I don’t have many photos with my dad. Not really that many of him either. It was the time I guess. Photos were treasures rather than disposable. In this digital era it’s so easy to snap & snap & capture every moment!
Gosh we used to have “Slide Nights” at the end of the year to catch up on what we’d done! Everyone would gather in the lounge room as mum or dad fed those slide cartridges in, recapping camping trips or family mine visits, against the bare wall.
I loved slide nights!
It’s like slide night every day now with my computer screen saver. Except I get to see how lazy I am as half my pics aren’t even sorted, there’s blur & repeats everywhere.
It’s just too easy without that threat of “you’ve only got 24 chances with this roll kid, don’t mess it up” hanging over your head.
So while today’s photos are still precious, they’re nothing on old photos.
I try to get as many of the girls with Dan as I can. I realise this stems from paranoia after losing my Dad so young, but I don’t care.
They need those photos. They need those memories. We all do.
Reflecting now on my jellyfish day (for my new readers, refer to my blog post Grief & Jellyfish from a few years back), my heart is with so many others this year.
I have so many beautiful friends who are in the wake of devastating loss. And it is heartbreaking the gods now safely guard a son, a brother & fathers, just from my small circle of friends.
There is no words, no actions that can take their pain & confusion away. Time just has to ebb & wane on & on.
And though I have no advice whatsoever for others dealing with grief, I do have advice for those who love them.
Never ever stop talking.
Never stop telling stories.
Never stop sharing memories & photographs & most importantly, never stop saying their name.
This year is 26 years since my Dad left us. And like I said, I have precious few photographs. I have a brilliant memory (a blessing & a curse) but I know others don’t. And I know my memory probably won’t last forever.
And it really makes me sad knowing that.
Every now & then, so rarely & completely out of the blue, someone will say his name & it honestly sucks the breath from my chest.
If I ever hear a story, god, it breaks my heart & fills it instantaneously.
I feel confused & happy at the same time, wanting to grab the person talking (or writing) and say “you remember?!”
It is treasure.
It is gold.
Photographs are like opening a time capsule. I feel like I need to don white gloves & pop on magnified glasses, as I just study every element.
Look at his hair, that’s my hair, look at his chin, that’s middle sisters chin, & big sisters eyes.
That’s the smile my Mum fell in love with.
All these years later & I’m still crying like it’s fresh.
And I’m allowed to today.
My heart can break today.
I have my 4X heavy tallie waiting in the fridge, with an old school country playlist ready to go.
But take that advice with you.
As others swim & battle through the ocean of grief. Those memories are like life rafts.
Today, middle sister, my nieces, nephew & I traveled over to Nebo for the annual Bush Poets Smoko!
Traditionally a pastoral neighborhood, poems about past & present rural & property life are the order of the day. Combined with plenty of cheeky & explicit prose!
This year we had a few coal mining folk infiltrate! We were welcomed with open arms! The more the merrier in fact! A few of the older poets mentioned how great it was to have young ones take the stage (I’m 40, so you can tell what the demographic is)!
We’ve all come away inspired & rough copying poems in our heads for next year!
Below was my contribution for today!
They say ashes to ashes, dust to dust
And for folks by the sea it’s rust to rust.
But for people like me, who are coal born & bred,
We return to the earth, for coking instead.
Daughter of a butcher, come coal mining Bloke,
Who was fond of a beer & fond of a smoke.
And daughter of a nurse & coal miners friend,
Who stood up for their rights & wounds she did tend.
From the mighty southern cross, north to oaky creek
There was adventure, stability & opportunity to seek.
Our family came, with loads of others,
Men worked & children stayed home with their mothers.
Well home, is more of a loose interpretation,
It was a bit more of a complex situation.
Surrounded by bush, with gully’s & fire break,
You can only image the nuisance we’d make.
From kids exploring, building cubbies & dams,
To teenagers driving, far from traffic jams.
We owned the bush, & ran amok, never giving a care
Oblivious to the fact there were eyes everywhere.
Our parents would know what we’d done, before we’d got home.
God the dobbing that was done, over that rotary phone.
The community was tight, if we liked it or not.
And there was rarely a face anyone ever forgot.
Social clubs, sports, Christmas parties galore,
Growing up we couldn’t ask for more.
The love ran deep & the bonds grew unbreakable.
That coal mine connection, completely unshakable.
We’re family now, sharing births & loss,
And the bonus, our paths quite often still cross.
You see mining towns, they get in your blood.
And they stick there forever like black soil mud.
When others see mines, they see scared land & holes.
I see the miners, their families, their souls.
In my heart is a cap lamp, a blast, a dragline swing.
The freedom of a safe childhood, always teaching.
My mums nurses office, caked in black dust,
My dads memorial, left in the locals trust.
To me coal towns are homes, love & families,
Not stepping stones or big business royalties.
My loyalty lays here, among the high vis & stockpiles,
And that can’t ever be broken by years, nor by miles.
I count my blessings daily & never fail to take stock,
Of the opportunities given, thanks to a lump of black rock.
They say Art is open to interpretation. What one person sees, another may not. What one person feels, another may not.
Someone out there looks at a Dali & scoffs at the absurdity. Someone looks & is taken to another universe.
I think that’s why I love art. It’s an escape. Both to create & to view.
I have always been a creator. From very early on I lost myself in sketch books & dioramas, building lady bug habitats or creating secret lagoons for my barbies in our fern gardens. I loved books, & writing stories & poems, watching films & getting lost in music.
