beyond my years and that my stories were lovely.

I ignored those early cues.

I moved from England to South Africa and all I wanted to do was read.  I was a fish out of water, and books were my solace.  I didn’t so much love the stories as I did imagining the authors writing the stories.

I moved schools often.  Friendships were difficult for me.  I spoke with a funny English accent and my “ways were different”.  There was no expat community, common in South Africa in the 70s, where I lived.  Writing stories were my happy place.

When I was 10, I moved to my third school in three years.  I wrote a poem and the next thing I knew I was being trotted from class to class to read my “incredible poem beyond her years”.

The following year, after a school sports day, I found myself in front of the school performing a one-person play I had written.

A couple of years later, I received a prize for English.

Still, I did not listen.

I went to high school where my English teacher displayed incredible patience with my teenage petulance, even allowing me to complete an entire page of an exam that I had somehow missed after the allotted time was up.  He told my mom that I was his favourite student and didn’t mind “cutting me some slack”.  He bragged about me, in front of me, to other teachers about how I was his next prodigy, about how my future in writing was assured.

I did not believe him.

I had no belief in myself at all.  I did not believe the adults in my world.

But I constantly thought in story lines.  No matter what happened to me, I was constantly thinking how it could be made into a story.

I left school and did not go to university to do a Bachelor of Art as everyone expected me to do.  BA stood for Bugger All in our house.  A degree in science was a much more noble pursuit.

During the first week, what is called O-week here in Australia, but what was called Rag Week in South Africa, in amongst the drinking and parties, we were required to attend various preliminary lectures.  In one of them we had to complete a comprehension test in order to determine if we needed remedial essay writing assistance.

The university phoned my father to tell him that I am doing the wrong degree.  I should be doing a Bachelor of Arts majoring in English they said.  My father told me of the call and urged me to change degrees.  Pride got in the way, I ignored the call.

For the next thirty years I would ignore the call.  I would constantly think in story lines, but attempt to BE something else.

I would ignore the desperate need to write – write my thoughts, write my stories, write my life.

Depression crept in.  My soul was sick.  So sick in fact I thought I could no longer face the darkness this world had to offer me.  I was not meant to live.

But then, early this year, at the insistence of my friend, I went to an Art Therapist.  She immediately noticed that I don’t think in pictures, but in words.  She noticed that words flow through me and from me with ease.  She suggested a blog.  A place to write without fear of rejection.

And so I blogged, and so I wrote.

My writing flowed through me and onto the screen.  Often I have no idea where it is going to take me, always I feel joy.

My depression is lifting.

I am a newborn in this world of writing.  A babe in her forties.  A woman only starting to learn the journey of her craft.  It is new, scary and exciting.  I am alive.

I am listening universe.

I understand now that this is what I am meant to do.  I understand now that you have been sending me those messages, blatant affirmations, from the time I was four years old.  I am so sorry I didn’t listen, but I am listening now.  And I cannot wait to find out what it is you have in store for me.

Much love,

SHW Signature

 

 

 

This post was written as part of #reverb14 – a blogging initiative hosted by Kat McNally.  The month of December is a good time to reflect on the year that was and for us to contemplate the reverberations that we send out into the world.  Please do hop on over to Kat’s blog and if you feel moved to do so, please join in.  
Categories
Ramblings

Autism and the sweet taste of success

 

Every now and again something happens in your day, in your life, that really is worth shouting from the mountain tops.

Today is one of those times.

But let me backtrack a bit.

This time last year, Master J was in Mansfield attending a residential intensive program for children on the spectrum.  He was suicidal, you see.  Life, his life, had become so unbearable for him.  He hated being autistic and he hated school.  He couldn’t reconcile the fact that autism is who he is, what makes him the beautiful soul that he is and he wanted to end it.  I sat and listened as he told me that he wanted to die, a very large piece of my soul breaking with him.

Sending him to that school was by far the most difficult thing Mr C and I have ever had to do.  The school caters for children across the spectrum, meaning that children who are low functioning reside with those that are high functioning.  It is a lesson in tolerance, responsibility, community.  And it is very very hard to learn.

The endless phone calls begging to take him home, the screaming accusing us of abandoning him, the pleading not to take him back when we had the home weekends.  It was draining, and a mother’s worst nightmare.  The guilt I may have felt at all my failings as a mother was nothing compared to what I felt in those 10 weeks.

But he survived.

We survived.

He learned that he is capable of more than he ever thought possible.  We learned that he capable of more than we ever thought possible.

He learned that autism is not a curse but a gift.  We learned that to try to wedge him into a neurotypical expectation was destroying him.  We learned to ignore the constant cries of people who think that autistic children are just over indulged and need to learn to fit in.  We learned to accept him completely for who he is.  He learned to largely do the same.

We all learned so very very much.

This year he saw a future.  A future he couldn’t possibly see that day he begged me to let him die.

It has been a tough year for him.  A year where he has had to push himself beyond his comfort zone time and again.  A year when a few melt downs have ensued.  A year when small victories have been few and far between.  A year where he has continued to push forward.  A year where he has dared to dream, dared to hope, dared to take action.

And today was pay day.

Text from Master J:

76% Maths exam.  Second highest in class

Instant tears streamed down my face.  On the day of the exam, he was so anxious, so convinced he would fail.  Yet he had prepared.  Throughout the year he pushed himself to do homework even when, in his mind, he could not see the point.  “If they insist on sending school work home, why aren’t I being homeschooled?” he would ask.  His logic was flawless.  Yet, he would sit, even if was at the last minute, to do his homework, willing himself to focus, to ignore the pull of his laptop to complete the work at hand.  It wasn’t easy.  It was a mammoth struggle.  He took the first steps towards a future he knew he wanted to have.

My response:

OMG!!!!! I am so freaking proud of you, well done my love.  Do you know how clever you actually are Master J?  Please never doubt yourself.  The sky truly is the limit.

No response from him.  But then I didn’t expect one.

This is huge.  This is beyond huge.

I picked him up from school.  As he opened the door I whooped and cheered.

At least wait for me to get in the car,” he laughed.

He looked so radiant.  At the tender age of 16 and a half, he had finally tasted success, victory, borne of the effort he had put in, borne of him pushing himself so hard through obstacles that were, for him, so great.

My heart felt like it was going to burst out of my chest.

He sat in the car.

Oh my god Master J, I am SO proud of you.”

I got the bloody second highest in the class.

I know!!  The second highest!  Are you ecstatic?  I best Ms K couldn’t believe it.

Ms K is Master J’s maths teacher.  But she is also his pastoral care teacher.  She is on his pastoral care team that make sure he fits in at school.  She was one of the ones to suggest he attend Mansfield.  She has an incredibly soft spot for Master J.  And he hasn’t been easy on her.

Nah, she was pleased.  I asked her if I had failed and she said “maybe” and then she smiled and said I got 76%.  I got the bloody second highest in the class.

Swearing is something Master J does when he is excited.  We used to try to correct him but then we realised that it is how he communicates his excitement and Master J doesn’t express excitement very often.  We stopped stifling him.  We learned to accept him.

In fact, he said “I got the bloody second highest in the class.” at least ten times in the fifteen minute journey home.

This.  This is what success tastes like.  For him and for us as his parents.  Not that he got 76% for maths, not even that he came second highest.  No.  It is the fact that he is learning to believe in himself.  He is learning the correlation between applying himself and that great feeling of achievement after working through the challenging times.

Something tells me that this is just the taste of possible things to come.  And it feels good!

Until next time,

SHW Signature