What spare room?

I have been keeping a spare room. Daughters have slept in it, mother and friends. It’s been good. I’ve kept the animals out of it because not everyone can sleep with a stack of furry bodies. But no longer. Youngest daughter has moved back in and it is now her room. Where will I sort my towels?

There’s been me and three dogs and three cats for the last six months. While what precipitated this alone time was heart-breaking, I have been happy living by myself with my Fluffy Floozies (ergo, ‘fluffy floozies’ collective description for said furry peeps). Now I have to share again.

Oh, I want to, happy to do it, more than happy. It’s just confronting. It’s been 30 years since I lived alone and as a young woman, didn’t do so well. As myself now, did absolutely fine, better than fine. Who knew? It’s been a revelation that I can live happily by myself. I hope it’s equally a revelation that  can live with my youngster again.

So, no spare room for awhile. Day trips are us for the rest of the family. Sharing a bathroom again. Ugh. Oh well, I’m thrilled to have her here, we will see what the future brings.

Who knew? An Introspective

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This is Jeremy Giraffe. I painted him after drawing him over and over. I didn’t know I could draw or paint, until this year.

It is interesting the things we convince ourselves of. I did art at leaving level for high school but had to ditch it before my Year 12 exams (that’s another story). I was firmly convinced that I did not have any style or ability.

This year, I began working therapeutically on my ‘ishews’ and started collaging, drawing and painting as part of the process. I am trained as an holistic counsellor, using art and craft as means to process work (I also use stories) so it was a logical follow on for me. I also discovered a Facebook page called 52 Week Illustration Challenge where artists of differing abilities contributed their take on the word of the week. I joined as admirer. When ‘giraffe’ rolled around, I thought to myself, “Self”, I said, “I’d like to draw a giraffe.” So I gave it a go. I looked at lots of images and no, my painting could never be described as photo-realistic but I really like him.

Emboldened I began drawing other animals. I haven’t got much past their necks yet and did you know that ducks can look very sad if you give them a big beak? I like quackers. I like animals. My drawings and paintings are cartoonish and not at all complicated when compared to my zen tangled doodles (that sounds rude, doesn’t it?) but I enjoy the simplicity. I now have ducks, emus, wombats, echidnas and trees. Yes, I really like trees too. None of them are spectacular but all of them have personality and feeling and isn’t that what art is about after all?

Jeremy has a rhyme, so do the others although some are being a little coy about revealing theirs. That is the storyteller in me, can’t be helped. I’ll pop them into a book for my grandson. I’ve already done him one book, something about fart-bubbles, he likes it, and now he’ll have another. What else would I do with them?

I am currently painting and drawing a peacock. His name is Pomjoy Pobcock, who knows why. I’ve learnt about stretching paper when it’s painted so have prepared the background and having perfected how I want the feathers to look am ready to paint and draw. I need more art supplies. More! More! I have a studio. It’s not full yet. I spend hours in there with little to show but smears of paint and a happy disposition. Think that’s all worth it then. Haven’t cleaned the floors for a few days but they’re not going anywhere.

Next year I am taking on the 52 Week Illustration Challenge and seeing what I can do. Might have to paddle fast to keep up, some of the artists are extraordinary and some ordinary. I think I’ll fit right in.

I wonder now about my decision so long ago that I was not an artist. I do not aspire to an exhibition or have any delusions about my abilities but I am having fun and I am able to share a feeling with my work. It has made me wonder about what other things I decided I could not do that might be worth trying again.

In the meantime, enjoy Jeremy, watch out for Pomjoy Pobcock and when next you come looking for me, check my studio first.

Liking, Loving and Looking After Yourself – A Musing

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The weeks go by and the weeks go by. You know the year is flying by when your youngest says, that went quickly. Nothing makes time seem more fleeting than your youngest child getting older.

We measure our lives by achievements in the physical and only when we have had a physical loss do we become aware of other forms of achievements. I feel one of my greatest achievements has been learning to like, love and look after myself. Not that long ago I asked my son how would he know when he had high self esteem. His answer? Well, I’ll have a car and a bike and a house and a boat… (We live in the bush). I answered that they were things and things can be easily lost. Figuring that ‘self esteem’ may be the wrong question, I asked, how do you love yourself?

This turned into a considerable family discussion. How do you like yourself? How do you love yourself? How do you look after yourself? The general consensus by those under 18 was how much good stuff could you buy. I was momentarily speechless. These were the children who had grown up in my care, the children who had decided with me that family outings were preferable to buying new furniture. I am the mother who forewent all manner of things to take my children on a secret holiday, the topic of many trips down memory lane. I am the mean mother who refused to buy electronic games for a son whose obsession with them caused him to discuss characters as though they were friends. (I was the mother who was horribly confused for quite some time.) I am the mother who still sends her children to play outside. I am the mother who kindly says “only boring people get bored.”

How then did these children of mine learn that liking or loving yourself depended on what you could buy yourself? These are the same children, mind you, who would rather go without than put in extra effort to earn money. (I am also the mother who enjoyed ‘going on strike’ on the odd occasion their laxness got too much.) I asked them how they would buy themselves these things if they didn’t want to work? That appeared to be unanswerable. “We’ll get jobs” from them was met by rapture from me. I am the mother, after all, who has worked most of their lives.