And I was probably also always a bit weird.
I was definitely a bit weird.
Most creatives are.
But being lost in the arts, was always far better than reality. So I was happy there.
I also loved wandering off & looking for magic in the bush. Obviously fairies & goblins were hot on my list to spot, but I was always well prepared should an abandoned baby animal of some kind need my help. We had a rotation of baby animals in our home through my childhood, so this wasn’t as ridiculous a fantasy as it sounds. Sadly I never got to play the hero & rescue any joeys or chicks.
But to make it up to me, the universe gifted a perfectly intact cat skeleton.
I collected the bones oh so carefully in a shoe box & tried my hardest to keep them in order. But as happens, they became mixed up & jumbled, like jig saw pieces.
I took it for show & tell.
This coincided with a tough primary school event for me. You know the drill. Your best friends all decide they don’t want to sit with you or even talk to you anymore. Ostracized in the playground & heartbroken. (Little girls can be so mean.) It seems quite trifling now, but pieced together with everything else in my life at the time. It was devastating. (Molls)
Thankfully my teacher was a bloody good one that year, & seen my genuine interest in this fantastic macabre puzzle, & noted the friendship coup.
He sourced me a skeleton stand (where do you even find that pre-internet), helped me find a cat skeleton diagram as instructions of sorts, photocopied it & left me to my own devices with permission to use the classroom store room every lunch time to piece my Kitty back together.
It was a wonderful escape from a painful reality.
Just me & my skeleton.
I never did manage to get it back together perfectly. But gosh I had fun trying, & by the end of that year my world had changed & I had a new, kinder friend group.
That’s just an example of my creative oddness.
You only need to look through my High School Art books & projects to see that I never really strayed from this.
My beautiful Art teacher roasted me years after I graduated, at a school reunion. Awarding me one of my pottery pieces from year 11, imprinted with the grim reaper.
See, this was the running theme for me through high school.
As my reality grew harder & scarier, I retreated further into Art. And my Art retreated further into black.
Everything I did was in black. Or very, very dark Grey.
My work featured dragons & skeletons.
Sadness & death.
And so did my reality.
Life had been tough, but in high school it got tougher.
Much like Art, this view is open to interpretation. The trauma I experienced in my youth, may seem like a walk in the park to some. But to me, living it, was hard. Bloody hard.
And looking back at my Art journals can be disturbing.
I led a pretty wild teen life. Partied every weekend & had a ball breaking the rules all over the place. But I was pretty sad.
And like I said, you just need to look at my Art from that time so see that. To feel that.
This is me in year 11 with a self portrait.
Art was no longer my only escape. By this point I was drinking quite heavily & had a steady smoking habit. Generally pretty self destructive.
Or to be honest, very self destructive.
Pretty dark thoughts had dogged me for many years, sadly since I was a very little girl, which looking back now breaks my heart.
I feel deeply sad for little me.
But after the fallout of losing our surrogate uncle, then Grandfather, then father in very close succession, I was able to see how selfish I’d been in wishing my life away. On wanting escape.
The pain didn’t just ripple out. It was like a nuclear bomb.
And I never wanted to be responsible for that kind of pain.
So instead, I made the conscious decision to run away inside myself.
So began the drinking. Another escape. Definitely not healthy, but temporary, reserved to a night at a time. And hurting no one but me.
I did not like myself. At all.
There’s obviously a lot more to this story, but for the sake of this particular tale, I’ll sum it up. I don’t know what path my life would have taken had I continued on this trail. I saw no proper escape from my sadness, intent on self sabotage. But thankfully, I had Art. Without that healthy outlet, and the consequent support of my Art teachers, I don’t know where I’d be. It was a way of expressing things I could never put into words.
And in the end, the universe once again gifted me.
G1 to be precise.
My life took another major turn & my bad habits & self destructive ways were shelved as I took responsibility for another soul. I had to be the best person I could be because now someone relied on me.
Another very hard chapter don’t get me wrong, but ultimately my savior.
Another cat skeleton.
24 years later I have recreated my emo self portrait from high school.
It’s open to interpretation of course. Like life. But I think the differences are pretty clear.
I hope that any young people, or even any sad people seeing this, can find some hope.
Things get better!
They really do!
Being young is hard. So hard. With or without background trauma, those growing years are tough.
But they are fleeting. In retrospect, a blip on the timeline.
If someone like me, can take my life from black & very very dark grey, to a hundred shades of calming blue. Anyone can!
The universe is always giving us little outs, little gifts, skeletons & kind people, to change us or help us.
You just need to hang in there. Find your healthy escape, keep creating, keep moving forward.
Everything is open to your own interpretation. So no ones knows what you’re seeing or feeling. Only you.
This is why you need to share. Any way you can, allow someone a glimpse inside, allow someone to help.
And try to take hope & learn from others, because odds are, they’ve been there.
Like trying reassemble a cat skeleton, you won’t always get it right, hell you may even glue a shoulder blade to a hip bone, but as long as you keep going, you’ll find the world will change. Your perception, your interpretation, will change.
Keep creating, and when your ready to leave that store room, to leave your escape, you’ll be stronger. You’ll be happier.
Just like me.
Weird old, happy old me.
Making peace with my demons & finally happy in my own skin.
It’s going up this September in my hometown, it’s going to look a bit like this;
So I suppose I should explain where all this comes from.
