Friday, August 14, 2015

The missing sisterhood

Growing up I often felt I was missing out not having a sister. The fact that I was an only child for the first nine or so years didn't concern me half as much, but not having a sister - another girl to share rooms with, clothes with, secrets with & fight with, almost felt like a missing limb. Occasionally now I still wonder what it would be like to have a sister to go out to lunch with, to reminisce together over our shared childhood, to wet our pants with laughter remembering the time Dad singed his eyebrows off after throwing a cupful of petrol on the wood in the combustion fire & then lit it. It felt like a little empty spot not knowing a sisters bond.

Back in the days when children were still a hypothetical, I hoped that our first born would be a boy, followed by a girl & soon after another boy. Then, if we decided to swap our family sedan for a people mover to accommodate more than five people, I envisioned our fourth child would be another girl. The perfect double pigeon paired family. 

When half of my wishes came true, my envisioned boy, girl, boy in the form of Ben, Rianan & Jack, I was almost certain that we were well on our way to the doubled up 'ideal'. When the sonographer pointed out our fourth baby's tackle during the 20 week ultrasound, we were thrilled to have a (near) houseful of boys. Somehow I convinced Doug that five children would be brilliant & Will came along shortly after, irreversibly tipping the scales in favor of the meat & two veg.

When Clay announced his presence via two pink lines & morning sickness that had me head down in the toilet bowl most mornings, we were suprised but no less excited. With a pregnancy that was noticeably different from the last three boys I thought there was a good chance we would be seeing a little squidette on that black & white screen while my belly was covered in cold goop. It was standing room only when we went off for a private early gender reveal scan at 15 weeks, filling the room with ourselves plus the minions. After many ultrasounds I'm fairly well versed in making heads from tails & certainly know what a penis looks like via ultrasound - our boys were not shy when it came to the big reveal. Neither was Clay. Our newest little squid was not a squidette but, well, a squid.

If I said I wasn't quietly disappointed I would be lying. I was excited to start imagining what our future would hold with 5 boys -  soccer balls & footballs all over the back yard, muddy boots by the front door & a stack skateboards by the back door. (Which is exactly what our house looks like - the neighbour is continuously finding balls in her backyard & you have to work your way through the maze of scooters, bikes, skateboards, helmets & shoes just to reach our front door.) But my heart still quietly ached that Rianan would now also be joining the club of the Missing Sisterhood. 

It's hard to voice that disappointment, because it is not to say that our boys are any less awesome, any less wanted or any less loved. The moment I found out we were expecting another child I loved them, when we discovered their genders I fell in love even further & with each little kick, elbow jab, hiccup & body roll I fell even deeper. By the time they were born my heart was filled with so much love it frequently leaks out my eyes. 

It's the potential dream that disappears, saying goodbye to a future that once was possible, now will not be. In the scheme of things it is really quite trivial, especially when you put it next to infertility, miscarriage & stillbirth, cancer, or any other life impacting & heart breaking experience. Though it may be trivial, it still impacted my life, my childhood & friendships. Enough for it to roll around my head for weeks now & to put all those thoughts & feelings into words here. Knowing that Rianan will not know what it is to have a sister. That she might try to seek out that missing limb in close friends, to elusively search for a sisters bond she'll never have. Speaking from experience, it won't measure up or be the same. It was only when I reached my late twenties that I stopped looking to fill that phantom void. That I realised it was simply a dip in the surface & not a desolate space that needed to be filled. 

I may not know what it is to have a sister, or to be the mother of sisters, but my life is not lacking in richness, short of love, or devoid in any way. With a husband who loves me, flaws & all, who gets me & lifts me up in every way, with six incredibly special & unique children who drive me to be better, to do better each day. To have seven people who own my heart. That is lucky enough. Then top it off with beautiful & enriching friendships with women who make me laugh, make me cry & I can be myself with. There is no missing limb. I hope that Rianan, as she grows up surrounded by her brothers, knows that it is a blessing to be a sister even if she doesn't have one herself. And that she doesn't need to fill the shoes of a non existent one either. 

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Some days you just have to dance it out

Some days after school are easy. 

Everyone piles in the front door, bags are unpacked, food is devoured & homework is finished. Then more food is devoured before they all scatter off to fill the time void between snack two & dinner time. Minimal bickering & maximum amusement. Will & Blake scamper off outside to ride their bikes or jump around like lunatics all over the back yard. Ben, Rianan & Jack pull out the UNO cards & see how many rounds they can each win before it's discovered that Rianan has been cheating by sliding a few extra cards under the couch so she can declare "uno!" first.

Other days are not so easy. 

