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.

~1~

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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Fierce.

The other week I stumbled across a video by Be. Bangles that hit me right in the feels. I immediately went out and purchased five bangles, one for myself and one for each of my eldest four girls. “F*cking Fierce.” I’ve always reserved that compliment – fierce – for women I truly respected. Women who showed up, women who got up, women who fought hard, women who got out of the box the world wanted to put them in and kicked ass all over the place. I’m not even meaning the women in my life who are society’s definition of successful – I do have friends like that, who run businesses and earn the bread and do it with passion and drive. Sometimes the women I see this in are the quiet achievers, the ones who live with a dark shadow but get up every morning to do battle again. The woman who stays up through the night to check on her son’s blood sugars. The woman who helps out at the tuckshop. The woman who spent all day running her kids to various appointments and activities. The woman who sends you something out of the blue to say, “Hang in there.”

Our unsung heroes.

Who, when asked what they’ve been doing will shrug and say, “Not much”, when really they’ve been quietly changing the world with their small ripples that spread across the lake.

Fierce.

I use it rarely and always mean it.

I bought this bangle for my girls not just because it said fierce but – I’m going to be honest – because it said, “F*cking Fierce”. Because that one sentence, two words, is so unapologetic that it drove home who I hope my girls will be. I want them to be loud, be heard, be strong, be wild, love hard and be unapologetic about it.

Be.

F*cking Fierce.

want your own? link here.

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Awkward and Precious.

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I made a conscious effort lately to pull out the camera and take photos of life. Not posed images but the images where the Doritos are still in a packet on the kitchen table and the kids faces are illuminated by their phones. The images where we are in the car or there is a smudge of dirt on a five year olds cheek. The ones where I set the timer and hop back into place and find out later the focus totally missed the mark and the table I leaned it on is in focus and we are but a kaleidoscope of colours. We could be anyone.

Wrinkles. Blemishes. Hair messed up. Sweatpants.

Life.

I’ve fallen in love with these images. Their imperfections and the impermanent of it. Just a second in time, gone. I feel like a journalist, like a historian. Every time I press the shutter I think – this will mean something some day. These will be the images that hold my attention. There is no bullshit here, no trappings.

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When I use to shoot, clients would often say, “We like unposed photos.” And I would have to explain to them that EVERY image in my portfolio was posed. Every single one. The ones that looked candid were really just disguised poses.

“Hold on to Daddy’s leg so he doesn’t run away.”

“Can you kiss Mummy on the cheek?”

“Pretend you like each other.”

Laughter.

Click. Click. Click.

A friend once sent me a text from nowhere last year when I was in the depths of depression and asked how I was. We hadn’t talked in over 12 months but she use to be one of my best friends and had been my confidante for years. Then life got in the way and we drifted apart and I felt like a shitty friend and the more time that went by the more I felt embarrassed about reconnecting with her. I don’t know how she knew to reach out to me then. I cried when I got her message which was simply little more than, “I’m thinking of you.” I apologised for being a crappy friend and she told me there was nothing to be sorry for – which of course made me cry more. I lay my sorrows at her feet and told her I couldn’t stop crying, I cried all day for weeks at just about everything and she said to me, “Life is awkward and precious.”

I loved that so much I wrote it down and went back to it every now and then. Because it is awkward. The mess, the reality, the indignities. The laughs where you snort during them. The tears that smear your eye makeup. The sweat. The blood. The sex. The love.

And, my god. It is precious.

Statistically Unsafe.

Last week my daughter had an unpleasant experience with a male customer who was being lewd and gross. I won’t get into what happened because it was her story and is not mine to tell. However, when S and I were going to pick her up from work and S told me that J had texted her about it during the day I was worried she would come out really shaken and not want to go back. To the contrary she brushed it off as nothing.

And that kind of made me mad.

Because she is a woman this kind of thing will undoubtably happen to her time and time again and at 18 she had already accepted that. She had already become used to it. She already failed to be shocked by it.

