Poor little lost girl: Parenting a teen

There are times when the mountains in life seem insurmountable, don’t they? Problems seem to pile up and up and it just seems that you will never get to the top of the pile and down the other side. I am watching my teenage daughter go though this at the moment. Feeling helpless as a parent is probably the absolutely worst feeling. Watching your child suffer and not be able to fix anything for them.

My Youngest Daughter is 13 and a half. An awful age. You’re not a child any longer and far from an adult. You are desperate to do what you see older teens doing but your damn parent won’t let you. You are beyond desperate to just get out and “live your life” and beyond frustrated that you cannot. Coupled to that is early childhood trauma for my baby. She is my permanent care child, having been removed from a drug-addicted mother at three months and alcoholic grandmother at 5 months.

A baby of a drug-addicted pregnancy she was born with rage she struggles to control. Anger is her main fuel and she can easily flash to rage. This spirals in endless circling between extreme highs and lows, self-hatred and loathing, cutting and abusive behaviour. She was passed from carer to carer until she came to me when she was three and a half.

For the last ten years I have cheered her on and despaired at her destructiveness. Once when I made her clean her room when she was seven, she was so enraged that she stole all my treasured rings from my jewellery box and threw them into the dog yard, then denied knowing what happened to them. I was so heartbroken that someone we knew had come into our house and taken my rings that I sobbed. She watched and said nothing. I finally twigged that it was likely to be her. I insisted and she went and ‘found’ a ring. I walked down to her room and by chance noticed a flash of gold in the mud and straw out her bedroom window. I recovered them all. We went to the police station for the Sergeant to speak with her about the seriousness of it all. She never admitted taking them.

This little baby was never cherished until she came to me. She never had anyone to croon her preciousness to her until I came along. We played the Baby Game, where she got to be the baby, for many months during her fourth year. She still opens her big brown eyes wide when we talk about it. It helped but mostly too late. Those bonds and attachments have to form before the age of three for children to be able to function fully and make future attachments. She has Disorganised Attachment Disorder, which can look like Oppositional Defiance Disorder, a little like Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADHD and ADD. It’s none of those. It’s just that no-one loved this baby as she should have been loved, at the right time to wire her brain successfully. Consequently she has extreme difficulty in managing her friendships, has rages and impulse control issues and faced with all of that it is no wonder she had difficulty learning.

What to do? There are times I am truly stumped. There was the day she did not go to school because an older girl threatened to “bash” her and she was too scared. I had people looking for her everywhere. Thank goodness we live in a small town and she is recognisable and people care. She was home when I finally got home. I couldn’t hug her hard enough, I had been that worried. She’s going to school tomorrow though so I guess she is not scared anymore. I really don’t know what happened.

Teen years are cruel enough, when every emotion is so intense. Add trauma and disconnection to that, in addition to being the only visibly Aboriginal child at her school, you start to get the picture of how tough things can be. We had to get an intervention order on her birth mother last year as she lost the plot and got really scary. Poor baby. How is a girl, still really a child, to assimilate all of that? The answer is, she cannot.

One of her teachers wrote to me, to say she had to be removed from class as she defied him. He shamed her, in front of the whole class. For a girl like her, she had no alternative but to defy him. My response to him was to say that his reaction to her was not in her best interest. Oh, I understand that teachers are over-worked, I understand that the school is doing it’s best with the resources and knowledge they have. I understand all that. They don’t understand my child. She is intrinsically Aboriginal. She feels keenly being singled out and shamed in front of a class. Any child would. My child, who appears to be the only obviously Aboriginal child at the school, feels it intensely. I know shaming her was not his intention and it is what happened. She left. Then he wrote to me and told on her. This is just one of many times this has happened.

What to do then, what to do? We hang on. There are times that I feel that I am hanging on by my fingernails. I am not someone who likes to argue or do battle. She is. She feels that all the world is against her and tries to pick fights constantly. She is so determined to be right all the time that she hears people making her wrong, whether they are or not.

The worst thing? I can’t fix it for her. I can only remind her that she is likeable, she is loveable. She can choose to like herself and practise it. That is what makes the difference. Not what you look like, not what you have, not how long your hair is or how perfect your make up. Not who you are friends with, or who you are not friends with. None of that makes any difference. Choosing to like yourself and practising that, is what makes the difference. If we like ourselves and we practise treating ourselves better, we stand half a chance of being happy.

She is my fourth teen. The most challenging. It’s like being on a scary ride and wanting to get off and knowing that if I jump, the pain will be worse.

The hardest thing in the world is seeing your child unhappy and knowing that they make themselves that way and not being able to fix it. The hardest thing in the world is to see your child hurting and in pain. The only thing to do is to hang on. Keep loving her. Keep seeing her adorableness in the face of her fury. Keep her as safe as I possibly can. Stand firm and be her rock. This is all I can do.

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.

Wellbeing: A Musing

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Today I travelled with my colleagues on Puffing Billy then coffee and lunch and more coffee. Along the way we hung out the train, waived at every passer by and laughed at ourselves. The youngest of us is 30.

It was a wellbeing day for our office. Working in welfare and community development can be taxing. I am always intensely grateful that I get to work in an area that I find interesting and get paid for it. I have been struggling of late, as Christmas looms, to think of good things, so this wellbeing day has been timely.

How often do we get to go out with our colleagues to be social and human, without alcohol or workshops, or both? I got to see a different side to everyone. Some much more silly than I have ever seen. Others far more taciturn than I knew they could be. A good bit of fun teasing and for a moment just being people, not co-workers. Much appreciated.