We got to visit the coast once a year, just once. We’d set up our camper van at Pottsville caravan park right on the inlet for the summer break every year. That beach trip had to sustain us for 12 long months, so we made the most of it. Looking at photos of my sisters & I growing up it’s clear that back in the 80’s sunscreen & hats were like today’s covid jabs. The Mums of the time were like, “but do they really need them?”.
We were toe headed & deep brown skinned with tog lines for days!
I don’t really know what anyone else got up to but my time was spent immersed in the sea.
We weren’t allowed to go to surf beaches alone, but the tidal creek was fair game.
If I wasn’t creating drip castles on the shore I was goggles on, head down getting lost in the schools of small fish & jellies, dodging blue bottles & doing my best to not drift out to the mouth.
It was also great fun to jump off the bridge (how we weren’t devoured by bull sharks I’ll never know).
Mum went to the surf every morning, & if you went with her, that’s where you stayed until she was good & tanned.
And you had to carry your own smurf tube.
Eventually my sisters joined this tanning ritual, towels laid out, coconut oil on & turn on the quarter hour, like a rotisserie chicken until golden (or peeling), but me, I would go straight to the sea.
It was there in the waves that I’d communicate with the sea gods. Begging for just a glimpse of a mermaid. Wave, wave, wave. Ok no mermaid, what about a dolphin? Wave, wave, wave. No dolphin. What about a Ray? And so on.
Then to begging, please Poseidon, give me something, anything!!
What a sight. A little blonde girl, drifting further down the beach, yelling at the waves, as they enveloped her, diving under, eyes open, searching, while her family grilled on the beach.
I never did see anything cool, my life flashed before my eyes on a few occasions as I was tumbled across the sea floor, but no mermaids. Just a full sand bag.
That wasn’t a deterrent though. Every tanning excursion was the same.
So that’s probably where the love affair began.
I wear my nerd pin proudly & for the rest of the long year, over 1000ks inland, I would spend hours at the local library, dragging out books on the ocean & sitting, drawing, drawing, drawing.
To chill out I would lay on the trampoline in the back yard & write poetry about whales.
I remember the amazing feeling that went through my body when reading a national geographic magazine about sharks. One particular passage where the author described seeing a whale shark for the first time. It gave me goosebumps every time I read it. How spots rose from the depths, no rhyme or reason as to what they were, all he could see were spots, spread all over, before they finally took the shape of the behemoth. I couldn’t tell you how many times I read that paragraph.
One of my favourite tapes to listen to on my Walkman (after the Beach Boys) was whale sounds.
I taped the Jacque Cousteau documentary Big Blue off the TV & watched it over & over. Until my parents got me a David Attenborough documentary on video, Wolves of the Sea, & I would lose myself in Killer Whales on absolute repeat.
Our pet cemetery was full of the tiny graves of many a goldfish & guppies. No sooner was one gone than it was replaced.
And if the Vic Hislop Shark Show had a loyalty system, I would have been their top earner. From the traveling show on the back of a truck down the coast, to the Harvey Bay & Airlie Beach buildings. I knew them back to front. Even got myself on the promo video!
In a pretty chaotic young life, the ocean was my getaway, my salvation. No one is ever unhappy by the sea.
The chaos, our chaos was always calmer, by the sea.
Not only are the ocean & it occupants a favoured muse when it comes to my painting, i’ve decorated my skin with sea critters.
Both of which people tend to question. (People are weird).
I grew up in a mining town after all, & simply progressed to a bigger one as an adult. There’s no sea for hundreds of kilometres.
But I can safely say my heart is there, has always been there.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have seen some pretty amazing ocean dwellers as a grown up & have plenty more on my bucket list. As elusive as they are. So these guys I paint, just tide me over till then.
They take me somewhere calm.
Beneath the waves.
Instead of putting them in front of me for a fleeting glimpse, Poseidon put them in my head.
This was the lamenting moan, usually followed by much shoulder slumping & pouting, in the years before our beautiful G2 met those double digits.
We had a rule. No ear piercing until 10. (Don’t judge me! Growing up ours was 13!), & with a big sister 4 years her senior, with sparkly studs & dangles on rotation, she clearly felt that 10 was far beyond her reach.
Of course she had her ears pierced on her 10th birthday, so she got there in the end.
But we do love to bring up her famous lament from time to time.
This year I thought of it a lot.
The last of her cohort to turn 18, she was once again left behind in those important milestones. Missing pub crawls & parties due to her youth. I couldn’t help but hear “I’ll never be 10” echoed in her words as she told me about her weekends.
But tomorrow is the day!
18 at last!
And to top it off, today was the last day of exams for her very first uni semester.
It’s like the universe just uttered a giant sigh of relief.
“You made it. You’re finally 10”
G2, our gorgeous middle baby, our thoughtful, kind, hard working, funny, weirdo, we’re incredibly proud of you.
It’s been a massive learning curve.
New town, new friends, new way of schooling & study, new job, new everything.
And it hasn’t been easy.
Not by a long shot.
Sometimes it’s been a proper battle.
But here you are.
An adult. A grown up. A woman.
Making us super proud, taking on the world, turning up, & doing hard things again & again.
And that is totally the point of it all. You have to do hard things. It’s the only way to grow. But you never, ever have to do hard things alone. And I love that you know that.
We are always here. And always will be.
No matter how far away you are, you’ll never be too far for a road trip visit. (No matter how many flat tyres)
No matter how old you are, you’re never too old to spoil & cuddle. (Even if you hate me kissing you “loudly”. I am learning to tone it down, but mwwwwaaa is hard to shake)
No matter how busy we are, there will always, always be time for you. Your FaceTimes make my week! (Even though you take forever to reply in text conversations).
