Purple Flowers.

It’s been just over a year since I began this blog. The day I actually broke went unmarked in any calendar because I’m not sure exactly what date I would go from. Breaking happened slowly, me fraying at the edges for two years before I tore apart all at once.

And I have gotten so much better. I get up and go to work, assisting other people. I come home and I work quietly, editing for photographers and carefully correcting colours and clearing newborn skin. I take my children to school and their appointments. I lie beside my small children at night and read them bedtime stories. I go with my lover to lunch and he eats the rest of my salad when I can’t finish it. Together we take the children to the beach where my daughter collects and entire basket of shells and we have to convince her to ‘leave some for other people’. I buy myself bedside tables from Ikea and he convinces me to sit on the trolley on the way back to the car and runs with the trolley until I’m breathless with laughter and fear we will crash into a column. I pay bills. I do my hair. I’m blissfully normal.

I sleep.

And this is not something I take for granted anymore. Some nights when I don’t have an early shift I sleep for 9 hours. This time last year 5.5 was normal. This time last year I woke to darkness every day and watched the rising of the sun and tried to breathe and survive. Now days I still sometimes wake before the sun and I watch it rise in my car with a cup of tea in a travel mug as I inch along with the other commuters.

I try to dream.

And my dreams are of fairy lights and lace. My dreams are of plaster dust and lavender. The crown of a newborn head, tiny crescent fingernails. My dreams are of wrinkles and white hairs. I throw the tablecloth of my life out before me and smooth it flat, I am careful to choose what I lay upon it. I watch the wheel of life turn and feel no sadness at it’s passing.

I wake one morning and reach for my camera. My four daughters and I escape the house like puppies set loose and we enter the outside which is different with a camera. Inside the lens everything fits into a box. We find some purple flowers in the grass by the side of a road and we stop to shoot in them. Inside the lens it doesn’t matter that cars are driving past and construction is happening beside us. It doesn’t matter that this spot is actually an overgrowth of weeds. The mosquitos are invisible in the shot. Inside the lens it only matters that there are purple flowers on the ground springing from the grass like hope and that is all I show you. Life is different, so easily distracted by the noise of everything you barely notice the purple flowers. I had driven that road every day but I didn’t see them until I went looking for magic.

That whole year I spent trapped in my own mind, fighting for a way out. Looking for a door.

I was the door.

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Will Stand Up.

About 15 months ago I saw a photo of me that shook me a bit. I’ve been all shapes and sizes but I had never looked at a photo of me and truly hated it. I had looked at photos and thought it was a rotten photo but I had never before looked at a photo of myself and thought, “I look bad.”

It probably isn’t a photo you would expect, in fact I posted it because after years of being a photographer I learnt that no matter how much you hate the way you look, your family does not. They don’t care. They don’t see what you see.

Your partner sees your smile in your eyes.
They remember the time you laughed so hard that for ages after one of you would just have to start giggling and it would set the other off. (Sassafras)
They remember the touch of your fingertips on their skin.
Whispered I love you’s.

Your kids don’t see your imperfections. They remember soothed brows when they were hot with fever.
The time you went out to dinner and wore the red dress that made them think you were the most beautiful woman in the world.
They remember school concerts where you clapped the loudest, bedtime stories and birthday cakes.

No one ever sees what you see. I know that. So as a photographer I posted the picture. But as a woman who is human and flawed and a tiny bit vain – I hated it. I felt ashamed of me. And I stopped taking pictures.

I still photographed my sleeping daughter curled into me like a comma but I cut my face from the frame. I shot the book I was reading, the trees near me, my children, the surf, my partner…but not me. Sometimes parts of me made cameos, my feet in the sand, my hand holding a cup of tea, a shoulder, a wisp of hair. But I avoided the camera as much as I could because it was a mirror I was not ready to look into.

I do not write this to garner compliments. I didn’t need reassurance of my value. I didn’t feel worthless. I was still a good person, I was still kind, I was still funny (sometimes) and I was still clever. I was good at my job and I was a mother who was doing her very best and every day woke up trying to do better. I was a good person. I did not feel worthless simply because I did not feel attractive. I read articles frequently that advised that we need to love the body we are in and I felt that that was bullshit. Was it not possible that I could NOT love the body I was in and still be okay? Couldn’t I just look at myself with a critical and unbiased eye and find it lacking but still accept that I was a perfectly good person? So what if I was not pretty or beautiful or sexy? I’m still a worthy human being.