When everyone pushes their way through the front door like a herd of stampeding elephants, bags are dumped in bedroom doorways or along the hallway. The kitchen is filled with too many kids all vying to find the best after school snack, then stomping away when there is only the usual's on offer still. When getting their homework started, let alone finished is harder than trying to devour a bar of chocolate undetected in this house filled with minions. What would normally take ten minutes to complete, will instead span over an hour painfully filled with moans, complaints, messy & spaced out writing or staring at the same pages in the same chapter of their book. And that is just the older three.

Then there's Blake, Will & Clay, who will spend their time either a) running, screaming, jumping their way through the house until someone gets knocked over & trampled on the unforgiving floor tiles. Proceeding to burst my ear drums with their screams, before turning to retaliate against whoever they think is guilty of sending them sprawling to the floor.
Or b) Blake & Will spend the next hour or so annoying each other until I can't stand it any longer. While Blake & Will have me distracted with their arguing, Clay will quietly walk through each bedroom, opening drawers & pulling out every shred of nicely folded clothes he can reach. 

Before I know it, 5pm has ticked over, dinner isn't even thought of yet let alone cooking away. The house looks like an abandoned clothes warehouse after a cyclone has torn through & we've all given up on any legitimate attempt on the homework front. Forget about baths, at this stage the kids will be lucky to get anything more than spaghetti on toast before being shipped off to bed at my soonest possible convenience...after tidying from the storm that wiped me out flat.

Half an hour into yesterday's after school gauntlet & I could see the sides beginning to crumble. While the bags were put away, empty stomachs were filled & homework was done (because there was hardly any required) the disagreements & arguments were starting to come thick & fast. Add in several emails & phone calls that demanded my attention & could not wait, meant that everything going on out of my little bubble had to wait. By the time I put the phone down & decided the rest could be done after the crazy had passed, there were shoes everywhere, clean & dirty clothes littered the house mimicking behind the scenes of a fashion runway show, Clay was cranky, Ben, Jack & Blake were filthy from the waist down after playing soccer together & a lone empty fry pan was still waiting on the cold stove top.

I issued orders like a drill sergeant - "pick up those shoes"
"dirty clothes in the laundry now"
"put the clean clothes on the couch with the rest of the washing"
"bags in rooms"
"balls outside!"
The minions responded like a class of hyped four year old's coming down from an intense sugar rush.   

There was only one way to rescue what was shaping up to be an evening from hell & the breaker to demolish the last whispers of sanity that were stopping me from going all exorcist mummy.

Ignore the time & turn the music up.

You can't hear the petty little arguments, whinging & dobbing if they are drowned out with only the best playlist selections from the iPod on a volume level just bordering too loud.

It was the best decision made all day. It didn't take long before the boys turned the Xbox off, Rianan came out of her room (after escaping in there for some peace & quiet) & the younger three channeled their destructive energy into dancing like maniacs. While I was chopping up chicken, dancing & singing my heart out to Clay who had joined me in the kitchen, the other five had set up the coloring in gear on the table & were all happily getting along, talking, encouraging & laughing together, with the occasion dance off thrown in for good laughs.

Before we were even a quarter of the way through the playlist, dinner was cooked & the table was swiftly cleared & then set, on my first request, ready for the plates & bowls to be distributed. Knock knock jokes were told & the best things about our days were shared as we slowly finished eating. The tension & frustration that was flooding us all not forty minutes earlier had completely evaporated. Baths & showers were done, with the older minions doing a quick but thorough {enough} tidy around the house while the younger three were bathed & prepared for bed, not that much later than their usual bedtime either.

By the end of the night everyone went to bed in a good mood & I didn't feel like crap for spending the last three hours nagging & yelling while serving up a less than substantial dinner. I'm fairly certain that I'm not alone when I say I would much rather listen to the likes of Paramore, The Smiths, Ed Sheeran & Pink {to name a few}, than give myself a headache & everyone else immunity towards the nagging tones in my voice, topping off with foul moods all round.  

Next time our evening - or morning, is beginning to morph into a train wreck I'm going straight to that magic button, play.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Girls will be girls...& bitches

I had hoped to come back with a hilariously funny, light hearted post. Some tale of mischief from one of the minions to get the blogging ball rolling again. While the antics of the kids have been up to their normal high standards ripe with blogging material, my fingers have still been frozen. I almost considered to just Let It Go, let it goooooo...

Then the nightmare of on again, off again friendships between girls resurfaced after twenty odd years. 

It started slowly enough. Rianan would come home from school disheartened & sad because her {best} friend had been mean to her that day. Within half an hour all would be forgotten when A* would come over after homework to play, or by the next morning at school when A would come running up to Rianan with a smile & a hug, before they went in to class together. 