And no matter how grown up you are, there will always be a place in my bed for you to snuggle in to when your home with stories to tell or news to share. Or just when there’s demons outside.
I guess what I’m saying is, you’ll always be our little girl.
Congratulations on your first semester, & on this age milestone!
Don’t leave your drinks unattended.
Don’t trust strangers.
Stay together with your mates.
Don’t take things too far.
Always try to eat/drink a bottle of water before bed.
And please be safe baby girl.
We love you! Xx
P.S. 18 is the last age you’ll ever pine for, so have fun kiddo! “I’ll never be 40” is definitely not rolling in my head right now.
What words can really be said on a day like today.
The young man we were supposed to some day watch on TV, running out for his debut with whichever team, whichever code, was lucky enough to snag him. Such was his talent. Instead we’re here today saying goodbye.
It feels like time is really important to think about here.
It feels we were just not given enough time with Ethan. And now time seems to drag since he’s gone. Time seems cruel & unfair.
But time is what we need.
In time Kimberly, you will hear Ethan’s favourite song, and instead of skipping or turning it off you’ll smile & sing along.
In time Jett, you will once again be able to eat Ethan’s favourite food without it sticking like a stone in your throat.
In time Michael, you will watch a footy game on TV and the space Ethan occupied beside you won’t feel so empty.
In time you will think of him, his smile, his enthusiasm, his determination and drive and it won’t be accompanied by such stark pain.
Ethan’s battle was valiant and brave, and it united a community.
From, State, East and Moranbah high kids and teachers, to Miners, Bulldogs, Sharks, BMX, Highlanders, Isaac councillors, Artists, poets, churches, singers, mining companies, small and large local businesses.
In fact Ethan’s fighting spirit stretched far beyond our community, reaching the hearts of people all over the country and the world, garnering messages of support from BMX legends, Melbourne Storm players, Brisbane Broncos, north Queensland Cowboys and of course JT himself.
Ethan united us all in love and hope. You can feel it radiating here today.
He has his strong, broad arms wrapped around the shoulders of every one of you. His Mum, his Dad, Jett, his grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, surrogate mothers and fathers and families, his mates.
And I know at the moment it may sound hollow, but even though he is no longer physically with us, he really is inside us all, and in every beautiful moment around us.
He is here in his favourite song, he is here in his favourite food, he is here in that footy game, if it’s the Miners running out on the field right here, or the cowboys running out of the tunnel in Townsville.
He is in the refs whistle, in the pink head gear, in the grit, that push to go on when you feel like you can’t, in the length of the field tries and the hard hitting tackles.
He’s the sound of tags on concrete, the goosebumps when the crowd roars, and he’s the quiet, peaceful feeling when the players and the spectators have all gone home, and the lights stay on a little longer.
And all of these things will stop stinging, and stop hurting, in time.
So just take your time.
A warrior to the end, a Moranbah legend.
Kimberly, Michael, Jett, your boy has left a stamp on this town, on our hearts, that no one will ever forget.
Ethan, our Bernborough Avenue star, we are so proud of you mate.
Our beautiful G3, Your story begins at a wedding. Our wedding in fact. But it kind of begins long before that.
I would have been around 16 (may have been 15), when I attended a christening (may have been a naming ceremony) for our friends son Tyler, with your grandma and middle aunty in Emerald. You may see I’m slightly shady on the details, but one thing I remember very clearly were the refreshments.
Champagne and strawberries.
I was clearly not of age, but regardless I was handed a glass of this sparkly delicacy, and my mind was blown. It was the most amazing drink I had ever had. And as you know (and like to remind me) I was quite the booze connoisseur by that age, tending to sway towards hard liquor (don’t judge me too harshly, I was a teenager in the 90’s).
It would have been the first time I had tasted a fizzy wine that wasn’t Asti (a glass at Christmas time in the special crystal glasses), and while I realise it wasn’t technically Champagne (we were all coal mining families not royalty), it was sweet and bitter, sparkling and delicate, clear and cool and bobbing heavily inside this amber, translucent sea, disrupting streams of fine bubbles coursing from the bottom like a delicate, miniature aerator, was a plump, deep red, delicious strawberry. My favourite fruit. Talk about a match made in heaven! Gosh how I remember this drink.
I vowed and declared on the spot that this was to be my celebration drink from here out. Forever more at birthdays, christenings graduations, and weddings, anything worth celebrating or commemorating was to be done with a Champagne and strawberries.
