What I missed when I was a Hermit

I went through a long period as a hermit,  both out of necessity and for health reasons. The outside world became a terrifying spectre, one I feared may swallow me whole. I read books and wrote of my experiences whilst inside hospital wards and in my room. Worlds can be contained in a small space, and I lived a hundred lives and died a thousand deaths whilst awaiting my return to the outside world.

I dreamed of performing simple tasks and going to ordinary places. The thought of going to the bakery and asking for a seeded loaf, or opening my own bank account, terrified and enthralled me. The thought of ordering food in a café or requesting a movie ticket was unthinkable. I would go through the actions required to get public transport from Point A to B a million times. Going to the letterbox made me feel vulnerable, let alone going down the street. I missed conversations, and the strangers whom you bumped into as part of a day. I missed the aromas streaming out of restaurants and the music of street artists. I missed the harried workers rushing to the station and building a rapport with the people at my favourite places, until they had become friends.

I don’t regret my years of hermitage. I was unencumbered by other’s input. I wrote stories which weren’t savaged by critics and dressed in my best clothing, styling myself without popular opinion playing on my mind. I was ruler of my thoughts and if a bad pain day or stalker caused me want to scream or weep, I could, freely. I knew where I started and other people left off with regards to boundaries, as I was the only one there! Much was given, but there was also much taken away throughout those years.

I didn’t travel, nor dress to be seen. I couldn’t think of anything worse! I could be dressed in electric blue, though still invisible. One day, the doors were flung open, and there I was, out in the world. I was eighteen years of age. I took note of the prices at the local shops, writing them on a notepad and memorizing them. I had to learn everything, from how to ask for services to how to talk on the phone. Everything was new and thrilling, terrifying and stultifying.

Circumstances have seen me recede at times. I may have had surgery and am not strong enough to go out into the world, or circumstances have conspired to push me into a constrained space. When I am able to open the front door, I am greeted by sunshine and fresh air. I have had enough of living inside; of living within my imagination, and not out in the world. I am privileged to have been given the gift of knowing that I don’t need people to fulfil me, rather I delight in being with them. There is a marked difference.

To go to a movie or concert by yourself; to travel and dine singularly is still a lovely experience. To have been a hermit and not enjoyed your own company would be a nightmare! Fortunately, I can still laugh at my own jokes and bounce ideas off of myself. I look forward to seeing more of this world, what with its questionable leaders, crazy politics, beautiful folk, glorious art and delicious food. I have merely dipped my foot into the waters away from hermitage valley. I look forward to being fully submerged.

Looking Back on 2017

As I look back on 2017, images and memes peek out at me.

There were fireworks over Sydney Harbour, a celebration with 1.6 million people.

There was exhaustion on every level, and grief for a young lady who passed before her time. Conversations have been more open as a result, and many a brave demeanour has slipped. It is time for us all to be transparent, and to let it be known when we find it hard to face another day. It has rattled me to the core, the falling of people who can seemingly do anything, face anything and survive anything. We have our limits. It is time to practice self-care. This can often mean rebelling against that which we feel primed to do. Isolate? Seek out company instead. Depression is a liar, please remember that.

There has been wildlife and adventures, and extraordinary days that I am glad I survived to see.

There was this extraordinary daughter of mine. I knew when I had her that I had been given a luminous gift. Some days when I find it hard to conjure energy for myself, I find it for her.

There was Sydney and marriage equality.

There was my  home town and traveling to NZ to be at my beautiful friend’s wedding.

There was grieving our friend, the bird-watcher; changes in image, and getting up close with Meerkats.

There were Wuthering Heights enactments…

There was glorious Melbourne.

There were Memes. How can something so small, say so much?

 

Falling, Heights and Pemberton

I have always had a fear of heights. I would have nightmares about those I loved being thrown off balconies as a child, and wake up crying. I refused to walk over the Sydney Harbour Bridge on a school excursion, as well as the footbridge at Darling Harbour. I have never liked open escalators and glass lifts either. Staying on the ground was the only choice I allowed myself. It was a cruel irony then, that when I was abducted at fifteen, I was made to climb a staircase and set on a balcony. It is a cruel irony that I was thrown off said balcony. I had many surgeries to put my body back together. My fear of heights is still with me (understandably), though I can tackle staircases and some footbridges now.