Here is what I know. I may never weigh more than I do right now. I find it so difficult to gain weight. My thighs – no matter how skinny – will always have a few rogue dimples of cellulite. My hips will always bear the stretch marks that crawled across them when I was pregnant with my first daughter. My stomach will never be entirely flat, that loose skin grew too many children and stretched like an old hair tie. It’s not coming back. My breasts will probably never fill out more than a B cup again. My hair will always be unruly and when brushed it will always go frizzy. My eyes are going to have smile lines, I can’t help it – I laugh too much.

BUT…this body? It grew children. It fed them. It carried babies that live in my home and ones that live only in my heart. It has kissed and loved and survived. It has hatched chickens and cooked meals and kneaded dough. It has delivered baby animals and picked flowers and planted herbs. It has walked beaches and forests. It has spun yarn and sewn clothes and worked stitches. It’s bled and cried and laughed and healed. It’s pressed the shutter of a camera thousands of times. It’s read and written. It has made magic.

It is not perfect. It is flawed beyond comprehension, really. It’s what I have. It works. Granted, sometimes it works like the vacuum you have held together with duct tape, but it works. Every morning when I stand in front of the mirror and I stare into my own eyes and tell myself, “You can do this. You’ve got this”, it rallies. I push it. I ask more from it than it deserves. And it rallies. It stands up.

I’m ready now. I am ready to look into that mirror and see what stares back at me. I will not look away. Not because I’m expecting beauty. But because I am expecting strength.

It’s time.

“Can stand up, will stand up…every one of us. Make your choice. Are you ready to be strong?” – BTVS “Chosen”.

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Surprise Me.

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For me, this was a week like any other. I took my children to school, I ran errands, I went to the dentist, I edited photos, I had brunch with my partner, I laughed with my daughters, we discussed a crush my son has.

But this week it just felt like a torrent of horror and grief descended on our state. Amusement park rides killed people, a bus driver was set alight, a woman found dead, two people were shot in the suburb next to me. It felt like the end of the world and I mean that in no small way. It felt like Armageddon coming. It felt like the beginning of the end.

And I had no words.

No words.

I couldn’t express my individual grief about these situations because nothing I could say could fix anything and the problem was bigger than me.

We discussed the US election that truly fills me with fear and not just because someone I am frightened of might win but because the support lent to that individual scares me too.

I don’t know what kind of world I’m leaving for my children.

Sometimes I regret having children for that reason. When I was a teenager – before I was a mother – my family seemed too large to be damaged. I felt like as a child I was more fragile and therefore the worst that could befall someone would surely befall me first. But as soon as a child of my own womb was placed in my arms I realised fear for someone else. For all the times I could not protect them. We talk about sleepless nights and endless questions and even broken hearts but the worst thing about being a parent is realising your own powerlessness in the face of the world. Knowing the only thing standing between them and the cruelties of this place, is you. And you are found wanting. The dangers seem insurmountable, and your own fragility – which seemed a blessing as a child – is now a flaw. From the moment a child is born they are on a journey growing away from you. If your do your job well they will be ready to fly long before you are ready to let them go. My eldest is 18. I’m now not sure I will ever be ready. Is any parent?

That powerlessness is sometimes the reason I lose my breath and think, “Why did I do this?”

The answer, of course, is hope. Disturbingly tenacious, hope outlives us all. We have children even when we are surrounded by cruelties because we hope. I remember one time when I was about 16 my grandfather saying he thought my generation would be the one to fix the world, now that is a hope I pass on to my own offspring. I think every generation must carry that, the silent prayer that whatever we didn’t fix our children may be the ones to do it. It’s an unfair burden and I’m sorry.

I posted on Facebook the other day that cruelties fail to shock me anymore. I’m no longer surprised by intolerance or bigotry. What continually moves me to tears is kindness. The first responders at Dreamworld. The taxi driver who ran towards a burning bus while others ran away to rescue those inside. The people that listen to your story and offer you a gentle word. Always in times like this I have to remind myself that while the world is frightening – people are good too. That I cannot protect my children from cruelties but I can shape them into the kind of people that do surprise me. Our grief always sits side by side with our hope. We have to tip the scales ourselves.

A Gift from my Mother.

When I was in high school my great uncle passed away. I didn’t go to the funeral but I went to the gathering at his home afterwards where my cousins and family had come together to celebrate his life and mourn his passing.