Fast-forward many moons. Your dad and I had made the decision that we wanted another baby. We had G1 by surprise, then took forever and a day to get G2, so not wanting to be super old when we had you (I know you think I am, but I could have been way older by now), we decided to get cracking right away, while we simultaneously planned our wedding. Wedding planning is very time consuming! Growing up with 80’s fantasy films as my pseudo parents, and with a deep love of nature, when we discovered Paronella Park in North Queensland, I instantly fell in love and knew that this is where I wanted to be married. (Super cool back story to this but that’s for another time)
Being nearly 800k away made this tricky. But, it was too perfect to let a little thing like driving for 9 hours after Dad finished work, with a baby who hated driving at night, and a toddler who loved to stop at every public toilet (I swear those things are the biggest novelty to kids) get in the way. I think we had to make 3 trips up to get things sorted, meet the florist, pick a hairdresser, and meet the celebrant. It was full on! Anyway months pass and it’s finally June (we chose June so that your Aunts were able to come home from America, it was their off season from the snow). We headed up. Me not feeling too crash hot. We drove the Coolon way, and as you know your Dad is a bit of a lead foot, so travelling behind us, well behind us, was your middle Aunt in her boyfriends (your future uncle) cruiser. Whether trying to keep up or just bad luck, the call came over the 2 way that she had rolled the car. Future uncle was at the State of Origin in Brissy and had entrusted this car to your Aunt. So she was pretty upset. When we got back to her, the car was on its side, and she popped out the door like a sailor in a submarine coming to surface. She was ok, which was a miracle considering he was a butcher and had an impressive collection of rather well kept knives in the cab. The car was ok (passenger door needed repairs), but she was distraught that she had ruined the wedding, and was terrified that as Dad pulled the cruiser back on its wheels, it would somehow ricochet back on our car and crush my dress (she was shaken clearly, but this was her first thought). Dad righted the car and we carried on. We left your Aunt in Townsville, where she was to meet future uncle at the airport and break the news (He handled it fine and no doubt this was one of the defining moments that lead to him being your uncle), and we carried on to Innisfail. Me, still not feeling too crash hot. The family all travelled up the next day, all your grandparents, cousins, Aunts and Uncles (a few who weren’t to be). Dad and I went around and finalised everything for the wedding the next day. The most important things on my pre-wedding checklist? Champagne and strawberries.
The universe had been against me having this treat since that christening so long ago. My graduation, wasn’t strawberry season. My 18th (haha), no booze for me. Thanks G1. My 21st, nope. Cheers G2. So this was it! I could see it already, peering at the century’s year old rainforest and waterfalls through my translucent, aerated glass of bliss, strawberry bobbing gently, being moved around the glass by bubbles, in my wedding gown, leaning back on hand laid stone walls, toasting my new groom. I could taste it too, bitterly sweet, spicy bliss! So why did it make my tummy turn all of a sudden?
Before we met with our celebrant for our final signing of paperwork, I suggested to your dad that we find a chemist and grab a pregnancy test. He was a little surprised and quite dismissive. We tried for years for G2, there’s no way we could fall so quick. But he humoured me, we went and took care of the final legalities, organised fish and chips for our last night as an unmarried couple and headed back to our hotel. So in a teeny bathroom in a hotel in Innisfail, where my uncrushed wedding dress was hanging ready to be steamed flat (by running the shower), we discovered that there would in fact be no Champagne and strawberries for me the next day, because we were expecting you! 2 pink lines!
We made the announcement to our family as we enjoyed our pre-wedding fish and chips picnic in the carpark! An extra reason to celebrate and be thankful! It was a very heart filling feeling G3. And this would of course not be the last time you surprised us, and it wouldn’t be the last time you filled our hearts.
The night you were born for example. Like your sisters before you, it was a rough labour. But being a little older, a little wiser, it was a labour that was far more in my control. Add to that a very progressive midwife (who I knew from water aerobics), and it was actually a very empowering birth. Which in retrospect is probably how you became so head strong. It was drug free. Not a needle or gas mask in sight. And it was tough. I ran the hospital out of hot water (again), and disrupted Dr Rowles during dinner (again), and then had you before he could make it back, after stepping out for a cuppa (again). But I had you on my terms, in a completely different way to the others. Yet it was the same overwhelming feeling when you arrived. It was done. It was over. That immeasurably hard job, was over. When my beautiful midwife said it’s a girl, I cried with absolute joy. Covered in gunk and squished in the face. You were perfect.
Your Aunt and Grandma were there with Dad and I to welcome you, and they were smitten at first sight. Dr Rowles gave you and I a quick check and slapped dad on the back as he left, congratulating him and remarking “couldn’t put a spout on one hey?. Nice! (I love Dr Rowels though, he loved all you girls too) The rules had changed since G2 so you weren’t whisked away for a bath straight away, but placed with us immediately. We made our way to our room and you met your sisters who, like the rest of us, just couldn’t believe their luck. A sister!
Dad took your sisters home and we were left together. Just you and I. And a nurse every 2 hours to check my blood pressure. And I remember just holding you and staring at you. And I know this sounds absurd, but I didn’t recognise you. It was such a strange feeling. I just looked at you, fed you, talked to you. And searched your face for familiarity. But I couldn’t find it. It was like meeting you for the first time. It was really confusing. I fell asleep with you bundled up tight in the stripy hospital baby blanket and beanie, still staring at you. Still looking for you. I remember waking to you stirring in the pre-dawn, sunlight filtering through the glass doors, dust mites spinning through the air, I looked at you and bam. There you were. I literally remember giving a little gasp & saying out loud “there you are”!. Because there you were, the face I was searching for. It was a truly amazing feeling. Like coming home. Utterly heart filling. You were there.
Now I don’t know what to make of this. Still. Maybe the trauma of birth affected my brain, as there were no drugs to blame. Or maybe because your little face was squished it took a few hours to get back to normal. Maybe your new soul hadn’t quite caught up, it was a quicker birth than the others. But whatever it was, it was strange. And it had never happened to me before. One minute you were a stranger, the next it was as if I had known you my whole life.
You slipped effortlessly into our family and heralded a change on lots of fronts. After your birth we moved house, Dad changed jobs, we got a dog, (Dukey boy) and we settled into our family of 5.