Fast-forward a decade, and I now have an adventurous daughter. She is unafraid of anything, and has a love of climbing. I have had to put my own fears aside to applaud as she ascends to the sky, doing stunts along the way. I have had to reassure tourists throughout Sydney that she is fine, and knows what she is doing. She is happiest sitting in the canopy of a tree. I have had to remain silent on many occasions, resisting the urge to let out an audible gasp or holler out to “be careful.” This kid knows what she is doing; she always has. The most challenging time was still to come…

She was asked to accompany her friend to Western Australia for a holiday. The family was going to visit the Quokkas on Rottnest Island, snorkel and climb a trio of trees in Pemberton, the tallest at 75 metres. Here is an apt description of these beauties. Apparently, only one in three tourists make it to the top. My daughter was determined, and started training immediately. I was filled with trepidation, and had to resist the urge to say no. In my heart, I knew she could do it, and that it would provide an important life lesson. The more goals a kid can kick and the more challenges they accomplish, the better. It provides a great foundation for their lives. Afterall, if you can do something hard, it proves you can do anything! I wasn’t going to let my fears stand in her way.

Imagine my delight when she Face-timed me from the top! The look of absolute joy on her and her friend’s faces said it all. They can do hard things. I must say, allowing her to climb an apex has been one of my hardest parenting moments. To encourage, rather than daub her skin with my phobia has been challenging. I am so proud of both these girls!

I was struck by two recent incidents when writing this piece:

#1 A fellow serving us at an inner-city coffee shop watched as my daughter performed a back-bend and other tricks. He told me that he had been a trapeze artist for the past 19 years, travelling the world with his wife, until a shoulder injury rendered the demise of his career. He urged me to put her in a school where she can learn more, and said she would never be a day without work when older if she pursued her love of climbing, such as is the demand for these skills.

#2 An older man watched as she joyfully climbed a tree near Sydney Harbour. He glared at me, and remarked that I was “a reckless parent.” My heart sank. The friend I was with urged me to not pay any mind to this stranger, but I still hurt. He had no idea that I suffer anxiety so severe that it rendered me house-bound before I had her. He had no idea that I had fallen from a height, and have had to work hard to applaud my child as she ascends. My grandmother was a very nervous person. She would holler to “be careful! Don’t fall!” as we climbed down her concrete back steps. Sure enough, we would be so alarmed at her hollering that we would indeed fall. It takes everything you have to not do it.

When I saw the look of pride and joy on my girl’s face, I knew it had been the absolute right thing to celebrate with her, rather than douse her enthusiasm in my own fears. As I said to her at the time, “you did this amazing thing; can you see that you will do anything you set your mind to?”

My Daughter and the Encounter at the Park

A new park was created around the corner from our home last year, and my daughter couldn’t wait to explore once it opened. An avid climber, it had a viewing post from a pirate ship, flying fox and much more. She spent many a happy hour there with local kids, mostly girls. Friendships were formed, secrets told, and fun was had. Oh, to be a kid again! Just before her eleventh birthday, she came to me, and incredulously stated that a boy had asked her out, not once, but three times. He wanted her to be his girlfriend! She was astonished and said that she had no intention of being anyone’s girlfriend, but that she was happy to be his friend. At that, his buddies put the pressure on. “Why wont you go out with him? C’mon!” She ignored the wheedling and came home. The next day, one of this boy’s friends sidled up to her (he was 11), and said that she wasn’t a pretty nor sexy eleven year old, and how dare she turn down his pal. He waited for a reaction, hoping for tears, shame or even anger. My incredible daughter just shrugged, said she didn’t give a flying fig what he thought, and left him gob-smacked.

I was outraged when she relayed the reason why she doesn’t want to return to the park. She has many friends that are boys; good respectful young fellas, who wouldn’t dream of treating any girl in such a manner. It made this behaviour all the more shocking; neither she nor I had any prior experience with her being harassed. She asserted herself at the time, but these encounters made the park feel unsafe and she hasn’t returned. It has made me sad and incredibly angry. We are talking ten and eleven year old boys! Asking girls out, and if they are turned down, turning nasty. It sends shivers through my bones, the thought of their behaviour escalating as they get older. I had to talk to my daughter about harassment, and how boys and men behave at times. I hated that I had to talk to my girl, still so young, about the dangers out there, as close as her local park. I told her I had been through it, cat-called, harassed, and put down when I asserted myself. I explained that when people put you down, it’s because they have nothing inside to lift them up. Thus, they attempt to demean you. She understood, and we talked into the night. We came up with action plans and action steps if she ever encounters this again. Little girls should be able to climb to the apex of viewing towers, and zoom through the air on flying foxes unabated. She worries for her friends, the girls she used to meet at the park, some of whom may not be able to stand up to these boys as she did.  It is a conundrum she shouldn’t have to face at eleven. It is a conundrum she shouldn’t have to face ever.