Where did my children pick these ideas up and how come they had more sway than what I taught them? Only now in my 26 year old Daughter am I seeing a foregoing of brands and must-haves for a simpler life. Only now am I seeing a young woman determined to like, love and look after herself. She acknowledges the lessons she learnt from me and is closer to appreciating a simpler life than she has ever been. I hold out hope for the others. I have to say that moving through the stages of parenthood are very challenging.

When they are tiny, you are wonderful and to be obeyed because if Mum’s happy, everyone’s happy. Then they get a little attitude and you have to shift from loved and adored parent to the negotiator. You just get a handle on that and you get the I don’t care, nothing matters. Here you have a choice. You can either be firm and emphatic or gentle and encouraging. I switched between them to keep everyone on their toes. I am, after all, the mother who ran out of shops while my children were engaged, cackling like a chicken, leaving them behind. At least it made them keep an eye on me and caused me much amusement.

I discovered that if I made things work for me, then they had choices within boundaries. My boundaries but then I’m not superwoman. My grandson throws wobblies, banging his little head on the ground. I regard him calmly while people around cast me looks and say “ you can do that or Grandma can carry you or you could walk and we will…” (add in enticement). He will get up and walk with me. Unfortunately teens are heavier.

By the time you are used to being a teen parent, they are out off into the world and don’t need you for awhile (until something goes wrong). That’s all fine. Challenging, heart-rending at times but fine. What I do hope is that I have led by example and they know how to like, love and look after themselves without being self-indulgent and self-obsessed (Youngest Daughter fills my ipad with selfies. I have hundreds of them. Heh heh heh. I find uses.). So, what did I do when I discovered that buying stuff was their answer to liking, loving and looking after themselves?

We kept talking. I kept asking. I knocked all the ‘stuff’ off as things that come and go. Exhibit A, barbie dolls. Youngest Daughter had dozens of the damn creepy things and those ones whose feet came off. Ugh. I’d find bits all over the house with either child or dog or both teeth marks in them. She’d take off their clothes, then their arms, then their legs and then their heads. After all, their feet came off. Then she’d want me to put them back together. Couldn’t do it. Don’t know how they went together in the first place but damned if I could get those creepy things back in shape. The dog loved them. Those dolls are like self esteem, once taken apart, it never fits back together in the same way. You have to start again and build anew.

By the time our discussion had pared all their ideas down to just having yourself and how do you like, love and look after yourself, they really did not seem to know. I asked them if I liked myself and they said yes. I asked them did I love me and they said yes. I asked them did I look after myself and they said yes, albeit a little uncertainly. Then I asked them how was it that I liked, loved and looked after myself? I am a large woman of happy features. I have never been beautiful. Conundrum.

Then I told them the secret. I decided. Then I practiced. I get better at it as time goes by.

That is a much better way to measure my life.
(c) CLHHarper 17/10/2014

Parenting 401

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My youngest daughter has just turned 13. She came to live with me when she was 31/2. I had been waiting a long time for a little girl. I had two big girls but I could see a little girl with dark hair and eyes. I knew she was coming 6 months before she arrived. I got her room ready and put a love-bug toy in it. Every morning I would open the curtains, give the love-bug a touch and say, She’s coming, as the sunshine streamed in.

She arrived in a landslide of energy. I was 42 and puffing to keep up. Everyday she’d have an activity and then we’d go to the park or the play centre to keep playing as she had so much bounce. The irony is she says how much hard work my grandson is. I laugh.

Fostering children is it’s own particular challenge but for this child I took another giant step and went to permanent care. This is when a child cannot be reunified with their birth parent or any family member and their permanent carer becomes their legal guardian and parent. It took four long hard years of investigation, ruling out kin and just hanging in there before it was granted.

It doesn’t take giving birth to a child to be their parent. We know that. There are so many parents who obviously missed the parenting classes and licence. Oh wait, we don’t have those. There are currently well over 3.000 children in the foster care system in our state alone. That is a lot of traumatised children. Make no mistake, any child who has been removed from their parent is traumatised. No matter how bad it was in their family, it was their family and being removed brings it’s own pain.

So, I had a 31/2 year old, full of energy and grieving and angry and very confused. It took nine months of being her rock before things began to improve. I quickly discovered that time out didn’t work and time in did, which was it’s own challenge. Baths worked. Sand worked. Running worked. We used to have running races in the back yard with the Invisible Nobody. I would call the race and on the odd occasion the Invisible Nobody would win. My little girl would be absolutely furious and enraged and insist that they run again so she could beat them. Very entertaining.

Dealing with birth parents is challenging, dealing with access more so, including said birth parents in family events brings it’s own problems, teaching birth parents how to parent sometimes works but mostly doesn’t. Challenges abound. The impact of all this one one small child is enormous. The impact on a family more so and when you have more than one child whose birth parents need support and you are dealing with their addictions and life dramas too, it is exhausting.

Sometimes this all breaks down and is not repairable. Sometimes extended family of the children becomes everyone’s family. My foster son’s Granddad is my permanent care daughter’s “Granddad” and my birth mother is her Grandma. There is no-one that you can talk with about the intricacies of all of this and yet it is as complicated and no more so than step family arrangements. Juggling adult issues is more exhausting than child ones more often than not.

Now my big little 13 year old has gone out running with her mentor and I have a moment to learn how my new bread maker works. She’ll be back soon and I’ll be running again.