I have four daughters, five including S who has been living with me for the last 7 months and who I love like my own. Statistically bad shit is likely to happen to one of them. When I was relaying the statistics for sexual assault against women to my partner – 1 in 6 women are raped – he said, “That can’t be right. That can’t be.” It’s not that he doesn’t believe me. It’s that he can’t wrap his mind around the sheer enormity of it. When I discussed his reaction with my therapist she said she felt the stats were grossly underestimated and she would put it more like 6 out of 10.

Here is the thing. I’m fucking outraged at this. I am. I am a woman who has shared articles about the unfairness of victim blaming. I am a woman who has been enraged by articles or sound bites from people that talk about, “How to stay safe.” Because fuck you, that’s why. We shouldn’t have to alter our daily lives so men don’t rape us. Men should just stop raping us. I know that. I hate that I have to tell my daughters how to navigate this world by altering their behaviour because I know I shouldn’t have to.

But I do.

I do it anyway because I want them to come home. And you know what I hate more than the fact I do that? I hate that I don’t even have to. Because they already know. Instinctively, they already know. Like some strange evolutionary trait attached to the second X chromosome, my daughters already understand and avoid walking too close to the alley so they don’t get pulled in but not too close to the street so they don’t get ripped into a car. They already know to watch drinks. Walk in groups. Text your friends. Make sure your girlfriends are in your line of sight at a party. Sometimes in sheer desperation I hand my daughters pieces of other women’s stories as though by invoking the spirits of these women who never made it home I will somehow help my daughter to return to me.

I can’t reconcile these two parts of myself. The part of me that wants to give them the tools to help them come home unscathed and the part of me that hates myself for having to do it.

To my daughter, I’m sorry you had to deal with that man. I’m sorry you will have to deal with something like that over and over throughout your life for the crime of being a female. It’s not fair.

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You are Real.

I hate the ‘real women have curves’ trend.

It’s not because I happen to be a skinny woman. I haven’t always been a skinny woman, I’ve had curves once (and boobs – God, I miss boobs sometimes). I was a real woman then, and I am a real woman now.

I hate it because it does exactly what magazines and society did to curvy women for years. Pits one body type against another. Builds up one type of woman at the expense of another type.

It’s a whole lot of, check out what women use to look like and check them out now. As though the ‘good old days’ were great for women. Let’s just take a stroll through these offensive ads from Business Insider including this gem.

Women weren’t empowered and letting their natural beauty show in the fifties. They were repeatedly told how their attractiveness had a direct correlation to their worth.

And now, in 2016 we are supposed to hold up that standard as the ‘good old days’?

Fuck you. Fuck you so hard.

I guarantee you women have been made in all shapes and sizes since the beginning of time and will continue to be so for the rest of humankind’s existence on this planet.

I have shot a lot of people. I have shot women of all ages and all shapes and sizes. Curvy women, slim women, young women, older women, mothers, daughters. And every single one of them have been beautiful. I have never had a client I looked at and didn’t find beauty in.

Real women? If you identify as a woman – you are a REAL WOMAN.

Stop letting society tell you it’s okay to be beautiful only if someone else is less beautiful.

In fact, stop letting society tell you that your beauty is just a sum of your physical parts. And you KNOW this already. You know. You’ve been told your whole damn life that beauty is only skin deep, that a kind heart is worth more than a pretty face.

Celebrate yourself. Your laugh, your kindness, your fire, your wildness, your scars, your wit, your sensuality, your brains, your empathy.

There is a little divinity in all of us.

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The Ex Factor.

One of the best things I have done was to be friends with my ex husband.

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We aren’t the kind of friends who sit down for a meal but who knows, it’s not even been three years since we separated. We are the kind of friends who call the other a couple of times a week for ten or twenty minute conversations to catch up on news about the kids and relay what the other is doing in their life. We troubleshoot difficult behaviour between the kids together. We discuss how best to integrate our respective partners into our children’s lives.

