Monthly Archives: November 2012

Ignore the Screaming, She’s Phobic

I’ve come to the conclusion that if you’re going to have a phobia, it may as well be something completely ridiculous. Otherwise, what’s the point?

I, personally, have no phobias. I know, I’m lucky. I have a few insecurities, a couple of hang-ups, a number of eccentricities – who doesn’t?

But so far I’ve managed to avoid the terrors of phobic disorders. You could say I’m pretty-well fear-free.

The Girl – not so much. She has one dread that’s shadowed and terrorized her all her life:

African violets.

Yes, you read that correctly. And before you go Googling to see whether I’m referring to some deadly triffid-like species of cymbidium native only to New Zealand, I’m not. I’m referring to those cutesy little purple/pink/white flowering plants with the fuzzy gray/green leaves and the short, satisfyingly snappable stems; those tightly-packed rosettes of wooly foliage you find tucked away in the dusty recesses of old ladies’ living rooms.

These seemingly innocuous bundles of sweet, huggable greenery have been the bane of my life.

And for a girl with impaired eyesight, it’s incredible how she spots them skulking amongst the ferns at The Warehouse; hiding on the shelf at the garden center or towering over us from atop the toilet cistern during an unexpected bathroom break at a friend’s house.

All of which induce the kind of mind-altering screams from The Girl that Hitchcock would have been proud of.

I have no idea how such terrors came about.

I grilled Number One Son, the Chukka-boy on several occasions, thinking he’d spent many a babysitting hour tearing around the house terrorizing The Girl with an African violet in each hand. He swears it wasn’t him. He said if it was him, he’d own up to it because frankly how many people could lay claim to something so ludicrous?

Then I thought perhaps her grandmother, owner of several terrifyingly large plants, might have inadvertently traumatized The Girl with her living room greenery. But she was adamant it wasn’t her. On the contrary, she told me she had tried on several occasions to show The Girl there was nothing to be afraid of; that the plants were friendly and lovable. She’d spend hours gently coaxing The Girl’s little hand ever-closer to the pot; speaking in calm and soothing tones while gently bringing her fingers into contact with the leaves; only to have The Girl go practically catatonic and howl inconsolably until she was pacified with an onion sandwich.

Okay, so the fear of African Violets is not the worst irrational fear anyone could have. I’ve heard of people with ‘cow-phobia’, or Bovinophobia, to use the correct
term. And yes, that’s a real phobia. I mean, how many cows would the average Bovinophobic come across every day in the workplace? Unless you’re a farmer, of course. In which case Bovinophobia would be the least of your problems, if you ask me.

I did a quick Google on “Phobias” to find that there are people whose hearts are gripped with terror at such things as: nudity, cats, of liquids or being laughed at; of the night, of birds, of clowns. There are people who are paralyzed at the thought of all things French, if you can believe it.

But African Violets? I mean, seriously?

So when The Girl’s grandmother sadly passed away a couple of years back, and her beloved houseplants were divided amongst friends and family, guess what little keepsakes we got to inherit. That’s right, two – I repeat, TWO African violets. So now we have one African violet sitting in the dining room overseeing goings-on at the dinner table, and a second in the main bathroom ensuring no one abuses the facilities.

So that’s two portals of terror in our house.

But take heart, my trembling little bundle of nerves: when your worst nightmares threaten to overwhelm you; when you find yourself overcome with panic at the sight of the bathroom foliage, or the hideous specter of an African violet casting its shadow of dread across the dining table, just remember – it could have been worse.

They could have been French.

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OMG! I Forgot to Climb the Corporate Ladder!

When I was twenty-three I realized I’d forgotten to get a University degree.

To-Do List

So I studied hard, but it turns out that there’s a trick to passing exams and I didn’t know that trick so it didn’t matter how much I knew or how hard I worked, I was still a straight B- student. But that didn’t matter because…

…I realized I was doing Science when I should have been doing Marketing. After all, that’s where the money is, so when my marriage broke down and I took the children and moved to Auckland I changed my major. But then I realized I’d forgotten to climb the corporate ladder.