My great uncle was the husband of my Nanna’s sister who had died of breast cancer when I was 7. They had 4 children and one of them had daughters who were two years older than me and two years younger than me. Growing up, I had no siblings or first cousins until I was 8, so my second cousins were the closest in my age and my playmates. My family is very close knit so when my cousins lost their grandparents I felt their pain quite keenly. I couldn’t imagine the loss of my own grandparents, in fact even now with them in their 70s and 80s I feel like I’m not ready to do life without them. I’m 35. I’m still not ready. So I couldn’t even fathom that at 7 years old. I’m very aware of how blessed I am. I am thankful every day.

Coming home from my great uncles funeral my friends came over. Way more of them than usual actually and we were all going to walk over to another friend’s house and hang over there. My mother made sausages for everyone, the kind you wrap in a piece of bread and slather with sauce. She was in the kitchen. I was wearing this god awful dress reminiscent of 60s furniture and I felt like I was doing okay, I was a bit subdued but otherwise I felt okay. I don’t know why I remember what I was wearing. Memories are funny things. So I wander into the kitchen and I talk to mum a second about my friends and my plans and they’re all chatting in the lounge room and it just hit me.

He was gone. That life was done. His children and his grandchildren were without him. My grandparents had lost their friend. And I began to cry. Just my eyes filling with tears at first, but soon they became big raw sobs of grief. My mother took me in her arms. And I think I remember this so much because my family is close knit but we are not touchy. Emotions are usually kept pretty in check. I can only remember seeing my mother cry once in my life and I’m sure there have been many tears she has shed in private.

So I’m crying and my mother is holding me and I begin to apologise. I say, “I’m sorry. I know I didn’t know him that well…”
And my mother says, and I will never forget, “That doesn’t matter. You don’t have to know someone well for them to touch your life.”

And I’ve never forgotten that. That day when my mother gave me this gift. That while the sausages fried in a pan and my friends in the next room laughed and talked, my mother gave me one of the most valuable pieces of life advice I ever received.

That we all matter.

That sometimes the most fleeting of contact can change someone’s life.

That our grief does not have to be measured for value against how well we knew someone.

That empathy is one of our most important gifts to the world.

Never lose it.

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The Goat.

Right now I am doing my usual sitting outside on the daybed under my nest of quilts. I am drinking a whiskey. Well, I’ve mixed it with coke but it’s a strong whiskey because I poured the coke in first and then eyeballed it. I have a black cat to my right. And some rogue stuffing from one of the cushions because when I was babysitting my ex husband’s dog this last week it discovered a hole and pulled the stuffing out and danced in it like it was snowing.

I am writing so I won’t think. Here I am brutally honest, raw as I can be but there is this one thing I cannot write about so instead I am sitting here, drinking a strong whiskey with a cat under a nest of quilts and rogue stuffing and missing my mother who is not in the country.

I want to write because it is cathartic but I can’t write about this one thing so I will write about something else instead. I flick through my memories, sifting them through my fingers and hold them to light trying to find one to dive into. Kind of like that basin in Dumbledore’s office where he can dunk his head like a weird wizard baptism and immerse himself in a memory.

What shall I write about? Pain? Joy? Confusion? Heartache? Love?

Okay, I am going to tell you about my goat.

So, a few years back I learnt to spin, I’ve probably told you about this before. I explained how I like to know exactly how to do something. So I use to knit and crochet and then I wanted to learn to spin, which I did, and then I needed to learn how to process raw fleece and I did. And then I decided I want to ‘grow’ the fleece.

So I find some dude selling baby angora goats and I arrange to pick two up. I didn’t realise until I got these babies that they were literally babies. I was actually pretty devastated thinking about it. I brought them home in a crate and when I took them out I realised they still had little dried umbilical cords on. I judged them to be a few days old. My heart just bled thinking of them missing their mamas and the mamas missing their babies but I knew if I took them back he would just sell them to someone else and that most people would think me some kind of bleeding heart, too soft for the country. Which in some ways I am.

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So I decided I was going to be the best mama to these babies ever. They needed to be fed 6 times a day in the beginning and I warmed their bottles diligently and squatted over them, pressing the nipple of the bottle to their mouth. One of them would nurse immediately. The other refused. Even if I opened her mouth and closed it around the nipple she would not suckle. I dribbled as much as I could into her, rhythmically squeezing the nipple and allowing it to build up in her mouth before she would swallow instinctively…but she wouldn’t suckle. It would take me an hour to get a feed into her, milk clotting her fleece near her jaw and running down my arm and leg. I would have to change my clothes after and wash the sour milk smell from my skin. She wasn’t gaining weight like her sister though and she was so timid that when she saw anyone come to her she would hide in a corner and turn her face to the wall. She refused to make eye contact, her beautiful sweet green eyes staring to my side or behind me. I was distraught and worried she would die.