You were always a smart kid, quick to learn and quick to master. Your straight A schooling and awards night hauls were forewarned by bizarre acts of intelligence when you were little. Mirror writing!? What the heck! I’d love to take credit, and perhaps reading all those book and the sight word cards (glued onto the back of old beer cartons and laminated) contributed to your smarts, but overall I think it’s just you.
Of all of you kids, you are the most, for want of a better word, proper. You are organised and sway on the side of obsessive compulsive in your bookwork and belongings. Not all the time of course, your room either looks like a piñata of clothes, water bottles, make up and power cords exploded, or it looks like a disturbing utopian psych ward devoid of colour or things.
You recoil at germs and bugs and textures, and you often wonder how you fit into this outdoorsy, dirt, germ and bug loving family. But you do my girl. Under your finely polished exterior, lays the heart of a bogan adventurer. Just like us! And I see that side slip out often. When you embrace adventure. When you tear down a dirt road in our column shift at the hut or you bait up a hook with half a squid, when you ski lap after lap or drive the boat like a pro, when you leap from a high ropes course or step on a roller coaster. You’re so brave! You were (practically) raised in a tent, camped by water and could ski before you could talk. True story! Used to blow people’s minds! Mind you, you reserved your speech for close family only. Quite stubborn in that department.
In lots of departments.
Head strong. Very head strong. Which makes you incredibly capable. I pity any challenge that lays in your way.
So as we rest now on the lounge together on the eve of your 16th birthday, I know that your future is secure, and bright. And I want you to know that even though you don’t need me, I am always here. I may suck at maths and burn your nuggets, I may occasionally shame you by my mere presence, and we may get into plenty of teenage Vs mum battles, where you’re left sad & angry and I’m left pulling my hair (my Mum literally used to grab at her hair when we frustrated her, I can still see her face when doing it, and I do feel awful now) and wondering who on earth you are!
But know that it never takes too long before I can look at you, like our first morning 16 years ago, and see the sweet girl I know and love. The girl that never stops surprising me or filling my heart.
So G3, I guess to round this up, what I’m saying is after all these years I have come to realise that you are in fact, my Champagne and strawberries. Bitterly sweet, spicy bubbles. A lavish treat I waited my whole life for.
I don’t ever need to have that fancy beverage again, because I have you. The perfect mix of wild and grounded. You’re a great friend, a fantastic coach, a wonderful cousin, smart as a whip, an antagonizing yet caring sister, and an absolute gift as a daughter.
Thanks for being ours! I love you to bits G3. Happy 16th!
Road safety was really just getting taken seriously.
Even though it had been mandatory to wear seatbelts since 1973, clearly it wasn’t strictly enforced in Qld.
We did one big car trip a year. Back “home” to my grandparents in Ipswich/Woodridge for Christmas, then down the coast to Pottsville for the rest of the school holidays.
Ever the safety conscious 80’s parents, Mum & Dad would dutifully pack our wagon, loading all the luggage & Christmas gifts Tetris style (was Tetris on Atari or Commodore 64? Because I feel like my parents were far too good at it to not be practicing a lot!), & the Back Back Pièce de résistance was the bed. The sleeper cabin if you will. Made up for one lucky guest at a time, split unevenly between us 3 daughters, & occasionally a car sick dog or 2, on top of the pile of gear, was a doona, a sheet & our old faithful mattress, lovingly dubbed old “Dusty”.
Dusty is remembered to this day in our family. Mention old dusty to either of my sisters & they immediately know what I’m talking about. And what he felt like.
He was probably a star in his day. Top of the line single foam mattress. But after being used continuously, for sleeping, packing, high jump padding, cubbies etc. he became somewhat fragile. Crumbly. Disintergratey. Hence the name Dusty.
One touch & he would break apart before your eyes. Dispersing into thousands of micro particles of (probably carcinogenic) dust. Floating through the sporadic flash of midnight headlights & the broken sunlight of early morning as we pulled up to our destination, 1000klm away.
Oh dusty. To this day I see a dust mite & I’m taken back.
Dusty has been on my mind lately as I pass through a pretty rough parenting milestone.
G2 has left the nest. Delivered just this weekend to university in the city. 600k away.
And my once impenetrable fortress of feelings (that’s rubbish, it is quite penetrable) has fallen to dust.
I have developed a rather great system of locking up terrible, horrible, no good feelings. Or at the very least, suppressing them until I see fit.
Which I do, & I have done quite well all my life.
I experience it, I pack it away, I sit (or swim or write or paint), I unpack, I feel it, really feel it (sorrow, rage, disappointment), then I rationalise, I store what needs storing & toss what needs tossing & I move on.
But this goodbye. Even the lead up to the goodbye, has seen my systems fail.
Usually it’s like the beast under the stairs in Creep Show. Like the beginning of Get Smart. Locked up tight. Iron clad.
But now it’s a system of Dusty’s. My sorrow is being held in by a crumbling fort of 80’s foam mattresses. Minus the sheet.
And I hate it.
I cried, bawled, lost it when I seen her take her first record off the wall.
Same when she was packing for real.
Every morning, in the still quiet before I woke her. I broke.
In the shower.
The drive up.
The first time leaving her at her dorm (when the universe aka “the thing”, gave me a nice paper cut & Baby Come Back played on the radio).
While I held her in my arms, while she held me in hers, my self control melted every time & my sorrow flowed like my tears.
Like a stream of tiny dust mites swimming & dancing in the humid North Qld air.