…So, I got a job in retail and worked hard, and became a self-motivated team-player with a can-do attitude and with my newly-acquired knowledge I ran a survey and gathered information to show the company how they could implement marketing campaigns to target specific market segments – which they hadn’t been doing. But then I discovered that all my work wound up with some self-motivated, team-playing, Management Trainee’s name attached to it and I’d been forgotten. But that didn’t matter because I knew management would finally notice me and I’d get my foot on the next rung of the corporate ladder…

…which didn’t happen. So, I left and got a job with another company because all I had to do was work hard and do all the right things so I could get a foot on that corporate ladder, then I’d be able to afford a nanny and a fabulous house and work all the hours to pay for it, but then I discovered the Boys Club had taken the next few rungs out of the ladder and there was no way up for me there, so I left…

…and put The Girl into Monday-to-Friday care because I knew that if I could only earn enough, I could get that nanny and buy that house and then we’d be happy but I was becoming disillusioned by all these Boys Clubs and those younger, self-motivated team-players with their can-do attitudes coming up through the ranks, so…

…I started my own business where I worked day and night and bought an apartment which was gorgeous and swank, and then I bought a rental property because I was an Entrepreneur, Darling, I was an Investor, Sweetie Sweetie, and I had mortgages and negative gearing, don’t you know, but time was going by and because I worked all week and looked after The Girl all weekend and every holiday, I was permanently shattered. But I kept going, until…

…the economy took a dive.

And things got tough. So…

…I sold the business and took a job that just didn’t pay quite enough, so things got even tougher. I was forever broke, I was forever tired, I was forever miserable. I had a job I hated, mortgages and bills that were killing me and I felt trapped.

Then Number One Son moved out of home. I missed him more than I can say. Then I discovered The Girl was in her last year at school, and I had no idea where she was going next.

Then I lost my job.

I panicked!

I didn’t have that degree; I hadn’t climbed the corporate ladder; I wasn’t an entrepreneur and I hadn’t become successful at anything. Worse yet, I hadn’t even been a decent Mother.

Reluctantly, I sold my beautiful apartment. I moved into my crappy rental house in a scummy area which was all I could afford. The Girl came home. I lived on welfare.

But then I remembered something – I remembered I wasn’t dumb! I remembered I’d learnt a thing or two! So…

…I got a part-time job and worked hard and did my scummy house up and scrimped and saved and paid every spare penny off the mortgage. I ran my household like a business and sold my newly done-up house for a tidy profit and built a beautiful new home especially for The Girl…

…which is where we live now. We scrimp and save; I grow vegetables in our garden and wear clothes with tags that say Made In Bangladesh inside the collar.

But I learnt some lessons through all this: It turned out my beautiful apartment was a leaky building, so I learnt I was lucky I didn’t keep it. I learnt that I don’t need a degree to do what I do; that with just some patience and a few brains, I’m more entrepreneurial than most people ever get to be; that happiness doesn’t come with a large pay-check and that caring for someone else really matters. I also suspect that, for me, at the top of that corporate ladder was a short path of misery to an early grave.

No matter how much rain there’s been, the sun will surely shine again. And sometimes, when you’re tired of swimming against the current, there’s a point when it’s smart to turn around and go with the flow.

Like I did.

Note: This is a long post and I thank you for hanging in there. I’d love you to stay with us so please, hit the follow button)

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A Few of the Things We’ve Learnt

There’s a certain wisdom that comes with living thirty-one years in a world where you have little control – especially in a world as small as The Girl’s. Thirty-one years teaches you that repetition brings certainty, that home is your sanctuary, and that if you can’t eat it, play it, or laugh at it, it probably wasn’t worth having.

It’s given me a few insights on the way The Girl views the world; what she believes, what she’s learnt. When you’re The Girl, thirty-one years have taught you this:

That the ultimate compliment you can be paid is when the doctor tells says you have a “giant tummy.”

That the words “Plinkity-plonk” and anything rhyming with it are the most hilarious things, no matter how many times you hear it or who says it.

That the nurses at Southern Cross Hospital are thrilled that you called them Miss Piggy.

