Straight-talk parenting

There’s benefit to being a straight talker. People know you mean what you say and say what you mean. Even Youngest Daughter, whose behaviour has been off the charts for nearly three years.

Saturday she went to stay with a friend. I spoke to the mother to make sure it was okay. Then there was some story about the power bill not being paid and no longer able to stay there. Then, gosh, all the phones in the town were flat so she couldn’t call me to come and pick them up, so they slept on the street. Oh yes, you read that right. I was also supposed to believe that story.

I was so glad to have them safe at home, that I focussed on that. Now that some semblance of sanity has returned to YD, I have let her know how nonsensical her story was. She at least had the grace to appear embarrassed and guilty. Good grief. Sleeping on the street! Splutter!

Do you know, if you met me, you would not expect me to have a ‘wayward’ daughter. As a heroin baby, who went into foster care at 5 months for ‘failure to thrive’, then to carer after carer, until coming to me at 3 1/2, she was so angry, so mad at the world, and so full of grief that it was bare survival for both of us for the first nine months. She had thought the previous carers were her family and was absolutely broken that they had given her away. She was convinced for a long time that I must have seen a photo of her and demanded to have her. Her birth mother made it worse, so much worse.

Poor sad baby. What she does know, except when she is crazy and convinced I am exaggerating (her own favourite pass time), is that I am truthful and while she might wish that I would be less honest at times, she knows that she can trust what I say. That’s something isn’t it?

Of course, quite often this means that she tells me more than I want to know. I often feel like putting fingers in my ears and singing lalala loudly. At least she tells me. Right?

So I told her straight up that she was not going to be able to complete Year 8. Year 8, dear God. I gave her the options the meeting at school came up with and she actually chose the one best for her. Oh my goodness, thank you God for great and small mercies. We still have to apply for all the programs and cross our fingers and our toes (our eyes and our noses) that she gets in. She is happy to try to get her life back on track and get some more education (she’s at grade 5 level).

Through all the traumas and events that have happened in my life, YD is the cause of so much angst and concern, so much pain, so many tears, so much upset. I know that how she is a reflection of how she feels about herself. Whenever she is in trouble or upset, she runs straight to me. That’s got to count for something, doesn’t it?

It is so sad that she feels so bad about herself. I understand how all that has come about, all the abandonment, manipulations and abuse that has occurred to trigger that in her. What I don’t have is any way to fix it.

There is no fixing. I have to have faith. Faith in her resilience. Faith in how much I love her. Faith in her own light within.

I wish for her only happiness. To live a life she loves and is proud of.

Keep the faith.

Doggone Woman: An Introspective

There are events that happened in my life that I do not discuss. I have always been annoyed that things that happened long ago have current impact. My therapist (ooh, I feel so American. I’m not!) says those were foundation events and have currency throughout our lives, interweaving experiences, ricocheting, echoing patterns. Dammit.

In the interest of shedding some of this nonsense, I will endeavour to put down here a synopsis of what has occurred. Hmm, know that I plan for it to be brief. I’ll do my best. We create stories about events that occurred and only see them through one perspective. I do not mean that they need another perspective. Oh no. I mean events need to be seen as occurrences that occurred. Then we added meaning and story. So many of the stories we tell, over and over again, hurt us. Well, I’m a little sick of it, can you tell? Here goes.

Adopted at 2 months, by the time I was 3 my mother had found pedophiles for everyone and I was sexually abused from 3 until 7. At that age, I decided that no-one was going to look out for me so I had better do it for myself and refused to go to the house where the old man that hurt me lived.

My father decided, that at the ripe old age of five, I deserved whipping. I cannot to this day imagine what a five year old could possibly do to deserve being whipped. My mother had hard finger nails that could pinch and twist and bruise. She could also hit hard enough to leave a welt of her hand. I cannot imagine how hard you have to hit a small leg for that to happen.

Needless to say there was other abuse and I grew unable to understand motivation, social mores or keep myself safe. This led to awkward and horrifying scenarios as a teen. By the time I was 15 I wanted to be dead. Fortunately I did not have any idea how to effect that, so I went on. Before I left home, I was date raped. It was the only time I was ever pregnant. I had no idea what to do. I lost the baby and being singularly clueless, told no-one and chose this time to venture out into the world.

Life got hairier. It was difficult to manage and read cues. My mother suffered from extreme social phobia plus the trauma of my early years, navigating the world was an almost impossible task. After a second rape (remember I had no idea how to keep myself safe), I stopped sleeping and fell into a pit of terror. The “abyss” as I came to know it, had been familiar to me since I was six but this time took me two years to climb out.