This is not luck. We didn’t fall out of a relationship and just magically become pleasant to each other. Many times in the beginning one of us hurled mean words at the other down the phone, words designed to cut and sting. Frequently one of us was angry or upset. It is difficult work to untangle your lives when you have been a team for 13 years. We were not lucky to get along. We worked at it.

It was a case of being careful to keep your emotions in check around your children. It was important to remind them that the other parent loved them and that we were both there for them. It meant one of us frequently going out of our way to make the four hundred kilometre round trip so that the kids didn’t miss a visit when one of us couldn’t do it.

It was over a year before we could discuss things without just sticking to basics. It was a slow progression from painful conversation to pleasant.

When you separate and you have children it can be difficult to maintain the equilibrium. Holidays are hard. Birthdays are hard. It’s hard to know another woman is taking your daughter to buy bras or watch your kid open Christmas presents. And you have to just swallow that down because at the end of the day, I would much rather my kids have a step mother who loves them and cares for them than a step mother who resents them. It’s bittersweet.

And slowly, over time, you truly do wish them well. I am thrilled he is in love with someone and she truly seems to love him back. I use to say he wasn’t an easy man to love. I have come to realise that maybe that was because I was the wrong person to love him. I am thrilled she hugs my children when she sees them and that they run into her arms. Why would I wish my children less love and more conflict? This is what is best for them.

For my children – being friends with their father is one of the things I know I have done completely right.

Beautiful.

When I was about 10 we had a school camp. I can’t remember where we went but it was out bush somewhere and there were cabins and a tennis court and some really awesome swimming pools that no one supervised us using because it was 1991 and life was different back then. If one of us had of drowned it probably would have been our fault and the whole class would have gotten detention or something. And the drowned kid probably would have been threatened with the cane. Anyway, while we were there we had a formal dinner and everyone was supposed to bring a nice dress or, for the guys, a nice pair of pants and button up long sleeved shirt.

THIS WAS A BIG DEAL.

Seriously it was a huge deal. Because not only was it a formal dinner but a guy had to ask you and you had to pair with them and it was expected that he pull out your chair, fetch your plate and dance with you at some point. You wouldn’t get away with it these days. Can you imagine? You would probably get sued because girls are capable of getting their own plates. But again, 1991.

So anyway, my mother is a wonderful seamstress. Now days if you make your own clothes they have a kitch term called ‘handmaiden’ which is a play on ‘handmade’ and ‘maiden’ which is probably also not very PC but back in 1991 if you sewed your own clothes you were just a seamstress. Mum took to the challenge of a dress for a formal dinner with an enthusiasm that shocked me. She found a pattern for a gown, and I mean it was a serious gown with wide off the shoulder bands, a sweetheart neckline, a full skirt that was tea dress length and a fabric rose pinned between my boobs if I had of had any, but I didn’t because – once again, it was 1991. She made it from yards and yards of white puffy sheer fabric with little black felt dots the size of a match head and I basically looked like Cinderella.

It was over the top. The other girls were sporting the very best Myer had to offer or whatever but no one had a Cinderella dress because we were 10. To add to the Cinderella effect I am not sure anyone had ever even noticed I existed much before unless it was in the capacity of best friend to my best friend who was this adorable little elfin thing and a twin to boot so everyone loved her. I was the 1991 version of that ugly friend that the cute chick has. (Don’t worry, when puberty hit I became completely rocking but back then still totally invisible). I don’t know if I had ever worn a dress in front of these people before. I did own the world’s ugliest tracksuit I wore without a care because it was warm and I didn’t give a shit about fashion. I wore sneakers with basically everything I owned. I wore socks with flats. I shouldn’t have been allowed to dress myself but it was 1991 and parents didn’t care if you looked weird so long as you came home before the streetlights.