That seashells have a diverse range of tastes, regardless how long they’ve been dried and sitting it a glass jar with a variety of others.

That caterpillars are responsible for the shrieking, squawking noises at the beginning of the song, Caterpillar Girl by The Cure.

That people who fall down, trip over or drop their grocery bags do it simply for the amusement of others.

That the natural order of things demands that the red crayons are eaten first and the green ones are left until last.

That buying a CD you already own minimizes risk because you already know you like it.

That hairstyles are freely available in supermarkets.

That Valentines Family Restaurant is the last word in fine dining.

That there is nothing like the music section of The Warehouse for retail therapy; or the video store for entertainment.

That a Playstation 3 controller can control any device including the dog.

That having a magazine without scissors is like having lemonade without the bubbles.

That there is no meal an onion won’t enhance.

That, despite what the song says, daisies are there to be picked and eaten.

That wasps, on the other hand, are not.

That personal growth and creative freedom can be achieved with pasta and glue.

That there’s no yesterday, today or tomorrow. There’s only now.

That Grandma Lea never left us. She still lives in her house where things are still “Funny as a fight,” and the man down the road is still a “Rum old codger” and The Girl is still “Grandma’s Scamp!”

That people we love don’t die, they just go to England; and if they’re lucky, a few make it back.

That there is nothing a Band Aid can’t fix.

That tummy ache is a fact of life – it just varies in degree from day to day.

That blood tests leave you with broken veins.

That pills are a natural part of breakfast.

That every day the world becomes a little more unstable and you have to hang onto anything close at hand in case it topples you over.

That insulin injections and finger pricks come with sun up and sun down.

That Mummy will never leave, no matter what. That’s one The Girl can count on.

Maybe we could all learn lessons here.

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An Open Letter To My Sister

I put this post up a few days ago, then took it down. The reason was I got a couple of negative comments. Was that a good reason? Who knows? But this morning, one of my readers told me that after reading it, she began to examine her own feelings towards her family and decided that she needed to change the way she thought. When I heard that, I realized that the intention of the post had come through; at least to one person anyway. So here I am reposting it.

My Darling Chookie Lou,

Much Loved

While you’ve been staying with me lately, it’s given me some time to think. And there are some things I need to tell you. The first is:

I’m sorry.

Thirty-one years ago my girl was born. It was the toughest time in my life. I lived away from my family – from you – and my world became very small. Six months later, you had your own beautiful, gorgeous girl. But I stole some of your light. I didn’t mean to. It just happened without my knowing. All the darkness in my life spread from my life into yours. I know it hit you hard. You felt as though something as wonderful as having your beautiful baby girl was marred; as though you had no right to enjoy her while I was hurting; that because you were on the outside, your grief was somehow less legitimate than mine.

That wasn’t true.

And now, almost thirty-one years later, I have finally realized just how much impact my problems had on you. How all that sadness spilt over, stealing all your joy, robbing you of your special moment – leaving behind ill-feeling and sadness.  And neither you nor I knowing how to fix it.

During those early years I spent a lot of time being afraid, being sad, and being angry. But please know it was never at you. Whatever happened, you were always my sister and I always loved you. I was desperate for you to be near me, to help me, to support me. What I never saw was that you were also struggling; that you also needed help and support; that you were fighting your own silent battles. You had your own life to deal with, your own private grief and your guilt to contend with. When you finally told me how all those years you wished you could have turned the tables; that you wished you’d been the one in my shoes so I’d never have had to carry this burden, it made me sad. I have no doubt you’d have been strong enough, but I would never have wanted that for you.

And that leads me to the second thing I need to say:

Thank you.

A long while ago, I realized my anger and bitterness was killing me. I was jealous and believed this life had treated me unfairly. I’d look at my girl, and then I’d look at your beautiful, perfect girl, and I’d wonder how things could have gone so wrong. Your girl is brilliant and gorgeous; she’s sweet and she’s caring. I asked over and over again why our fortunes had differed so greatly, but there’s no answer to that – or at least, no answer I was willing to listen to.