Post traumatic stress disorder is a mean mean beast. I met my birth families at the time I was in the midst of the worst of the symptoms. (Shaking my head here just thinking about it.) It took many years to learn to manage. Today I suffer from severe anxiety and chronic (incident triggered) severe depression. I recognise the symptoms though and know how to deal with things very well.

I got married at 27, and spent the next 13 years as the ‘slow boiling frog’ as my relationship became increasingly abusive. It took me seven years to extricate myself from when I first realised it was not good for me. By the time I did, I could not stand the person I had become.

While this was going on, endometriosis took over my life and I was suffering two full cycles every month. Pain, I divided into crawl on the floor, stagger about and keep going no matter what. When I finally had a radical hysterectomy, I was so ill I could no longer understand conversation or function normally. A friend would come and speak with me and saved my sanity, helping me to recognise words and interact again. My father died. After the surgery, the wound got infected and tore open. It was akin to being raped again. I ended up back in hospital and the wound took 3 months to close. (see the tangled threads?)

That was over 10 years ago. Still not far enough away. Finally I got my life in order, sold my house, moved myself and the children, and began to heal.

I like me. I love me. I am proud that I have never succumbed to making excuses or allow my life to devolve into despondency (no matter how bad I feel at times). I am suitably impressed with myself. I am also happy living alone (well, youngest daughter is still here but you know what I mean).

Until my therapist (snigger!) gently suggested that I had felt trapped in every major relationship and struggled to escape. Dammit. She’s right, that is exactly how I felt. Will I never be shed of this? I can, I can, I know I can. I am determined. I am stubborn and obstinately determined to have my life be exactly the way I want it. My birth mother once referred to my “doggedness” as a saving blessing. When I finished laughing I asked her where she thought I got it from?

In a life full of challenge, I am immensely grateful for my birth mother and the friends who have waited and stood with me. I am grateful for the children I had the privilege of raising. I am grateful for my animals, home, town and many many things. Mostly I am grateful to be the stubborn, determined, obstinate and doggone woman that I am.

Christmas Survival: How to enjoy your Christmas when it’s unrecognisable.

Each year our Christmas has been a little different. I don’t have a lot of family close and don’t cope particularly well with the large Christmas gatherings that some families have. My little family has consisted over the years of the children I have fostered and their birth parents and whatever friends or family want to join in. I invite people a lot.

Not everyone copes well with Christmas as we know. For me it has to do with my expectations of Christmas as a family day. My adoptive parents did their best to make it wonderful, with Santa Sacks on the end of the bed (I never questioned why Santa wrapped everything in newspaper or even noticed that he had our local paper) for unwrapping at an ungodly hour, re-wrapping and unwrapping again on the Parents’ bed at a timely hour. This was probably the very best part of Christmas, when they were barely awake and before the squabbling started.

Then there would be breakfast, rushing off to Church where we were always late and consequently had to sit in the front row. This gave me an uninterrupted view of the congregation which was educational in itself. Listening to the interminable sermon before talking with all the kids about what was in the sack. I don’t remember anyone not having a sack or admitting it if they did not. Returning home for Christmas lunch and tree gifts was fraught. The order of handing out always resulted in a battle. I don’t remember it every going smoothly. As a child I had little understanding of the stress my mother was under to get everything ready. I’d much rather disappear and read a book.

My parents also asked lots of people for Christmas. At times it was confusing. I have a range of images of different people in my memory, most of whom were acquaintances, not family. It made for a merry and loud Christmas lunch.
Over the years Christmas has evolved. Children meant the enjoyment of Santa sacks and watching their amazement. In my home, it was a family event to watch the unwrapping and celebrate each surprise uncovered. Youngest Daughter describes it as exciting and awesome, full of joy, food, full tummies, happiness, cheerful, that’s what it was like. First Santa sacks would be opened, then we would have breakfast which the kids made, then when everyone got here we did the presents.

“Everyone” refers to their birth parents who were always included in our celebratory days. One year, when Kevin Rudd gave the bonus $900, there was an ridiculous landslide of gifts. It was overwhelming. The best thing about that day was that both birth mothers were well and happy and really contributed to the day. It was the best we had. Sadly, once has since died from her addictions and the other has succumbed to extremely poor mental health. My ex foster son has left home and entered a twilight zone of the “world done me wrong” song and has cut himself off. My Eldest Daughter is busy with her husband’s families on Christmas day so I have them and my grandson on Boxing Day. That works out well.