The Nest

I had been given very little hope of ever having a child with IVF (after three attempts). Despondent, I went for a walk in a local park. I was standing under a tree, brushing away my tears, when an empty bird’s nest fell at my feet. I took it as an omen, and cradled the precious gift. I still have it- behind glass in my cabinet-eleven years later.Just the other day, I was walking with my daughter, and the nest pictured above landed at my feet! I marvelled at the time and effort that went into building it; a perfect home and  refuge. Of course, it came home with me, and my little bird was just as enchanted as I, coming close to inspect the handiwork. Nests and eggshells from newborn chicks are items I tend to find regularly. What are yours?

Mentors in my Daughter’s Life

My friend Megan uncovered that my daughter is interested in design and learning to sew. Megan took it upon herself to book in a time to take her to choose fabric and start on a project. She was beaming afterward, and can’t stop talking about it. My heart was full of both gratitude and love. Our kids need mentors  in their lives. We simply can’t be all things to them. Besides, I am rubbish at sewing! I cannot be taught, though many have tried!

My daughter is on the cusp of her teenage years, and both she and I are humbled by the women who are supporting her. The ladies who run the choir she is involved in, who teach with firmness and love. They educate her about honouring the past, and becoming a leader. There is the camp nurse and mum who tend to the kids. The homeschool community has a multitude of mums who love your child as their own. There are my friends who are involved in the theatre, film, literature and fashion, who spare time for my child. There are the adventurers who take her on wondrous journeys and those that have sat by her side when she was in hospital. There are the teachers who have gifted her resources and their expertise. We love you all. See how you can fulfil the role of mentor to a child in your life. I know my daughter will carry the knowledge she has been passed throughout her life.

Jamala Wildlife Lodge

A friend of ours was having a landmark birthday, and his fiancée organized to stay at Jamala Wildlife Lodge. After much saving, I booked a room as well. My friends stayed in one of the Giraffe Tree Houses, where they could feed Hummer the Giraffe, whilst we had a glorious cabin outside the uShaka Lodge. It was less expensive, as we had no animals overlooking our room. Some places had bears and lions outside! We left our bags at reception and were ushered into the lodge, where afternoon tea was served. An aquarium featuring sharks and other marine life ran along one of the walls, whilst the other overlooked the Colobus monkeys. As if all this wasnt enough, we were able to become acquainted with pythons and turtles, which the zoo keepers brought out.

The first tour of the private zoo demonstrated how loved all the animals are, with personal stories about each character we met. The beautiful Sun Bear had been rescued from Cambodia by the Free the Bears organization. Many of the animals were rescued from harm or had medical conditions that would see them perish in the wild. The majority of the money made from the Wildlife Lodge goes directly back into conservation. Once the tour was over, we were taken to our rooms, which were heated, our bags waiting for us.

We had a few hours to relax before we were called to dinner. My daughter was taken upstairs in the aquarium for an early meal and tour of the facilities with the other kids, whilst I had canape’s and champagne on the terrace leading to a dining cave. Once inside, we were delighted to be  joined by hyenas on one side (behind glass), and lions on the other. It is up to the animals as to whether they come close during dinner. They arent coerced into doing anything. The four-course meal was splendid, and the champagne flowed!

We had a lovely sleep on the beautiful four-poster bed, but waking up to get to the cave for the 7am breakfast was pretty tortuous! Breakfast consisted of every health food imaginable, such as coconut yoghurt, chia puddings, muesli as well as hot food. At 8am, the second tour started, and we got to get up close with the gorgeous rhino.

After the tour had ended, my daughter and I were driven to our encounter with the meerkats. We sat on a rock, and the darling little creatures (all brothers), immediately scampered over for a closer look. We fed them, and they bounded from one lap to the other, their fur soft and warm. They were an absolute joy to watch and its a memory we will treasure forever.

Our stay at Jamala Wildlife Lodge ended all too quickly, but it is a time our friends and I will always cherish.

 

SistaCare 2017

My daughter, her friend and myself were invited to SistaCare 2017, held at the Exodus Foundation. Rev. Bridget Perkins-Ocean organized the day, along with a bevy of helpers. Students and teachers from Ultimo Tafe did hair and makeup for the ladies in the church. It was a delight to see the women and girls see themselves through fresh eyes.