I couldn’t change things, so I had to change my life. I had to let go of my anger and jealousy and bitterness and move on. Was that easy? Hell, no! It’s like swimming against the tide. It’s like fighting against something inside that wants to pull you back.

But the day I came to that decision – the day I made the effort to accept not just my girl, but to embrace and love your girl as well – I discovered something incredible. I learnt how lucky I was because I now have two beautiful girls to marvel in. I have two gorgeous girls whose successes and achievements I can take pride in, even though they’re very different. So I thank you for sharing your girl with me.

And finally, I want to say I love you. You give me strength and courage. I know we didn’t always see eye-to-eye. I know I’ve made things hard. Through my anger and bitterness, I made myself hard to love; tough to be around.  The day I decided to move away from that, to live and love my life instead of looking around at those around me and wishing for something else, that’s the day I started to live again. But no one lives a life alone. And having you alongside me has given me the courage to do that.

Thank you for your patience, for your goodness, for your ability to take me in all the forms you’ve seen me in. Thank you for your wisdom, your confidence and your encouragement. Thank you for pulling me up when I get negative. And thank you for shutting me down when I beat myself up. I know you have your own up’s and down’s – hell, who doesn’t. But you know something?

I’m proud to call you my sister. You’re my friend, my confidant, my hero.

I am blessed to know you.

(Please follow along with me. There’s a follow button somewhere on this page)

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While You Were Eating

A little piece of Eden. Cooking shows have made their insidious way into our lives like those subliminal messages you see in the horrors, filtering into our dreams, sitting just on the edge of our consciousness, dictating our eating habits – or at least that’s what it’s doing to The Girl, anyway.

It’s started turning dinnertimes – or at least, pre dinnertimes – into a battleground. Now, just so you see where I’m coming from, this is no culinary aficionado we’ve got here. The Girl is no Marco White with all his gastronomic sensibilities; she’s no Heston Blumenthal flourishing his flair for the fabulously delicious, or Jamie Oliver with his relentless quest for culinary nirvana.

This is a girl who eats crayons; whose  raids on the pantry leave the entire house stinking of raw garlic because the instant she’s sprung, she jams the entire bulb into her gob and chews to the point of no return. This is the person whose addiction to onions in both the raw and cooked states would make your eyes water and your lips knot up like a little paper bag. I mean, we’re discussing a person for whom Valentine’s Family Restaurant is the last word in fine dining.

And yet come dinnertime, food preparation in our house turns into a fullscale battle of wills – a contest of cunnings; a game of cat and mouse, if you will.

And how does a small person with limited language or reasoning wage such a war? Well, she does it on two fronts. On the one front, it’s full on howling, yelling and temper-tantrums. On the other, it’s an expertly executed stealth attack. Let me explain.

It all starts innocently enough. I’ve got all the ingredients for dinner lined up on the bench and ready to start but, Oops, I forgot the celery. This is mistake Number One on my part. Seems innocent enough, doesn’t it? I mean, forgetting an ingredient can happen to anyone, right? But it’s what happens next that turns this seemingly everyday scene into a house of carnage.

A quick check tells me The Girl is happily ensconced in her room listening to Pat Frikkin Benetar  for the six zillionth time and playing Crash Bandicoot on her Playstation, so I figure it’s safe to make a quick trip to the garden.

You guessed it – that was the clanging of Mistake Number Two you just heard echoing down the data line.

Because the second I leave the kitchen, The Girl’s food radar goes up like a periscope on a German U-Boat and she’s on full alert. I come back from my foray in the vege patch to find the kitchen has turned into a scene straight out of CSI. Yes, it’s that bad…well, it is if you’re me and your life is slightly dull and you’re a thriller writer with a deranged sense of the macabre.

The onion I left chopped on the board is but a shadow of its former self, the garlic is nowhere to be seen and there’s an enormous bite out of the carrot. Worse yet, the raw chicken I left lying there has mysteriously changed position.  My first reaction is to turn to The Girl to assess immediate reactions. You guessed it. Nothing, zip, nada. Man, she’s good….except on closer examination the evidence is damning. She’s got cheeks bulging like a chipmunk and the stench of onion about her. “What are you eating?” I demand. In response, she chews as fast as she possibly can, then swallows. Her eyes water and her mouth turns inside out, but that doesn’t stop her. She’s won and she knows it.