I went to the vets and asked advice. They said that some babies just won’t drink. I could keep doing what I was doing or wait until she got hungry enough to work it out. They warned me that she may not gain weight and would one day not wake up. I tried to wait. But after half a day I felt so bad for this baby, this shy little timid creature I gave up and lay her back on my lap; went back to steadily squeezing milk into her. She never learnt to suck. For 8 weeks I sat with her, day after day, the first feed of the morning at 5am, and got that bottle into her. However long it took. I kept this baby goat alive by sheer stubbornness and determination. You will not die. You will not die on my watch. I am going to show you how to live. By the time she weaned she was eating just fine, the tamest, most beautiful little goat you have ever seen who would run up to me in the yard and nuzzle my hand, snuffle at my face if I was sitting down.

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There are few times in my life that I refused to concede defeat. I’ll put up a good fight, man, but at the end of the day? I know when I’m pushing shit uphill. Only a few times in my whole life have I stood up and said, “This is happening. I am MAKING this happen.” Not letting that baby goat starve herself to death, that was one of those times. And I realised while I was writing this – I have never done that for myself. Anytime I’ve done that it’s been because someone else was at stake. Those times I saw that shit I was pushing uphill and thought, “Screw it. I’ll move the mountain, because this? THIS is moving, damn it.” But never for me. For me, I lie down and take it. But when there is shit to be moved – you want me to have your back. Because God fucking damnit…I will fight until I’m bloody for you.

Aren’t I worth as much as a goat? Can’t I fight for me? Get up. Move the goddamn mountain.

Also? I’m out of whiskey.

Save Yourself.

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Years ago someone told me a story about their best friend. In this story the best friend (from here on out known as The Woman) was madly in love with a guy.

Over time my memory of the story and what I pictured has merged so I’m going to tell it like I pictured it, it may not be exact and I am going to call it creative license or avoiding libel – take your pick.

Okay.

So the woman is madly in love. She is young, 19 and stunningly beautiful. Tall with long dark hair and wide set blue eyes. The man she is in love with is a bit of a bad boy. When I imagine him back then I picture someone a little like one of the guys from The Outsiders, rough and slicked back hair and maybe he wears a leather jacket and rides a motorcycle. They dated for a long time and she really wanted to marry him. But he didn’t seem like he was ever going to propose so she decided to call his bluff. She left him. Let’s take a second to applaud this woman for leaving someone who wasn’t giving her what she wanted or needed from life. This is very hard when you love someone.

Shortly after she found another man and he proposed and she accepted. Now here is the part that is sad. She thought the Outsider was going to stop her. In the weeks leading up to the wedding she expected he would roll up on his motorcycle and confess his love. She believed he would realise that he was letting this amazing, funny, beautiful woman just slip through his fingers and say, “I love you. Pick me.” Because that is what all women really want (and probably men too) – to be chosen. Day after day.

Right up to the wedding, as she was saying her vows she completely expected the Outsider to turn up, bust down the doors of the church and announce his objection. When the ceremony ended with no sign of him she couldn’t believe it. She was shocked and desperately heartbroken that he had let her go without a second thought.

This story has a happy ending because the woman was actually very happy with her husband, they had kids, travelled, lived life and loved each other until the very end. But that is not how it began and that is not the point. It could just as easily have gone the other way and she walk out of there miserable and stuck until one of them realised they needed a divorce.

So the point is, many people have spent too long waiting for something or someone to show up. Have spent days that spiralled out into weeks or months or years even waiting for their Outsider to come and change their life. I do it all the time, I make promises to myself that if this one thing happens then I will do this. I wait for other people to change their mind. I wait for someone else to tell me I’m valuable, wanted, loved, worth it. You cannot hinge your life on hope. Hope is a valuable ingredient in life, essential in fact, but it’s a lot like flour…unless you add in some eggs and milk and sugar, you ain’t never going to have a cake, baby. Stop looking for your Outsider to come save you.

Save yourself.

Dad.