Writing this is cathartic for me. It’s healing. It’s getting it off my chest & out in the world. It’s dealing.
And in writing this, i hope to validate the feelings of others in my position.
I see you Mumma & Daddio.
I feel you.
You’re fending off sorrow as you dodge “they’re only moving town”, “it’s not like they’re dying” (really?), “everyone’s kid moves out”, “it’s not that big a deal”.
But it is a big deal. I know that. It’s a huge deal.
Your saying goodbye to a piece of your heart. A piece of your life.
As they start their new chapter, it’s closing forever one of yours.
You flash back to every memory together. First day of school. First injury. Every family holiday. Every heart break & every celebration.
It’s a change. A complete & total change.
Every thing changes from now.
And yeah, it’s 100% inevitable. But that does not make it easy.
It’s freakin hard.
And it does no one any good to pretend it’s not.
I am frustrated at myself for breaking. It’s not my usual style. But I completely understand it was necessary. I need this. Because it’s a big deal, it needs a big break.
And I don’t know how long it will take me to get my Get Smart walls back up. And that’s ok. I will sit with this & feel it & take the time I need to deal.
I’m not stupid, I know the logic. And I know my girl. She will love this adventure! She has craved this freedom for a long time. She is smart & friendly & capable & just a kick arse human being.
And that’s why I miss her.
With all my aching heart.
And also why I am so excited & keen for her to fly!
It’s a complex thing, living a Dixie Chicks song (Chicks), it’s 100% “Wide Open Spaces” on repeat in my brain. (“As her folks drive away, her dad yells, “Check the oil!”
Mom stares out the window and says, “I’m leaving my girl”)
Her fan rattle is stopped, her car is smick, her temporary curtain is screwed in place. Her Daddio has left her safe.
Her festival dates are set & future nights out penciled in. G1 has her excited!
Her shelves are neatly arranged, & snacks are sorted. G3 has left her styled & fed.
Her sooky pillow is full of love (maybe some tears) & knowing she is smothered in adoration & will never be unsupported. I have left her ready to try, fail, fly & soar!
Together I know we’ve left her never doubting our love. And with nothing to fear from flying the nest, but full blue sky & our feathery, soft, triple, original Dusty with a sheet on, as fallback!
Dan & I have both sat & cried together since we’ve been home. And that’s ok. That’s normal. That’s therapeutic & helpful & ok.
And that’s how I know we’ll be ok.
We’ll unpack it. And we’ll deal.
And no matter what happens, where her journey takes her. We’ll love her. And no matter how old she is, or how much time passes. We’ll miss her.
And I’ll pre-empt missing them all.
Because that’s what I do. I love them to bits in the present. But I am consistently aware these days are fleeting.
And now I know, that my impenetrable walls don’t count with my babies.
I am nothing but a sheetless Dusty.
And that’s ok.
Mummas & Daddios closing this chapter, it’s ok.
Like an 80’s foam mattress in the back of a Toyota wagon, piled high on Christmas gifts & Hypercolour clothes.
Be soft, comfy & full of love, turn to dust, recalibrate, rebuild, throw that sheet on & move on.
That’s our job as parents.
And however many times we have to do it, we do it.
It’s not pretty, it’s not easy.
But we’ll do it. And we’ll be ok.
So if anyone asks me how I’m doing & I say “Dusty”, you’ll know what I mean.
I know I’m very anti “time flies” statements, but Term 4 year 12 really does seem like lightning.
And here we are.
On the eve of your graduation.
And yeah, I’m feeling it.
Our nerd room is still littered with paper, exam timetables, English notes, Scholarship dates, ATAR paperwork, stimulus tables and countless post its and highlighters.
The aftermath of an exam block to rival all others. The first of the new Qld schooling system, and your last.
You and your classmates have an awful lot of firsts under your belt my girl, and because of that the term guinea pig has been thrown around a lot.
But my perception of you, and of your year, has certainly shifted. I no longer see guinea pigs, I see explorers. Pioneers. Trailblazers.
Since you began prep back in 2008, you have been quite literally clearing the path and paving the way for every year after you.
The country looked to you to see how this new system would go. Qld crossed their fingers and hoped for the best. And yeah, I do remember seeing a few little boys pretty devastated at the no naps in prep situation (major school gate melt downs), but all in all, you smashed it.
From primary school, you then took on the challenge of being the first year 7’s in high school. This is where the uniform makers realised they’d have to take their sizes down quite a few notches, we were just lucky to have Grandma as a sewer!
Again, this was a challenge, for everyone. And the education department seemed to be just moving on the fly. Seeing what would happen. But again, you guys fit right in.
Then we hit senior years and surprise, surprise, there was another plot twist. ATAR.
Forget everything you’ve learned about studying and retaining info kids, and welcome to the new system.
So you, my beautiful G2, start grade 12, your final year, pretty nervous. Pretty anxious, but overly optimistic.
2020 turns to his buddies, “hold my beer”.
Cue threats of world war, catastrophic bushfires in the south, and the icing on the 2020 chaos cake, COVID 19.
What a whirlwind.
Everything sort of combined together in a mad avalanche of turmoil and disruption.
And it was scary.
And we lost you for a bit G2.
And that was scariest of all.
But in true trailblazing spirit, you persevered.
Most importantly you communicated, you reached out, and you trusted us to not only back you, but to drag you when necessary. And I am so unbelievable proud of you for that.
That right there cements my belief and absolute knowledge that you truly can move mountains.