This isn’t the first time this scene has played out. I know for a fact that this exact scenario was responsible for a bout of campylobacter she contracted last year, and not my lousy cooking like the doctor implied.

But the winds of change are a’blowing, my little Chickeroo. You can quit throwing your wobs and demanding your fishy-wishy and your pork dumplings. You can cease and desist from banging your head against the wall and bawling that it hurts in an attempt to sway me.

Because it no longer works. Yes, I’m taking a stand!

I refuse to give in to your howling because you wanted peanut steak when you discovered we’re having mince. I don’t care if you take off one of your shoes and hit yourself on the head with it because you were looking forward to curried chicken and I’m doing spaghetti. And it’s a big, “Tough cookies, Sister,” when I turn around to find you half buried in the freezer section of the side-by-side, searching for Option 2 because Option 1 didn’t tickle your taste buds.

The curtains have come down and there’s a line in the sand. Because I’m telling you once and for all!

“When you’re the one doing the cooking, you can pick the menu. Until then, you’re stuck with whatever I give you. And that’s an end to it.”

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Music, You Are My Obsession

A small sample of The Girl’s collection.

Whenever I hear Pat Benetar limbering up her vocal chords and belting out Hit Me With Your Best Shot, believe me, I’d be more than willing to oblige.

It’s not that I hate Ms. Benetar. On the contrary. She was one of my all-time faves throughout the eighties. But since then, The Girl has discovered her. Along with every other eighties band in creation – plus a whole lot more. And now we live in a house echoing wall-to-wall with music, day and night, night and day.

Oh, I know, it could be worse. I recently saw a British show in which an entertainer was working with severely disabled young people to put together a musical show. It was stunning. The young people were amazingly talented. They sang, they danced, they rocked! But the parents of one of the stars placidly told of how their boy was so obsessed with music, every evening at 6pm they had to leave the house en masse and go to the local music store so the boy could rake through all the new titles while they stood there aimlessly watching on and twiddling their thumbs.

I thought, “Bugger that.”

Imagine it! Being forced out of the house every day, rain or shine so you can waste your life standing around like a spare trowel at a garden party and being stoically wonderful about it!

And yet, I make my own concessions. I’ve lost my entire CD collection – the girl commandeered all my Tom Petty’s; my Roxy Music and Cure albums, and every one of my INXS compilations. She stole my Neil Young Decade (only because she couldn’t get her hands on the vinyl and the tapes were all screwed) and she grabbed all my Live albums. Now they all look like the things dragged behind a bridal car on the wedding night.

But her collection isn’t limited to the ones she’s stolen off me. It has grown. And by that, I mean it’s exploded. Think about it, after thirty-one years of birthdays and Christmas’s, what do you buy the person with a music obsession when the only other thing they request is pork dumplings? So on special occasions, when I’m feeling mentally well-balanced and resilient, we go and search through the music racks of our version of Walmart called The Warehouse. And boy, we’ve got some doozies there.

Phil Collins: No Jacket Required. Sorry, Phil, but that’s become, No Sanity Required.

Paul Young – that’s right, you can still buy him! Although he’s not so young any more.

Elvis. It’s his Blue Christmas Album so that wound up serving a dual purpose.

Duran Duran – or at least, the ones I didn’t already have.

The Wiggles…did I mention this is a rather eclectic collection?

The result of so much music is a mixed bag. The chorus of True Colours has become a standard response to a multitude of requests and inquiries, and Pat Benetar is not only known in our house, as Pat Frikkin’ Benetar, but she’s also been banned from The Girl’s program because they’ve heard her a squillion times and they’re sick to death of her.