I’m going to tell you a secret. It took me years to love my dad properly. I didn’t understand him really. He was never a mean dad, he joked with me, I have a picture of us on the beach, him giving me a piggy back so I know he played with me when I was small. But as a child I took those things for granted. But mum was my go to, alright. I knew mum bought all the birthday and Christmas presents and Dad was just as surprised as me to see what was inside, I knew mum cooked the dinner and washed the clothes.

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My dad, seemed this odd mystery to me. He disappeared in the morning before I was awake and came home and lay down on the couch where most nights he promptly fell asleep. He was always really into things I didn’t understand, like cycads and palms and occasionally I would be pressed into watering these which I really begrudged. He was always finding things he loved and bringing them home like rocks and cow skulls and broken birds that would chirp on top of the bathroom mirror light where it was warm while I brushed my teeth. He would sometimes say to me, “What do you think of this design? Do you think it would make a good chair?” And I would be bewildered by this because I didn’t know if he was planning to quit his job and become a chair maker. One time mum and I had to role play customers while he pretended to sell us smoke alarms. The falling asleep on the couch alarmed me. My friends and I creeping by him on the way to my room dodging the cup on its side on the floor where he had been practising his putting before he fell asleep. Sometimes he would have two TVs going in the same room – both on sport – and he would be asleep in front of them.

It took me years – I’m embarrassed to admit – before I realised he was sleeping because he was exhausted. My dad would get up early and go to work and often stop by the family farm on the way home to round up cattle or feed them or fix something. I never connected these absent hours to the sleeping on the couch. He worked and worked and he was tired. In my childhood innocence I didn’t connect this with the yellow pay packets that came home, with the clothes on my back, with the food on the table, with the tennis lessons or tae-kwon-do lessons or those Christmas presents he was just as surprised at as me when I opened them.

It took me years to think…oh. My dad went a great many years dreadfully under appreciated by me. When I sit with him now a part of me whispers “I see you, I see you, I see you.” because for years he was invisible to me. And I learnt that my dad is funny, he tells hilarious stories. He is quirky. He is kind to animals which I think shows great character in a man. He will fix something before he throws it away, or at least have the intention to. He loves my mother in a way that blows me away. Years ago on my wedding night my mother fell asleep and he came in and stroked her hair and said, “God, she is so beautiful.” And I thought how magical to have someone love you so fiercely even while you’re asleep that he blurts out his love and you never even know.

So there it is. My dad. Happy Father’s Day. I see you.

The Hardest Thing about Parenthood.

I’ll tell you the hardest thing about being a parent. Or actually, what for me has been the hardest thing about being a mother. The invisibility.

There are dozens of ‘hard things’ and the hard stuff happens immediately. It begins right there when you see those two pink lines on the little white wand you just peed on and realise that you can say goodbye to soft cheese for the next 8 months (I know friends, it was a struggle for me too). You feel tired, emotional, your skin stretches and warps over your abdomen and you watch as stretch marks bloom across you. I remember one night going to sleep with perfect breasts and I woke the next morning to step in the shower and caught sight of my chest in the mirror and thought I had those strange marks from sleeping all over my breasts until I realised they were stretch marks that literally appeared overnight like magic. Across my thighs they were deep, painful looking scarlet scars as though I had been whipped. I looked down once when I could still see my calves and was fascinated by the fact I had a lone red tendril of stretch mark on my calf, far from my stomach that was the cause of all this. And that’s before we hit hyperemesis, SPD that literally crippled me (although I was fortunate enough to suffer no major lasting effects), gestational diabetes.

Then labour. The pain that comes with opening a portal to life, the panting, the pushing, the sweat, the blood.

Swollen breasts filled with milk. Cracked nipples. Post partum bleeding. Sleepless nights. The perfume of baby powder and newborn and underneath it all the faint sour smell of baby vomit on your shirt you didn’t notice until you were in the shops grabbing bread because – goddamn it, do we ALWAYS need bread in this house? Where does it go?

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The teething, the worry of SIDS, the baby check ups and doctors appointments, the growth charts and milestones: check, check, check…

Baby proofing and blending of foods and patience until you think you might explode from buried frustration. Endless on loop soundtracks of the Wiggles, or Thomas, or Strawberry Shortcake and barbie shoes that never seem to exist after the first five minutes of leaving their box.

Clothes and washing and which school is right? Are they happy? Are other kids mean? Is MY kid mean? Homework and more doctors visits and fever in the night that leaves you sleeping on the floor by the bed sponging a scalding forehead with a tepid cloth and praying the panadol kicks in soon.