Funniest memory for me was my ex foster son finding moustaches in his Santa sack and delightedly trying them all on. I figured it would save me from drawing them daily. Another is Youngest Daughter finding a bright yellow hand bag from Nan Nan (my adoptive mother) and hugging it to her in ecstatic delight, and Eldest Daughter’s shy pleasure at still getting a Santa stocking when she had thought she was too old for it. Most of my glad memories are about their pleasure and playing.

This year my Mum (birth mother) joined us and my brother (adopted) came later. We were the smallest group I have ever had. Because of the changes, Youngest Daughter did not want to put up the Christmas tree. The small fibre optic tree was still pretty. I found it a peaceful day, full of mixed emotions and sad at times but peaceful.

With that, I am content.

Meeting my birth mother: an Introspective

I was 24 when I made contact with my birth mother. The adoption laws had been changed, making it easier to be connected. We wrote for a while, then sent cassette tapes. Yes, this some time ago. Eighteen months later I travelled across Australia to meet her.

I took the bus from Perth. I was 25 when I hopped on a bus to travel across the Nullabor then fly across Bass Strait. Everyone on the bus knew of my journey although I don’t actually remember telling anyone. I was too scared to leave the airport in case I missed my flight so spend 8 hours in the terminal. I showered, had my hair done, ate and read. I wasn’t a worldly person. I was an anxious one.

When I exited the plane, everyone wished me well, again. I did’t remember telling anyone. I walked into the airport and looked about. You know how in stories there is an instant knowing, of eyes meeting across a room? Nope, we walked right passed each other. She was much smaller than I anticipated. I had much bigger hair that she thought possible (it was the ‘80s). But we did meet. Connected? That took time.

There are no words to describe the broken relationship between a mother and a child. In many respects I was still a child then. We have no concepts nor language to re-establish that relationship. I was naive and inexperienced in worldly complications. It was quite a complicated situation. I returned with my mother to her house to meet my siblings.

Siblings. Goodness. If there are no words or concepts for a meeting between lost parent and child then there are even less for siblings who did not grow up together. There were also grandparents and aunts, uncles and cousins. I met them all together over one weekend. All of them. They wanted to know where my husband and children were. After all I was 25 and they had all had children given up for adoption, married the girls they got pregnant or married and had “legitimate” children by 25. Sadly, I had none. No husband, no children, anxious, scared and confused, I wasn’t much of a prize.

I was able to fly back after my visit and had one more week of leave before returning to work. I was shell shocked. I felt like I had been blown apart and the pieces of me no longer fit together comfortably. The raw edges of my psyche bumped against everything and bled. I sobbed for the week, trying desperately to sort myself out.

It took another three years for me to understand that I listened to my mother with ears of rejection. Only our determination to be a part of each other’s lives kept us bumping along a sometimes very rocky path. Misunderstandings were us. My relationships with her children were fumbling. I eventually gave up. We get along very well when we meet. When I altered the way in which I listened to my mother, and she to me, things began to change.

We have known each other now for 27 years. We are very alike in temperament and I love her very much. My mother is someone to admire. Once she referred to my doggedness, my determination. I roared laughing and asked her where she thought I got it from?

Then there was the time I met my biological father….but that’s the end of this story.

(c) CLHHarper June 2014

Sorrows and Sparkles

A lot of what I have felt in my life has been sorrow. Layer upon layer upon layer of sorrows.


I gently remove the layers, sorrow.


Newborn immediately removed from my teenaged mother, fifty years ago, sorrow.

Taken away again after her tearful begging to just see and hold me for a moment, sorrow.

Waiting endlessly for someone to pick me up in the babies home, sorrow. (I have a memory of this, no words, images and feelings.)

Finally adopted after two long months and taken away from the home, sorrow.

Listening to my parents argue, sorrow.

Watching the bad old man hurt my three year old self from the top corner of the ceiling, over and over again, sorrow.

Huddling against a wall at five, waiting for my father’s strap to fall, sorrow.

Listening to my father encourage me to hit my brother, sorrow.

My parents telling me my cat had killed her kittens, sorrow.

Mum slapping hard enough to leave a welt then blaming me for hurting her hand, sorrow.

Hiding in the garden until they had stopped calling, too afraid to venture out, sorrow.

