My experience of growing older as a woman, mother and partner is so far one of looking backwards. Not on a daily basis, (that would be depressing), but as a way of understanding the woman I am. A woman who has somehow become all these things, seemingly while I wasn’t paying attention…

I know some of you will understand what it’s like to lose yourself completely in child raising? I can remember clearly when I found myself with free time on my hands when my youngest started school. It was like I had suddenly caught up with myself. There I was with 3 growing boys, boxes of toys, photos, piles of old clothes and baby memorabilia to prove it – but I felt like I had woken up in a life that had been slightly rewritten somehow and I hadn’t read the script.

It was like I’d lived a whole batch of years without noticing…

Only one of my babies was planned. 6 was my healing baby, the baby who came after a stillborn. Not to dwell on the experience itself, it was an obvious explanation as to how I had allowed a huge section of my life to pass in Numb Hurt. Having living and loving experiences without being fully present in them. Hence having only a shaky, cloudy recollection of  events and the feelings I was having during them. I was “coping” and coping was enough.

6 was born around 18 months after my stillborn, who was born around 15 months after my second son (5). For the record, 5 was born with Bi-lateral Hernias which required surgery at 8 weeks and Silent Reflux which required the patience of a Saint and extreme breast-feeding skills. Clearly I don’t have the patience of a Saint, and 5’s infant months are some of the most hopeless memories I have.

It’s possible probable that having had my first son as a single mother, my second scream for 8 months almost non-stop, my third pass away and my fourth require a 6 month hospital stay followed by all the dramas of being 9 weeks premature – that I was deeply depressed.

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I have all this time to think now, whilst I’m suspended in a stairwell with a paint brush in one hand, my entire “feels” history competing for attention with more banal thoughts…  thinking  I have lived all that already, and I don’t need to process it anymore…

….but on the other hand I do. Because it is, has and will always shape me, until I find the strength to understand and move beyond the anxious claws that tie me to “it”.

“It” being the belief system, the personal laws, the rules and boundaries I have set up within my family to ensure it’s “safety”.

Not surprisingly, they are a direct result of some of the experiences that frightened, or harmed me in my past or childhood.

Many of us can probably recall terrifying moments from childhood. Moments that we were completely aware that we were not safe. I have a few memories that I believe have shaped not only the overly-protective way I have raised our children, but also my perception of what is “safe” and what can happen when one assumes “safety” based on little else but blind faith.

Walking home….

When I was very young and starting school it was normal to walk to and from school. My mother thought nothing of it, and I can’t recall a time when either parent warned us about any dangers other than being careful crossing streets and not getting in cars with strangers.

By the time I was in my second year of school, my childhood friend and neighbour, Dianne and I would walk to and from school via a Nature Reserve and Park that was a pleasant and useful short cut. Both Dianne and I were free spirits and would often run laughing through the narrow winding paths between the trees and over the little bridges crossing the creek that dissected the park. Often we would stop at the play area and remove our shoes and socks placing them in our school bags. For some reason we hated our school shoes, and we would only put them back on when we got to school and a teacher noticed and made us.

One morning we reached the over-sized concrete drain-pipe which was placed in the playground along with a swing and a slide. These pipes were common in playgrounds and I guess we used to run through them, or sit in them and talk. Dianne and I used to sit in this one while we removed our shoes each day.

As we went to sit inside the pipe, we noticed a very neatly folded pile of men’s clothing, minus shoes, sitting in the middle of the pipe. A belt was neatly looped on top.

Being children, naturally we were both intrigued by the sight. We wondered about the clothing all day. Speaking often about it and deciding we would check if the clothing was still there that afternoon. It wasn’t.

Memory being what it is, I can’t say exactly how long after that event Dianne and I were chased through that same park by a naked man.

Long enough that we had forgotten about the clothes, so perhaps a few weeks?

We had been walking along, Dianne slightly ahead of me, when suddenly the sound of branches snapping in the undergrowth alerted us to the figure of a man leaping out of the bushes onto to track behind us. He began to move very quickly toward us as we both screamed and set off at a sprint away from him.

I will never know how Dianne beat me out of that Park, as I was the sprint champion at school? She was more the academic, but when she saw that guy, she became an athlete.

I can remember that his bare skin was very white, and at one point as his hand grazed my shoulder and I looked back, I remember seeing a lot of deep brown, chin-length hair obscuring his facial features. He very nearly grabbed me, causing me to falter and almost trip.

I didn’t, and two very frightened, very exhausted little girls ran home to inform my mother of the afternoon’s events. I have just now spoken to Magoo, who recalls:

“I never called the police, we just didn’t think to do that? I can remember forbidding you and Dianne from going anywhere near the park, and talking to Dianne’s mother as well.  We never took it that seriously…. we just kept you away from there.”

There was a mad naked man in the park, and it wasn’t serious?

The Sleep-over…

When I was about 13 years old I developed a friendship with a new girl at school. Kym was very pretty, but also kind of vulnerable, in a way that I couldn’t identify. She seemed so grown up and mature.

We had been friends for some time when she asked me to sleep-over at her house. Her parents were having a Birthday Party for a relative, and thought she would like to have a friend over to keep her from being bored with the adult company.

I guess I’d had a fairly sheltered up-bringing in some ways up to that point. In other ways not so much. I had witnessed my older brother’s and sister’s various dramas, (including late night verbal fights outside our house in the small hours with their partners). I’d heard some very colourful language, I’d even visited a sibling in jail by this stage, however I had never seen much of the seedier side of drinking.

My dad would drink a beer or scotch in much the same way my mum would drink tea. I never saw him “drunk” once during  my childhood years, although I’m sure my childish perception of “drunk” would have no bearing on what I witnessed and experienced that night.