Head lice and parent/teacher interviews and costumes and parties. Christmas presents and birthdays and school discos and is my child happy? Is he happy? And oh, my heart is breaking. And vomit buckets being emptied.

Football games and netball games and swimming lessons.

A thousand sandwiches.

Which high school? Should I let her wear make up? Is she too young? And teens with boyfriends and parties and leaving you and leaving you and leaving you. And you have to balance your protection with your need to see if she can fly. Will you fly? And heartbreaks and colds and doctors visits and the orthodontist and talent quests where she sang like an angel.

Bearing witness. Day in day out. Endless. A hundred things. A thousand memories and you are their keeper.

The hardest thing is the invisibility. Of knowing there is not a single time they will remember all of those thankless things you did because you loved them until they are the keeper of memories for their own children.

But writing them out just now, they didn’t feel like that much of a hardship after all.

Three Stories.

Sometimes I take out little random memories like jewels from a treasure chest and examine them in the light. Ahh, here is the time I was about 5 and got shy and accidentally hugged the Tupperware lady instead of my Mum. And here is the Christmas Day I got given not one but two kittens. Recently I found three stories that seemed completely unconnected at first and when I went to write them down I realised that my life actually has this theme to it. I’ll put them below. Three Stories.

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One time when I was about 15 I was in my kitchen partaking in one of the great Australian traditions of eating Milo directly out of the tin. I had just put the world’s biggest tablespoon of Milo into my mouth and was busy trying to breath carefully through my nose lest I succumb to Milo Lung which is the greatest tragedy to befall all Australians partaking in the great tradition of Milo eating when suddenly there was a knock at the door. Wait, let me explain. * Milo Lung is where you accidentally inhale the granulated Milo into your lung while eating it from the tin and immediately begin to cough, spraying Milo all over everything within a 2 metre radius and try not to die while asphyxiating on chocolaty goodness. It’s a dangerous sport but a rite of passage. * Anyway, there was a knock at the door. I stop mid chew to see if mum or my brother would answer the door but they’ve all gone somewhere and I can’t not answer the door. I know it’s for me anyway because it’s that time of day when someone would knock at my door. I peek around the corner and it’s my partner who is basically getting a glimpse of his future twenty years down the track when he will catch me in all manner of compromising food situations where I’m stuffing my face just as he walks in. But back then I’m not really ready for him to see me with Milo all stuck between my teeth because we don’t have that sort of relationship yet. So as I dash by him I am holding up one finger in the universal “just a second” gesture and I have to dash to the bathroom and brush my teeth about five times because Milo is the most tenacious bastard you have ever met. It took about 17 years for me to come clean about that moment. Finally, I’m sitting there with him and I say, “I don’t know if you remember this but this one time you came to the door just as I’d started eating Milo and I was horrified and had to rush to the bathroom to brush my teeth and when I came back you asked what I’d been doing and I lied and made something up.” He has one of the most fickle memories – he can recall every song lyric he has ever heard but can’t remember this one time when we were about 14 and went into the city and he pinched a monorail from the Expo 88 exhibit at the art gallery. I’m like, “How can you NOT remember that? It was a MONORAIL!” But he forgets things. Meanwhile through some miracle of mind he manages to recall one arbitrary day nearly twenty years ago when I ran past him with my cheeks puffed like a squirrel full of Milo. “Oh yeah, I get it though. Milo can be such a bastard to get out of your teeth.” Seriously? 17 years I held on to the shame of a covert Milo eating mission and he just accepts it as normal.

