Here at Musings Of A Footy Mum I am all about keeping it real, discussing the journey that is motherhood in a lighthearted way, while still acknowledging that some days are just hard work!
Slowly but surely, the more I write about my experiences as the mother of sons, as a 40-something year old woman in the world, I hear the voices whisper “me too”, and one by one our tribe is gathering.
Welcome to our tribe! There is only one rule in the Footy Mum community: be kind, always.
Today, I feel bereft.
It is the kind of grief that follows you around, leaving a hole inside you and an ache in your heart.
It is ok, nobody close to me has died recently. Not in a literal sense.
No, this is a self-inflicted grief.
You see, I have just finished reading an amazing book: Markus Zusak’s ‘Bridge Of Clay’. I knew that it was going to be special before I opened the first page. Zusak is my favourite author, and I have waited twelve years for him to complete this work. I also knew that I would feel this way when I reached the end.
Nevertheless, I persisted.
I continued to read the 579 glorious pages, stopping occasionally for a brief interlude to read a different book, trying in vain to prolong the experience, not wanting the story to end.
Five hundred and seventy nine pages of dense, highly crafted prose. After 400 pages my beloved favourite character died and yet I continued, riding the wave of grief I knew was going to peak to a king tide by the end.
For what else could I do?
As the narrator of Bridge Of Clay states:
“We can’t do anything.
One of us writes, and one of us reads.
We can’t do anything but me tell it, and you see it”.
He tells it.
I see it.
And I feel it.
So why am I writing about it? Because there is an intrinsic need in us for our grief to be a shared experience. I know others have felt this type of grief. For some it’s books, others films, for others it is TV shows.
Game of Thrones anyone?
My husband still laments the way Sons Of Anarchy ended, insisting there needed to be some kind of alternative ending, simply so the series could continue.
A good friend was heavily invested in Offspring, and cried over Patrick’s death with the same ferocity as most of the country did when Molly died on A Country Practice.
When I first started reading John Green’s The Fault In Our Stars just after midnight one night in a bid to help me fall asleep, I kept reading until the end of the book found me at 3am, and kept hold of me, weeping uncontrollably until dawn.
It was the same when Izzy took Denny Duquette off the L-VAD machine in Grey’s Anatomy and he died of heart failure. I wanted to lie on that bathroom floor with Izzy and never get up.
It is possible that some people even felt this kind of grief after the last episode of MAFS…..
Please understand that I am not trying to trivialize loss.
The good thing about this type of loss is that it is bite sized grief: it may initially take your breath away, but then slowly you are able to fold it up and carry it with you in your pocket.
It is not like the other type of grief, which can be all consuming, sitting just below your ribs, knowing it can squeeze your heart and suffocate you when you least expect it.
Still, today I feel bereft.
I will allow myself to feel this way for a week or two. Maybe more.
The best bit.
I will open Bridge Of Clay to page one (after smilingly reading the hand written inscription from Zusak himself) and I will dive in, delighting in every one of those 579 pages.
I cannot wait.
When we brought our newborn home from the hospital over 8 years ago, there he was at the gate, waiting for us with a big smile on his face. His little stubby tail wagged furiously as we lowered our son down so he could sniff him, become used to the smell that was to signal the new world order. Then we whisked our baby inside and shut the door, into our closed off world of first time parenting, largely oblivious to the loyal creature that lay down on the doormat, ever vigilant: watching, protecting, loving.
In the blur of those first weeks and months of ensuring our baby son was well looked after, Memphis – who in so many ways had been like our first son – endured the minimum. Minimum attention, minimum affection. Yet he always reciprocated tenfold. He didn’t make us feel guilty for how little time we had for him, or how little affection we could spare: he took what he could get.
As our son grew older, routines were established, and Memphis was acknowledged with pats and walks more frequently. No longer our number 1, there was no jealousy, no anger or aggression, just an acceptance of “what is”.
Then it happened all over again as he slipped further down the rung with the birth of our second son. Again he existed for a time on scraps of kindness, fleeting pats and “good boy”s. Time we did spend together helped to restore our inner calm: he always gave back so much more than he was given.
Our boys have loved growing up with Memphis. They have played ball games together (“Mum, Memphis has taken the ball again”), spent endless hours squealing and laughing on the trampoline as he barks at them from below; even swum in the ocean together.
Now, Memphis is in the Winter of his life. Large polyps have grown in his ears and dulled his hearing. A form of congestive heart failure has taken away the playful leaping and inexplicable joy of chasing a ball. He can be grumpy, and stubborn. He is a grumpy, stubborn old man. But he is also so loving, so loyal, so devoted.