Every morning The Girl comes to the breakfast table with handfuls of CD’s. They sit beside her so she can reach out and touch them, caress them and sort through them while she eats. I bought her a bunch of CD sleeves to keep them all in because every single CD case winds up getting dropped on the floor and broken, and when you try to put them back together you find that those little tabs holding the cover in place have pinged off and fixing them is an impossible task. But the CD’s come out of the sleeves by the handful and they never go back. Instead, they cascade from her bed, the dresser, the sideboard – rolling across the floor, circling briefly on the spot only to be stood on while she’s trying to retrieve them.

Fortunately for her, because she has the widest, most eclectic collection this side of…well, anywhere, I’m smart enough to copy the CD’s in their virgin state onto my laptop before they first hit her CD player. And that’s essential because Every. Single. CD. Looks like it’s been through a trash compactor.

And yet, beyond all reason; flying in face of all that is good and holy – THE SMURFS GO POP! Which has a playing side that looks like it’s been cleaned with steel wool, still plays faultlessly.

Go figure!

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Holy Mother of God, Is There No End To This?

Yeah, I know. I started out titling all my blogs after songs, but I couldn’t find one called, “Holy Mother of God, Is There No End To This?” There may be one – I didn’t look.

The girl got sick. She came home from her art class on Saturday and went straight to her room. I came in a half hour later to find her inexplicably lying on the floor. So I said,

“What are you doing down there, you silly old sausage?”

She didn’t reply but that was okay because she rarely does. Halfway back down the hallway the notion hit me that she never, and I mean never, lies on the floor. She stands, she sits, she bends, she even snuggles in bed – all positions controlled and easily reversible. NEVER does she lie on the floor.

Sure enough, a blood sugar test showed she had a reading of 1.8 mmol/L. To get this into perspective, the normal blood sugar range is between 3.5 and 8.0, or if you’re using the American standard, it converts to 32.4mg/dl, which in anybody’s standard is pretty damned low.

First in went the honey, then another blood test. Cycle repeated until The Girl’s fingers were speckled red with pin-pricks and the honey pot was half full. Finally her sugars rose to 19.7 – which is way over the top. But slightly more managable.

By now she was disoriented and wobbly on her feet so I manoeuvred her into bed, spoon-fed her some dinner and told her to rest. Best thing, right?

Apparently not if you’ve contracted norovirus! I’m not going into details. They’re all way to ugly to mention.  Let’s just say it was a long and messy process that involved a seemingly endless cycle of, “changing jammies, changing bedding, washing everything, then repeating”.  All Saturday night, every hour, on the hour.

The next morning I looked like something out of that Michael Jackson Thriller video. My sister, Chookie Lou (not her real name), called and asked if she should drive the three and a half hours from her place up north to come and help me. I stoically told her the girl was sick but fortunately, I never get sick so I was okay.

I spoke too soon.

That bullet I thought I’d dodged ricocheted off the bathroom wall, resounded off the porcelain and hit me at 5:30pm. So there we both were, stuck in the “change jammies” cycle, except now the recurrence had sped up to every half hour.

Finally, at 1:30am I forced myself up out of bed feeling like one of the not-quite-fast-enough at the Running of the Bulls and took her blood sugars again. A whooping 3.2!

Bugger it!

I staggered into the kitchen and squeezed half a dozen oranges and grabbed a bottle of lemonade from the fridge. I believe that saved our lives. Or at least, it saved a tiny percentage of what passes for my sanity along with several changes of bedding.

It’s taken us a few days to recuperate. I’ve lost 2kg in weight and learned the difference between the American and the New Zealand standards of blood sugar measurements. Every cloud, so they say.

And hey! I’m still here. And you know what?

I feel good. I love that I feel well again. I love that the girl is getting well again. (Even though she’s now howling because Crash Bandicoot isn’t going the way she planned).

I know it’s tough when you’re the first one up, last one down. I know it sucks when you’re the one those around you lean on, and you only have yourself for support. I know it’s lousy when you get so low you seriously wonder if you’re doing it right.

But when you get to the other side and the sun comes out; when the washing’s done, the bed’s are clean and all The Girl wants is her music on, that’s when you can look back, know you’re stronger than you thought, that you have the resilience to keep going, and the strength to survive.

And that’s when you know you’re truly blessed.

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