~2~

My first break up was a truly horrendous affair and occurred when I was 10. I’m about to revive good old Peter Brown for this story because he was my first boyfriend or what passed for a boyfriend in fourth grade – which basically meant we played together at lunch time. We had a whirlwind love affair that lasted approximately one month. That was because his usual friend who he played with had up and gone to America for a month to visit some NASA camp leaving Peter to his own devices. Peter attached himself to me and my best friend and we had a grand time that month, catching ladybugs…actually I can’t remember what else we did except catch lady bugs but I assume we did something. He sang me Beach Boys songs. I gave him a matchbox car which was actually one of my very best matchbox cars so this was A BIG DEAL. Anyway, fast forward a month and his regular gal comes back from America and he just DITCHES me. I was so mad, you guys. I GAVE him my CAR. Right so I write him this note and I’m like, “I’m not going to be your friend anymore because you are mean.” And I give it to Peter. And he is like, what the hell is this? And I’m like, what’s it look like, asshole? And he is like, I’m taking this to the teacher. And I was like, oh shit. (I’m paraphrasing, neither of us swore). And he goes and stands in line behind a bunch of kids getting their work checked and I’m FREAKING OUT. I’m sure I’m going to be in so much trouble for writing this mean note. I end up cutting in line and telling the teacher I’m sick and need to go home and off I go. Every day for about a week I freak out after lunch that Peter is going to tell the teacher about this note and I have to go home because I can’t deal with the anxiety of this hanging over my head. Finally mum gets the shits with having to pick me up early and takes me to the doctors to see if there is actually anything wrong with me. The doctor says my lymph glands are up a bit and I probably feel poorly and I think it must be a miracle and I’ve made myself sick but feel completely well somehow. Mum now believes me but I know the jig is up and I’m just going to have to face whatever music is coming. The next day I go up to Peter and I’m like, “Look, are you going to tell the teacher or not?” And he looks at me bewildered and goes, “Tell the teacher what?” And I’m exasperated and say, “About the note!” And he goes, “Oh that!” And waves his hand, “I threw it out. I don’t care.” And I walked away completely amazed I’d made such a big deal about nothing. The next day I open my tidy tray and my matchbox car is sitting inside.

~3~

When I was 18 I had two daughters. My youngest was a couple of months old and despite not managing breastfeeding with my first daughter (lots of issues with prematurity and my own inexperience) I was totally smashing breastfeeding this time around. Still, it was all new to me and I didn’t really have a good grasp on how my boobs really worked at that stage and I was still pretty shocked at the amount of force a let down would have. For the uninitiated when you breastfeed at some point during the feed you ‘let down’ which is where the milk starts just flowing of its own accord. I didn’t realise this occurred before I had kids. Like, I’d read about it but reading and seeing are different things. The milk comes out in multiple sprays and just SHOOTS out. Like a water pistol under extreme pressure. I can’t really describe it. Sometimes the milk runs out so fast the babies can’t swallow quick enough and they’ll pop off because they’re only small but that know this is crazy. By this stage though my baby had gotten bigger and learned to cope with the flow but I’d discovered that babies are also really distracted and if something is interesting they’ll just come off and have a look around the room with absolutely no regard for the fact your boob is now exposed to the world. So here I am. Sitting on the couch in my living room and my then partner has invited his work mate around for a visit and this is the first time I’ve met him. The work mate whom I shall call Paul is sitting at right angles to me on a separate couch and he seems nice enough. Paul is impeccably dressed and very gay and hasn’t had a lot of experience with babies or boobs but he politely ignores the baby I’ve just put to my breast which is nice for me because I was still kind of getting the hang of this myself. My then partner and his work mate are chatting away and I continue to nurse and just as I let down and the milk turns into a fire hose they start laughing at something and the baby pops off to check out the situation in case it’s something she might be interested in. My boob is now free and seriously shoots milk across the room on a trajectory that’s going to land it straight towards poor suspecting Paul’s arm. I clamp a baby wrap down on my boob to stop the flow but it’s too late and some has definitely landed – if not on him – near him. I’m mortified. I’ve just met this man and I’m squirting milk at him. I’m not sure what is the socially acceptable thing to do in this situation. Firstly, I’m not sure he has seen, he is giving me no outward signs of having seen. But if he is just being polite and HAS seen and I say nothing he is going to think I just go around shooting milk at everyone. So I should definitely apologise. On the other hand, if he hasn’t seen and I apologise I’m drawing attention to a fact that would have otherwise gone unnoticed. I really only have a second to decide so I go with an apology. “Umm, I’m really sorry about that…the milk, I mean. And how it kind of….shot…at you. I didn’t mean it.”
Paul is perplexed and has no idea what I’m talking about. So now I’m forced to explain about the lactation process and how it’s unpredictable and babies are inquisitive. Paul is now thrilled with this knowledge, “You mean it just SHOOTS out?! That’s amazing! That’s hilarious! I’d be squirting people for fun. Don’t even worry about it.” While Paul didn’t have much experience with babies or boobs he knew exactly the right thing to say.

Three stories. And you know what I learned? Most of the time nothing is as bad as you think it is.

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No ‘if only’.