Knowing I would never be beautiful or pretty or talented, sorrow.

Humiliated by my parents in my joy of womanhood, sorrow.

Haunted by my mother’s social phobia and believing her, sorrow.

Unable to understand social mores, sorrow.

Anxiety induced stomach ulcer by aged fifteen, sorrow.

Tortured with unusual alternative medicines to ‘fix’ me, sorrow.

Finally learning at seventeen that my father was not allowed to do that and threatening him, sorrow.

Angry with everyone and everything, sorrow.

Not being able to believe anyone liked me, sorrow.

Afraid the monster within would come out and be seen, sorrow.

Absolutely and utterly lonely, so alone my heart hurt, sorrow.

Raped at twenty-one and blaming myself, sorrow.

Bloody baby bits flushed down toilet with tearing pain, sorrow.

Not being able to tell a soul, sorrow.

Unable to keep myself safe, sorrow.

Raped again at twenty-three, I broke, sorrow.

Two years crawling out of a deep dark scary place, sorrow.

Jumping at every word spoken to me, sorrow.

Dreams that kept me afraid to sleep, sorrow.

Learning to love small self within, such sorrow.

Finally falling in love but no children for me, sorrow.

Terrible pain every month endlessly, sorrow.

Partner who seemed always angry with me, sorrow.

Father sick and dying in aged Alzheimer agony, sorrow.

Mother beside herself, bitter and nasty, sorrow.

Radical hysterectomy at age forty, sorrow, deep deep sorrow.

Wound infected and splitting open, horror and sorrow.

Relationship in tatters and finally broken, sorrow.

Facing life alone, sorrow.


Through it all I have determined to find the ray of light through the clouds, the raindrop sparkles in the trees, the glory of autumn colour and the smell of the bush. Through it all I searched for small joys to tuck into my heart’s treasure trove and remember when life goes grey.


I hold my treasures to the light, sparkle.


Tiny girl, giggling, riding on brother’s back, sparkle.

Tiny girl all dressed up in twirly frock, sparkle.

Little girl with mum and sister making daisy chains, sparkle.

Lost in wonder inside a magical story, sparkle.

Making fairy firewood and fairy houses at the bottom of the garden, sparkle.

Imaging stories in a land of love, sparkle.

The wonder of new born puppies, sparkle.

My dolls, so many I hardly fit in my bed, sparkle.

Flying in my dreams, sparkle.

Loving kindergarten, sparkle.

Falling in love with my first Primary School teacher, sparkle.

My very first cat, soft and warm, sparkle.

Her gorgeous kittens, sparkle.

Admiring the girl next door’s beautiful four poster bed, sparkle.

Going to the library every week, sparkle.

Looking at wonder at a bald head going for an hair cut, sparkle.

Watching the cows being milked and the cats waiting their squirt, sparkle.

Being praised for my stories, sparkle.

Going on the boat to Tasmania, sparkle.

Learning singing and performing, sparkle.

Finally understanding the time, sparkle.

Riding my bicycle for miles with my best friend, sparkle.

Adventures up and down the hills, in and out of the bush, sparkle.

Knowing I was safe at school, sparkle.

Loving to learn, sparkle.

Plenty of friends, sparkle.

Learning to handle walking into a new school, sparkle.

Understanding I had to fake confidence until I felt confidence, sparkle.

Moving out of home, sparkle.

Going to University, sparkle.

Falling in love for the first time, sparkle.

Discovering sex, sparkle.

Enjoying my studies, sparkle.

Walking everywhere with my dog Z, and her arriving first, sparkle.

Taking my dog everywhere, sparkle.

Meeting someone I could love, sparkle.

Finally having someone to care for, sparkle.

Making a commitment to one person, sparkle.

Celebrating our commitment with ceremony, sparkle.

Discovering storytelling and working full time, sparkle.

Determined to have children in my life, sparkle.

Accredited as a foster carer, sparkle.

Falling in love with my children, all of them, sparkle.

Finding out that I am an awesome parent, sparkle.

Creating a job that I love and having it be successful, sparkle.

Taking up employment and making it my own, sparkle.

Feeling appreciated and loved, sparkle.

Discovering I can make it on my own, sparkle.

Moving into a new job where I am acknowledged, sparkle.

Standing strong at fifty, sparkle.


And now I have un-layered the sorrows, unravelled the thread that loops them together, so all my treasures, my sparkles, can shine through. Walk in Light.


(c) C Harper 19/12/2013