I was dropped to Kym’s house by my mother in the afternoon, and we agreed I’d phone her in the morning and she would come and pick me up. Slowly as the afternoon progressed Kym’s parents made us busy helping with the food preparations and dragging seats into the backyard where the bulk of the party was to take place. The parents seemed to be nice people, steadily sipping on drinks as we all worked together. Friends and relatives began to arrive and the BBQ was lit..

– Enter Uncle Terry. Terry was in his late 30’s, a VB can in one hand and a smoke in the other as he rounded the corner of the house shouting a greeting into the crowded yard. I thought little more of him until later when Kym and I were getting a Coke out of the old bath full of ice we had filled with drinks earlier.

He seemed very friendly. He and Kym seemed to be close, and he spoke to her in a very endearing way. When she introduced me he said something about a beautiful smile and that was that. We got our drinks and left.

Later he approached us and asked me whether I smoked. I looked at Kym. Kym grinned, and before I knew it, Uncle Terry, Kym and I were headed off for a “walk” surreptitiously to have a cigarette. Terry gave us both a smoke as I begged him repeatedly not to tell my parents. They both laughed. He gave both of us sips of his beer.

I knew I was having one of those “teen experiences” where I was trying new things and being “tough”. At this point I wasn’t aware of any danger from Terry, other than in the obvious “Adult who is prepared to give child Taboo Substances” way.

I thought he was so cool….

We went back to the party. I tried to tell Kym that I wanted to just go and hang out in her bedroom for a while, and talk. I wanted to process what we had just done. We drank. We smoked. With an adult.

Terry wasn’t having any of that, he hung around us for ages! He kept wanting to go for another walk. He wanted to talk to us. A few times we went, had more cigarettes. I had begun to feel wary. I was feeling sick from the smokes, and had long ago stopped accepting sips of the beer which tasted foul to me anyway.  Terry kept hanging his arm around my shoulders, leaning drunkenly on me as we walked. I continued to shake him off.

That party got so out of hand the Police were called eventually. There were fights. There were falls, breakages and spills. The sliding glass door opening from the family room to the backyard was kicked in, by a woman having a domestic with her partner.

While all this was happening, Uncle Terry decided to shelter me from the violence. He did this by trying to kiss me and force his hands under my clothing. While Kym screamed alongside her parents at the chaos invented by drunks in her home, I was being invaded by her Uncle.

I was a tall girl, and I got away from him fairly easily. He seemed repelled by how frightened and disgusted I was by his attention. As if there was something wrong with me?

I spent the rest of the night on the inside wall beside Kym in her bed, praying for first light so I could call my mother.

I never told my mother about Uncle Terry, only about some of the other things I had seen. I felt guilty and ashamed that I had been drinking and smoking. I wasn’t sure of the territory when it came to talking to mum about what he had tried to do. I really didn’t want bad things to happen to Kym or her parents because of her Uncle.

Kym and I never talked much after that night. I went back to other friends and I honestly can’t recall what happened to Kym. Now I wonder about her and just how much she had to put up with from Uncle Terry herself?

 Let’s Celebrate?

When I was 15 my parents separated. I was midway through a Certificate in Business Studies. I had taken the business course in order to leave school after my 10th year. Long story short I ended up living with my much older sister until my course finished, at which point I decided to stay with her and look for a job. My parents both moved to different towns interstate.

Poor Magoo worried endlessly about this situation, but hell-bent on divorcing my father in the most bitter way she could, was kind of preoccupied… so at 15 years old, I’m left largely to my own devices, sharing a flat in the big city with my sister who has her own shit going on.

She had many friends, they would drop in, and slowly they became people I felt comfortable with. There was one much older man who seemed really supportive of my job search. I ran into him in the city one afternoon straight after an interview in which I thought I had a good chance. He asked me if I would like to go out and celebrate? Confused, but delighted I wondered aloud to my sister later that day about the man.

Why would he want to take me out? Why is he being so nice to me? Continually getting her reassurance that he was a good friend and just wanted to make me “feel grown up and special about the job”.

Maybe I needed the parental validation so much that I accepted purely out of need? It had been some time since I had seen my parents.

This is why I was so completely blindsided by his real intentions, as was my sister. She couldn’t have known that the other couple we met with for dinner consisted of a man around the same age as him, with a very young and beautiful 16 year old girlfriend? She couldn’t have known that these two men were secretly involved in a game of “my dick is bigger than yours” by getting dates with increasingly younger girls? How could she?

Guys like that don’t tell you these things up front. They manipulate you into situations in which you are almost powerless and then they strike!

My second night of fending off the unwanted attentions of a much older man occurred when I was just 15 years old. That’s just one year older than 7 is now!

Looking back I can see how I allowed these experiences to let fear lead my parenting choices. If not all the time, then at least a lot of the time.

I learned powerful lessons as a child. Things can be very different to what they seem, and there can be a dark end to some stories. Sometimes only a chance saves us from the endless possibilities of our own destruction.

The chance that I may have tripped and fallen that day in the park. The chance that I may have been raped at that party and again later by a so-called family friend?

It is not hard to make the mental leap between the above information and what has made me a paranoid parent. Painful as it is for my children, and sometimes for Fitty, who believes that I overcame because I am smart and strong, like our children. So why worry?

My kids weren’t allowed to walk home from anywhere. The first time 3 went to the Library by himself he was nearly 12 years old! Of course he went straight past the Library and as far as his legs and my time limit allowed, bless his free spirited heart!

I never knew that until years later. I was just happy he returned unblemished.

I guess that sums up how I feel just about every day of our kids lives since that first time I let one of them out of my sight?

I’m just happy they return unblemished.

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