You are Miguel and Tulio, Tulio and Miguel. Your future is El Dorado and there is nothing stopping you.
Whatever challenges life throws at you, and there will be plenty, you will be ok. Look at how far you have come. Look at what you have overcome. You are resilient and strong.
I mean, you’re in the graduating class of 2020!!
Nothing can stand in your way.
Your little sister, cousins, friends, will all walk the path that you have laid with confidence and blind faith, having watched you go before them and succeed.
No matter your final ATAR, or scholarship results, you have smashed high school.
You have made amazing friends, incredible memories, and made us all so proud.
Bring on university and your new NQ freedom.
Pay no mind to your Mumma crumbling to pieces, I’m made of sturdy stuff too, (where do you think you get your resilience?) and my tears are just because I remember so clearly my little one losing games of memory so graciously (“no match, never mind”), and crying because she’d “never be 10”.
And I want the world to always be kind.
I do ask that you do me a favour, and in the great words of the super handsome (with his hat on) Tim McGraw, because you have nailed it so far “when you get where you’re going don’t forget turn back round, help the next one in line. Always stay humble and kind”
*note this not A “time goes so fast” post, though I’ve said it that often enough. It’s not true. Time is time. And when they’re little, it really does feel like forever.*
Tomorrow marks a significant Jelly fish day for our family. 25 years since dad died. And once again the sting feels pretty raw right about now.
It’s different this year because it’s been a crappy year. So much has happened for us personally, and I know so much has happened world wide. It’s just been nuts.
I’m feeling a bit lost this year, I’m feeling missing.
It’s the missing year.
Right now, I’m missing our dogs. My beautiful sprightly sausage Willow, my kind and steady Luna.
I’m missing every major event that was meant to be that wasn’t due to restrictions and bulk hand sanitiser.
I’m really missing my sisters.
I’m finding myself missing my (in retrospect) carefree childhood.
And I am crazy, crazy missing my kids.
Last night was the first time we’ve had all 3 under the same roof in forever.
G1 is out and about, spending lots of time at her boyfriends, working, traveling, coming home to eat or have washing done.
And I miss her.
G2 is days away from graduating & savouring every last moment with her friends, doing teenagey things or working.
And I miss her.
G3 enjoys her own company & at the moment replays of Greys Anatomy.
And I miss her.
I see our pictures flash up from our life when they were little and I miss it so much.
I miss that I could fix their problems with a kiss or a fredo frog.
I miss that they were so happy to see me after school.
I miss that they would chomp at the bit at the chance to head away for the weekend all together.
I miss reading them stories and doing sight words and being the centre of their universe.
I miss them so much.
There has been some seriously heavy stuff this year and I have found myself feeling so helpless & lonely.
It’s been hard.
You know when you’re driving pillion with your kids, and you come to a big corner? I instinctively grab the “oh shit” handle above the window and go for the imaginary brake on the floor.
Drives the girls nuts.
But it’s reflex.
Helps no one.
But it just happens.
I have been trying my hardest to not do this. Trying to just breathe and sit. Hands in lap, feet as they are.
It’s really, really hard.
Having to relinquish control and just let things be, is hard.
My imaginary brake isn’t going to do squat, so I need to learn to take it off.
And yes this is a metaphor for everything.
I have to learn to stop taking everything to heart. To stop taking everything so hard & personally.
I have to learn to accept.
To accept that G1 finishes her trade in a few short months, & is keen as mustard to flee the nest.
To accept that G2 will be heading over 600k away to Uni at the same time.
To accept that G3 is just more independent than the others.
To accept that some people never change.
To accept that dogs die.
To accept that a rough patch doesn’t mean the end.
To accept that you are doing absolutely all you can do. That you are giving it your all. And that’s enough.
To accept that you can’t go back.
To accept that you can change your mind. It’s not weakness to change.
To accept that even though the girls are growing up, and that it feels so different and distant at times, that that love and that bond is still there.
It’s not family trips in swags under the stars, playing charades by the fire. It’s separate weekend trips & extra friends along.
It’s not little arms wrapped around your neck, showing you their crazy drawing, its long bodies crawling into bed with you to show you a tik tok, or twerking in the kitchen.
It’s late night texts saying “checking in”, it’s leaving snap maps on so you can find them. It’s grabbing bread and milk, throwing on some washing.
It’s creeping into my room after they have finished their last minute assignment or study & shut the house down to kiss me goodnight & say I love you.
This is the hardest transition yet.
And then Jellyfish day rolls around and my heart feels heavier still.
Then I think about all that he’s missed. Birthdays, graduations, weddings, births, highs, lows. Everything. And it’s a swing between bitter and sad. It’s always a swing.
In this year of missing, I’m pissed we aren’t able to do the things we used to be able to do. I’m mad about how some things played out. I’m sorry that I can’t fix things. I’m sad that things are changing.
I am excited for my kids futures & I’m proud as heck of each of them. The tradie, the studier and the scholar. I remain optimistic for our future.
But mostly I miss my kids. I miss being a kid.
And like the imaginary brake, I have to stop pressing it and understand that even though Dad may be gone, for 25 years now. That love is still there. And the way I miss my past, I know Mumma misses hers even more. And Big & middle sister. We are all missing & missing out.
Because he’s missing.
And it’s ok to be bitter and sad. Because these feelings are all stem from love.
So right now, on the cusp of this jellyfish day, I’m going to stop thinking, stop over thinking, take my foot off the fake brake, sit, stare at the water.