Years ago I was both simultaneously very open and very closed. Actually that’s been almost a constant in my life. I’m a walking contradiction. I always liked that quote by Walt Whitman in Song of Myself, “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”

I was open because when I was a photographer I sold myself. I sold my work also, my skills and my style. But I also sold who I was as an artist. Frequently by the time a client came to me and booked in they knew my kids names, what pets I had, they had often read my old blog, they had a sense of who I was as a person. I believe it was why so many clients tried to add me on Facebook after a shoot. And most of the time I accepted that request. I was happy to have them connect with me. I was open about my life’s little bits a pieces. Funny things the kids had said or done. My fondness for Creamies – a biscuit I discovered (to my great dismay) had more calories in four of them then a large cheeseburger meal.That I slept in sweatpants in winter because while I desperately wanted to be one of those women who could do the school drop off in PJs I also feared my car would break down and I would be greeting the tow truck driver wearing pug pyjamas.

At the same time I was very closed off. I didn’t often discuss my ‘feelings’. In fact I viewed feelings as a great weakness. Love was reserved for teenagers too young to know better and one’s children. I was very uncomfortable with affection. I would hug babies and toddlers and my family on special occasions. It was widely known amongst my friends that I was not a hugger. Some would even give me warning before they hugged me, “I’m going to hug you now, okay? I know you won’t like it but I’m going to do it anyway.” And they would put their arms around me and I would stand there stiff backed and perhaps grudgingly pat them on the shoulders. Hold my partner’s hand in public? Forget it. In fact he was similar so it would have been an uncomfortable experience for both of us. I didn’t say I loved people. I could say I loved cake or dogs or the smell of lavender. But I could not tell my cousin I loved her.

Open and closed off.

Now I’m basically the opposite. I’m very careful with what information I release and to whom. My circle of people is tight. My Facebook locked down. I shut down every business because I couldn’t run them effectively or in the same way and hide. I use to put up a snap of me with the goat chewing my hair and me with the worst forehead wrinkles as I screwed my face up and not care. Now, I will rarely show my face straight on if indeed I photograph myself at all. But I am more open. I hug people. I tell people I love them. I share more intimacies. I will kiss my partner openly in public.

When my partner and I started dating I knew if this ever was going to work I had to break down those walls. The first time he kissed me in the city, in public, I was so stunned. I don’t think I even had time to feel awkward about onlookers because I was so taken with him. And afterwards I thought, isn’t there enough hate and negativity in this world? Wouldn’t this whole place be better if more people were kissing and in love and just generally being good to each other instead of giving each other bitchy looks at worst and ignoring each other at best? Wouldn’t it be nicer if I could just hug my friend? Why do I reserve my affection but happily share my experience with a shitty driver on the highway? And the thing with him was – I didn’t want to hold any part of me back from him. I wanted to lay my life at his feet and see if he would claim it. I wanted to pour myself into his hands and see if he loved what he saw just as much as I loved what I saw when I looked at him. I wanted to be as real and honest with him as I could be.

And it was fucking terrifying, if I’m honest.

How vulnerable it was to unreservedly love another person. The capacity to be hurt was so great. But if it worked… And I kind of realised that was what I had been worried about for years. I held people at arms length because I didn’t want that weakness and vulnerability. I didn’t want to be hurt.

What sort of life was that? Letting no one in because I was scared of what? Being alone? I was already alone. Because I never let anyone in. Love required vulnerability. And I wanted this so much. I had to let go. Throw caution to the wind. Tell someone I loved them with no idea whether he loved me back or if it would work. Maybe it wouldn’t work. But at least I would never live with a ‘what if’. At least I wouldn’t be lying there in ten years time wondering if I might have had a chance at something incredible and soul changing if only…if only.

You would think it would take time to dismantle walls but they came down at once. I slid into a new me as though I’d never been any different. It deepened my relationships with everyone who mattered. My children. My family. My friends. My kid’s friends. Have I been hurt? Oh, yes. Oh my, yes. Without the walls everything just ran in. I felt like I was being bathed in emotions. You know I never use to cry? I actually couldn’t. I would sometimes think a good cry might be just the thing and nothing at all could induce one. Now barely a day goes by I don’t cry over something. I cry because of sad things and happy things and people being good and people being hurtful. There is this one film clip of when this guy got his leg caught between the train platform and the train in Perth and all the commuters worked together pushing the train to the side so he could free his leg and – oh my god – I cry like a baby every time I see it. The vulnerability of being open – it can sting.

There is another part of that Song of Myself by Walt Whitman that I like where he says, “For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.” Connection is a gift you buy. The price is vulnerability. And its value is immeasurable.

No ‘if only’.

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