However, it didn't take long before Rianan was bursting into tears the moment she saw me after school, because of what had happened between her & A, then including their mutual friends, during recess, lunch, & even class time, that day. At first this was just once or twice during the week, then it soon escalated to most days. The girls Rianan thought were her friends, suddenly weren't. The little secrets & whispers she had told them were now thrown back at her in taunts or giggled about viciously. Being constantly stared down & glared at during class. Completely ostracized during recess & lunch, with A making sure that none of their friends would play with Rianan, forming their own little anti Rianan posse. The boy who liked her was even dragged into it.

In the beginning I comforted Rianan & tried to gently guide her through this nasty side of being a nine year old girl. I have my own haunting memories full of girls whispering, turned backs & being vilified for the clothes I wore, the boy I liked, the music I listened to, the posters I had on my bedroom wall. I remembered all the times I was sick & had to have a day or two off school & being terrified that when I returned my friends would all now be my enemies for that week. Where lunchtimes were filled with sitting morosely on the oval under a tree by myself. When school work was completed well before the deadline...because I had no one to talk & giggle with & the boring assignment was a welcome distraction from the glares & taunting whispers.

It seems for many of us, it's an unwanted rite of passage during primary (& high) school. Girls will be girls. 

Until they become bitches.

As far as I'm concerned there is a line. A line that differentiates between shitty girl behaviour that we seem to accept, & outright targeted bullying. 

The line was crossed. We could no more stand back while Rianan tried to manage the behaviour mostly on her own. Both her teacher, who is aware of the events, along with Doug & I had been encouraging Rianan to stay away from A, to ignore her when she started being mean to her or about her. To play with other girls in the class who weren't tied in with their mutual friends group, or to play with her friends from previous years who were in other classes now. We advised her to now tell her teacher every time something happened during recess & lunch.

Things were still escalating & Rianan was now sick with anxiety every morning while getting ready for school. Instead of confidently walking off to class she was now clinging to my hand. I spoke with her teacher one morning, which didn't offer any further solutions beyond what we were already doing - avoidance, ignoring, playing with other girls who were not involved with A's circle of friends {& potential aggressors}. I approached A's mum again, who we had been in contact with occasionally during the girls 'off moments'. This lead nowhere.

The on again, off again, friendship was now constantly off. Occasionally, for an afternoon, A & Rianan would be friends again, but by the next morning Rianan never knew if this would still be the case when she stepped in to her class room. Through all this Rianan is not completely innocent, she has been nasty back. Which I am glad of, it shows she believes herself not deserving of such toxic behaviour. She has a backbone & isn't afraid to use it. But when she is at home, when she is in her safe environments, she falls apart. All the soft, sensitive sides of herself she has had to protect all day long with that strong back bone, become exposed. That strength that held her through the day disintegrates because she is safe at home, needing this time to regenerate for the next day. 

How far does it have to go before something more is done, before the adults make a stance & really step in. 

What makes me mad is the fact that in many bullying situations, it is up to the victim to manage the bullies behaviour & tactics. Even when these aren't working. As far as I'm concerned when teachers, bosses & parents as well, constantly give the advice to 'ignore them', to stay away from them, for the victim to change their areas of play, to change the people they are seeking out for company, to 'not listen' to what is being said to them or about them. It sends a message of condoning the behaviour of the bully. That the victim is not worth the respect they should be deserved, allowed, & have the other person pulled up on their actions against the victim. 

Telling a victim to 'toughen up', especially when they have already 'toughened up' & 'thickened their skin' over the last couple of months is a slap in the face. 

Why should a child have to toughen up when they have already been trying to deal with the bullying behaviour on a continual basis, without success. By now they have  'toughened up', if they weren't already resilient before.

Like a friend said to me recently, "instead of telling our** children to toughen up, why can't we tell them to soften down?"

Look, I understand the psychology behind a bullies behaviour, that they feel vulnerable & are often bullied or victims of a serious wrong doing against them, recent or past. I have compassion for them, I see that they are not the culmination of their behaviour but so much more than that. While this gives an insight into the reasons behind why they do what they do, it never allows them to permission to be an aggressor. It is not a get out of jail free card.

Girls will be girls & boys will be boys. There is always going to be friendships turning, rough play that gets out of hand. But when it becomes frequent, when there is a specific target, enough is enough. Don't let that line in the sand keep moving or getting blurred. 

And no, telling the victim of constant bullying (or the parent of the child) to toughen up, because as they grow up they are going to come across bullies in high school & the work place, is not sound advice. 

* A is representative, not part of the name.
** 'Our' is used here collectively, not personally.