Last Wednesday evening we arrived home to find him heaving, belching up great mouthfuls of foamy, frothy gunk. His stomach was bloated, tight as a drum. A panicked rush to the emergency vet and we were confronted with two options: operate, or euthanize. Euthanize? My brain couldn’t even make sense of the gravity of the word let alone contemplate it. Was she really offering that as an option? Willingly end the life of our best friend? This amazing, dedicated member of our family? Operate it was.
“But his heart” they said.
“Odds stacked against him”, they warned.
“Order to resuscitate?” they asked.
As a family we lovingly patted and stroked our beautiful boy, whispering to him our gratitude for his years of faithful service as he drifted off into the pain free world of anaesthesia. I was comforted by the tears streaming down the face of the vet nurse, her face mirroring all of ours. She knows he’s loved, I thought. Yes, she will look after him.
Hours of anxious pacing and nervous waiting followed, all the while the vet worked feverishly to untwist a stomach that had bloated and flipped over on itself, and then remove a spleen with a nasty looking lump smack bang in its middle.
Our strong, fearless boy, who has not had a normal heart rhythm for nine months, maintained a heartbeat and good blood pressure throughout.
Our rockstar dog made it through.
Memphis was home by Friday night and is slowly recovering, sporting a weird haircut and a raw looking line of stitches the entire length of his abdomen. He is happy, if a little bewildered by the non-stop attention and affection he is receiving. We are happy just to have him home where he belongs.
I don’t know how many more days I will wake up to his smiling face. How many more times I will feel the lean of his body against my leg as I hang out the washing. How many more nights I can lull my children to sleep, secure in the knowledge their faithful protector is just outside, and all is well with the world. How many more times I will look into his big brown eyes and see only unconditional love.
For now, I will take what I can get.
**Just a few short months after I wrote this, Memphis’ heart could no longer take the strain and we had no choice but to end his pain. He died 5 years ago today, and we have missed him every day since.
The other night we were discussing possible Easter plans and whether or not we will go away this year. As we were talking, I could not escape the niggling memory in the back of my brain, one that I had locked firmly away into that vault labelled “better forgotten”, but was now desperately clawing its way back into my consciousness. I could vaguely hear the words “remember that Easter trip” being urgently repeated over and over again.
Remember that Easter trip? How could I possibly forget…
After spending a few days away on the coast over Easter with blissful weather we packed up and started to head home on the Monday night. Unfortunately, at least a thousand other people had the same idea and seemingly decided to leave the peninsula at the same time in the evening as us.
After 10 minutes in the car we had to pull over as our 6 year old wanted to take his jumper off. Five minutes after that he was asking for water. Five minutes after that he complained his tummy hurt. I said: “You don’t feel like throwing up do you?”
“Well, here is a little towel just in case”
Two seconds later: “Bllleeeuuurrrgghhh”. The big vom. Then again. We had no choice but to pull over in busy traffic on the main highway. I got out and ran around to his side of the car as he vomited again.
Problem: One small hand towel is no match for 3 massive vomits. Especially as instead of vomiting into it as you or I may do, he had tried to stop the inevitable from happening by holding the towel against his mouth (remember being a kid and trying to stop the vomit from coming out??). This meant that it kind of EXPLODED all over his face, up his nose, over his glasses, all over his pjs, and generally over the entire back seat of the car.
There I was, on the side of the highway with the back passenger door open, sizing up this vomit explosion, with about 1 million cars and road trains whizzing past me at 100km all in a hurry to get, well, past me. Squinting my eyes against the dust and exhaust fumes I opened the boot and wouldn’t you know it, all the kids clothes and even the dirty clothes bag had been packed on the bottom. My helpful husband suggested it was only 5 mins to the next town where we could stop and deal with our situation appropriately. My poor son. I tried to reassure him it wouldn’t be long as I shut the door on this vomit covered munchkin, who was now also shaking from the cold and the fact he had just purged all the heat from his body.
Remember all of those cars and trucks that were whizzing past at 100km hour just a minute before? Each and every one of these vehicles created a bottleneck as we approached the town, turning our 5 minute trip into 20. Twenty very silent minutes in our smelly, smelly car.
That was plenty of time for me to repeatedly hit myself over the head with the metaphorical guilt stick, replaying our conversation at the dinner table when I had insisted he eat his lasagna as he had been “eating too much chocolate and you will have some real food, blah, blah, blah”, even though he kept protesting that he didn’t like it and it was making him feel sick.
Finally, we arrived at the service station and pulled over. Had to smile as I lifted up the centre console to get the tissues and guess what else was there: a sick bag. Anyway, I lifted him out of the car, stripped him off and wiped him down with an entire pack of wet ones, and redressed him in some trackies and jumper I managed to find. I then wiped down his car seat and the back seat and put him back in the car sitting on a clean towel, with vomit bag firmly in hand.