Okay, so here we are. It is early evening at camp and I’ve showered and washed my hair and donned my Cinderella dress and flats (with no socks) and emerged and basically all the girls went, “Ahhhhh” and the teacher asked if she could braid my hair which was pretty much the most fancy my hair had ever been in it’s life.

We got to the hall for dinner and people kept saying, “You look really pretty.” Or “You look beautiful.” And this had never happened to me before in my life so I was mortified by the attention and kept saying, “No, I don’t.” Which was 10 year old speak for, “Shut up and stop talking to me.” After about the tenth time this happened a female teacher pulled me aside and said, “Hey, if people are telling you you look nice or that you’re beautiful it’s because they think you are. No one is forcing them to say that to you. When you say you’re not that means you’re saying that their opinion doesn’t matter. They are wanting to tell you this because they believe it, so just say thank you.” And I felt bad because truthfully me disagreeing with them did just seem to make the conversation awkward. So the next time someone said, “You look lovely”, I replied with, “Thank you. So do you.” And they beamed at me and went away.

And I feel like maybe no one has ever pulled aside many of my friends and ever told them that. One of them will put up a profile picture or something and I might say, “You look amazing.” And more often then not they will say, “Oh, no. I look dreadful, look at the bags under my eyes, I look so tired.” Or something similar and I think, “Dude. Ain’t none of us perfect here but I said that because that is my truth. I don’t willy nilly hand out compliments for fun. I don’t tell you it because I want you to say, “No, you are” and I am not saying it because I’m just being nice. If I say that you are beautiful, it’s because to me, you are. Just say thank you and know that whatever you’re seeing, this is my honesty.”

I grew up watching women deflect compliments as though they were waving away flies.
“You’re beautiful.”
“I’m not.”
“I’ve had this outfit for years.”
“I need to lose some weight.”
“I’m not.”
“I’m not.”
I didn’t know how to accept a compliment with grace and just allow it to be their truth. That right at that moment I was beautiful to that person.

So practice it. Thank you. Just two words. Ready?

You’re beautiful….

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The Exhibitionist.

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When I first picked up my camera and read the manual until it was dog-eared seven years ago I began to shoot my kids, flowers, the cats. But I quickly turned to self portraiture. In all honesty if I could have painted I probably would have painted self portraits, but being challenged in that department I choose the camera as my weapon of choice. Self portraiture fulfils a gap in me. I have always written and I am painfully honest. Sometimes, the camera allows me to tell a story without finding the words. If I am frustrated, sad, fierce or sensual I can tell that story by composing the image in my head and then when I execute it there is a magic no science can take away. This camera is an extension of myself, the dance we do together is well practised.

We are constantly told about self love. About acceptance of who we are. “Be yourself.” “You can only truly love another when you have learned to love yourself.” “Love the body you are in.” But when that is practiced in the form of self portraiture it is often viewed as a vanity.

Photos showing flesh are particularly frowned upon. Words then get thrown around like, “slut” “whore” “shameless” “disgusting”. The body doesn’t know words. The body simply is. These are words that you feel when looking at the body. These words are not me or my body. They’re your feelings and opinions. If I had describe my body I would say, “capable” – because it works. “delicate” – because I know it is small and fine. “a fighter” – because I birthed like a frigging goddess. “amazing” – because I grew and nourished six incredible human beings from it. “beautiful” – because it is the only vessel I have in this world. “sensual” – because it is how I express physical love. “imperfect” – and I do not mean that as a fault. I would probably also throw the word “fertile” in there for obvious reasons. And “mine” lastly – because it belongs to no one but me.

If my body offends you, I would suggest you don’t look. If flesh offends you then I would suggest you explore your reasons for this. If you choose to attempt to quantify my worth by only focusing on my flesh then you are greatly underestimating my worth. I am far more than the mere sum of my parts. I am a mother, a writer, a lover, a woman and I won’t be held down by words or threats. I am freedom and flight. And I am not ashamed.