Dress for Success Sydney gifted the women from the Exodus Women’s Group new outfits, and boy, they looked gorgeous! Dress for Success is an amazing initiative, dressing and styling ladies who are looking to get into the workforce, or need outfits to attend weddings, funerals etc. The ladies then see themselves through fresh eyes, imagining all they are capable of. What was inherent and hidden, buried under trauma and life events, has been reclaimed. My girls were thrilled when asked to lead the fashion parade!

The girls with Reverend Bridget

Reverend Bill Crews was there to greet everybody, and both the beauty school at Ultimo Tafe and Dress for Success gave a talk about their services. It was then time to eat, something my two models were very much looking forward to!

Two very brave and inspirational ladies then told us of their pasts, the details of which were gut-wrenching. To look at their radiant smiles, you would never know what they have endured. Women need to tell their stories to one another; to have a circle of mighty and courageous souls to depend on. I would like to thank everybody who made this event possible. To walk into the food hall and see it so lovingly decorated, was glorious. I was the first seated and it gave me such happiness to see the look on their faces as the guests entered. The tables were set for them, resplendent with china tea cups and flowers. The first step to having a woman recognize her value is to treat her as a precious, valuable person. Giving her back what was once taken. The Exodus Foundation, Dress for Success, volunteers from Ultimo Tafe and the speakers did just that.

 

Manchester

My daughter has been my companion to many concerts. Some operatic, some classical, some pop and some rock. The squeals of joy echo through my home when I inform her that we have tickets to a visiting performer. She carefully selects what she is going to wear, and we make plans to have dinner somewhere nice beforehand. Watching her dance and gaze at the performer in awe is all the reward I need. We went to Sport for Jove’s rendition of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, shortly after I heard the dreadful, unfathomable news about the terrorist attack at Manchester Stadium. I looked around at all the young people laughing and delighting in the performance, and was struck cold by the thought that it could have been us. It could have been us at any performance we had attended. Afterward, my daughter chatted excitedly about the play, and how much she had enjoyed it, and we stopped at a shopping centre in the heart of Sydney for lunch. A policeman with an Irish brogue came up to us, and started chatting. It felt as though three humans were connecting, trying to make sense of the evil which had just occurred. He smiled at my daughter, and I knew that he was thanking his stars that it hadn’t been a Sydney concert. It could have been.

A friend posted a warning last night that a van had been spotted next to our local park, with a fellow lingering long enough to cause suspicion. I almost despaired. Should we now add concerts to the long list of things we need to be wary of? Are backpacks set to become suspicious, not just when left alone on public transport, but also when securely strapped to someone’s back? Parents could be rendered nervous wrecks, incapable of venturing out with their offspring, let alone allowing them to venture out by themselves. I must admit, my immediate desire was to bustle my daughter home, where she is safe. However, this is no way to live. Once upon a time, I was a hermit, a bad man stalking me. I barely left my room in three years as a teen. I remember feeling angry that my life had been reduced to an isolation cell, whilst he was roaming free.

I eventually stepped out by myself, and what a revelation it was! I determined never to close the door and put myself into solitary confinement again. I won’t do that to my daughter either. Did you know that amongst all the horror, several homeless men (who were sleeping rough near the arena), ran to help? They comforted children, stemmed blood loss and helped get people to safety. What I will say to my child, is always look for the helpers… There is always helpers. We will still attend concerts, but sadly our innocence has gone.

My Daughter

My daughter made me this gorgeous cake for Mothers Day. I was banned from going into the kitchen the evening before, though I could hear the clanging and smell the delicious baking aroma streaming through the house. She picked roses for me, and brought me breakfast in bed. I am so very fortunate to have her in my life. Some parts of my life featured  dystopian imagery, though with her arrival, she somehow managed to paint over the garish landscape and procure a new palette. She never complains when I have to rest my back after a day of activities, and understand when I am in too much pain to do anything other than lay down. For all the pain that this life has procured, it gave me her, and for that I am eternally grateful. We spend 24 hours a day together, and yet I never tire of her company. Her humour is irreverent and we laugh, a lot! She is ten years of age, and has more common sense than I possess. I can’t wait to share the next ten years with her, along with all her young friends, who are set to take on this world. They will shake it up like it’s a snow globe in their hands, and what a glorious picture they shall create!