It did make me think though of all those people who never develop such camaraderie or work in places that foster its development. It made me think about the many people who don’t like the work they do or can see no value in it. It made me think about the people who work so hard and see so little for their efforts. How lucky are we that we get to work, see results, be able to write and fight for them? Everything that we work so diligently for is what our current government is working diligently to erode.

Then again we have the education and the articulation to express and fight back. We are not standing in front of tanks or laying down across roads to make our points. Still it is wonderful to live in a country where I can find work that is meaningful and co-workers who share my dreams for our communities. I will count my blessings and for this I am grateful.

That is all.

This is my space! or Kathleen’s Grandmother’s Magic Shawl.

This is my space! or Kathleen's Grandmother's Magic Shawl.

I fondly imagine that there will come a time when I am not at anyone’s beck and call. When I can suit myself. I turned 50 this year and I am suitably impressed with myself. I am now considering what I might be doing in (da-dah!) 15 years and whether this will involve leisure.

It’s quite difficult to imagine a time when I will not be working, have care of children, be looking after animals or an house. If I wasn’t doing all that, what would I be doing? Hmm, gardening, craft, more gardening, more craft, visiting friends, wandering about. I have absolutely no idea and with the state of my super (lack) I will not be retiring any time soon.

Maybe I’ll just write stories.

These thoughts remind me of one of my favourite stories that I created to hold my grandmother’s words. This then is Kathleen’s Tale.

Let me tell you a story

Every Friday afternoon after school, seven year old Kathleen would come screaming from the playground, swing around the gate, pound up the pathway, fling open the garden gate, thud onto the verandah and bang, on the fly wire door of her grandmother’s house.

Then she waited, until she heard the soft shuff-shuffle of her grandmother’s footsteps. Kathleen opened the fly wire door just as her grandmother opened the other.
“It’s you, it’s you, I’ve been waiting for you!” and Kathleen would be enfolded into warm and wobbly arms and pulled inside her grandmother’s house.

Kathleen’s grandmother’s house was warm and smelled of homey things like lavender and cooking. Entwined they would match steps down the hallway to the sitting room where lived Kathleen’s grandmother’s magic shawl. Kathleen knew the shawl was magic because in her grandmother’s magic shawl, Kathleen could be anyone at all.

When Kathleen was small that shawl had been fairy wings to flitter about, then a cape for a good witch brewing potions, a veil for a visitor from far off lands, a coat for a wizard concocting wicked plans and a simply gorgeous gown. As she got bigger her favourite was to be Red Riding Hood, but not the wussy Red who had to be saved, she was the Red who saved herself!

You know the part in the story where Red says, “Oh Grandma, what big teeth you have!” and the wolf growls, “All the better to eat you with!”? Red screams and runs out of the bedroom, down the hallway, into the kitchen, through the bathroom, back into the bedroom. She charges out of the room and down the hallway, looks over her shoulder and there’s the wolf right behind her! Arrgh! She dashes into the kitchen, sees a great big frying pan on the wall, grabs it down, holds it out and the wolf runs straight into it. Red saves the day and is Grandma’s hero. That version of Red Riding Hood.

So Kathleen knew that in her grandmother’s magic shawl, she could be anyone at all.

One Friday afternoon after school, Kathleen came screaming from the playground only to come to a screeching halt. For there, sitting in their car, with all their things packed in it, was Kathleen’s mother. Kathleen’s mother got out of the car and packed Kathleen into it.

“where are we going mum? is it a surprise mum? are we going to grandma’s mum? we’re not going to grandma’s, no. are we going to daddy’s work mum? it’s that way to daddy’s work mum! we’re not going there. where are we going mum? is it far mum? this is a very long way mum. mummy i’m hungry. mummy i need to go to the toilet. mummy … mummy i’m tired.”

In the morning a very tired and grumpy Kathleen was unpacked from the car, fed and put to bed in her aunty’s house. When she awoke her mother explained that they would be staying with her aunty for a little while. It was a very long little while. Then Kathleen got a new school uniform and went to her cousins’ school. After another long little while, Kathleen and her mother got their own place.

Kathleen grew, got older, finished school and got a job (this was in the days when you could finish school and get a job).

One Friday afternoon after work, Kathleen came home to find her mother sitting in her car with all her things packed in it. She wanted to pack Kathleen in the car but this time Kathleen was too big to pack easily. Kathleen stood in the drive and waved to her mother’s car until she could see it no longer. Then Kathleen turned and went inside her own house.

Kathleen’s house was cold and smelled of nothing.

Then Kathleen packed her own things into her own car and drove out of her driveway, down her street onto the highway. She drove through the town. She drove all night. In the morning she drove into a very familiar town and soon passed a very familiar primary school and pulled up in front of a very familiar house.

Kathleen got out of her car and closed the door. She stepped onto the footpath and walked to the garden gate. She creaked open the garden gate and trod up the pathway. Kathleen stepped onto the verandah and knocked on the fly wire door of her grandmother’s house. Then she waited until she heard the soft shuff-shuffle of her grandmother’s footsteps.

Kathleen opened her grandmother’s fly wire door just as her grandmother opened the other.

“Oh! It’s you, it’s you! I’ve been wondering and worrying about you!” and Kathleen was enfolded into warm and wobbly arms and pulled inside her grandmother’s house. Kathleen’s grandmother’s house was warm and smelled of homey things like lavender and cooking. Entwined they matched shuffles down the hallway to the sitting room, where still lived her grandmother’s magic shawl.

“I’ve been waiting for you.”

And Kathleen knew that she could be anyone, anyone at all.

and that is the end of the story.

(C) CLHarper 2000