Now everything was sorted I opened the other door to give our 3 year old a kiss and what did I see? The poor boy’s face covered in his brother’s vomit. It had been for over 20 minutes. He did not say a word, nor even try to wipe it off. Just sat there through the whole ordeal with that horrible stinky vomit on his face!!!
So that will go down in the annals as OUR family Easter story.
I think we might stay home this year after all………
Both of my boys have been on school camp already this year. Youngest son returned the other week, tired and hot, but bursting with stories to tell of adventures enjoyed, fears conquered, and – even though it was held on the Adelaide Plains in the middle of a heatwave – happily declared he could have stayed longer.
Eldest son was not so ebullient. He returned from camp in the first week of term declaring he “hated it with the fire of a thousand suns”.
(Full disclosure: those are actually my words. Or more correctly, Shakespeare’s. Or, you know, that geeky guy talking to Heath Ledger in “Ten Things I Hate About You”(wink emoji)
His words were more like:
“It was shit. I hated it. Worst camp ever. Don’t make me go again”)
Chalk and cheese, right?
But while my boys are very different people, with their own personalities, I can totally understand their position, as I have experienced first hand how some camps are great, and others……….not so much.
My first camp experience as a teacher, I was teaching at an all girls Catholic school in the city. We took our Year 8 girls to a lovely, well optioned campsite in the Adelaide Hills and spent our time going on walks, roasting marshmallows around a camp fire and – I shit you not – literally singing ‘Kumbayah’. Yes, the girls stayed up late, but that was because they were having so much fun doing each other’s hair.
It was a thoroughly relaxing, civilised three days.
Buoyed by this experience, twelve months later I eagerly embarked on another three day camp, but by this time I was teaching at an all boys school, and I was accompanying my Year 9 home group on their “Wilderness Adventure”.
It didn’t take long for me to realise that this camp experience was going to be a little different to the last.
Even though the boys were sleeping in dorms on the first night, predictably, there was not a lot of sleeping. In fact, when I went to check on them, the boys were not in their dorm at all.
It seems several of the boys were so eager to try out the high ropes course, they thought they would have a go – at night. But first they had to make it look like they were fast asleep in bed. Most of the boys clearly thought a sleeping bag and pillow hastily shoved under the covers would actually resemble a human form, but two clever young men had earlier performed a reconnaissance mission of the campsite and “borrowed” the first aid mannequins from the equipment shed and placed them in their beds. Their plan may have worked, but they hadn’t counted on me being a child of the 80’s: I have seen ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’ so many times I can recount every word of dialogue. So the old mannequin in the bed trick?
They didn’t stand a chance.
Once I rounded up the boys and herded them back to their dorm, then patrolled the area for what felt like eternity (but realistically was until the early hours of the morning), I then returned to my dorm and collapsed into bed, pulling the covers over me and praying for sleep.
Except sleep didn’t come, because when I say covers I am talking about a scratchy as sandpaper, prison issue grey blanket that had a warmth factor of zero.
How do I know it was prison issue?
Child of the eighties, remember?
In addition to my love of Ferris Bueller, Dirty Dancing, Grease and every John Hughes film of teenage angst starring Molly Ringwald, I also binge watched every episode of Prisoner.
I had seen Doreen wash enough of those grey blankets under the watchful eye of Bea Smith on the steam press, to recognize their origin.
I’m guessing those scratchy, thin blankets serve a purpose in prison: they don’t allow you to sleep too deeply and therefore you can be on alert in case your cell mate decides to stab you in the middle of the night with a home made shiv. In a camp dorm though, not much purpose……..
The next morning, not at all refreshed but ready to go, we packed our kayaks and headed off up the river in search of our campsite.
Just under eight hundred hours later* (*time is approximate based on my memory of it taking a bloody long time), we pulled our kayaks up the river bank and began to make camp.
After setting up tents, cooking dinner on Trangia stoves and telling stories around the camp fire, I was looking forward to blissful seep. Looking at the exhausted boys around the campfire, I was pretty confident they were too. Soon I was tucked up safely in my tent, utterly relieved I was not on supervision duty that night.
About a millisecond after my body carried my brain off to sleep, my subconscious told me there were footsteps outside my tent. In that haze between sleep and wakefulness, I heard the whisper through the canvas:
“Mrs B. You awake?”
It turns out a group of boys had come to tell me that one of their tent mates had been regaling them with his plans to stab me and throw my body in the river. So they had come to warn me. But it was ok though, as they had told the supervising teacher so I could go back to sleep now.
(** It is probably pertinent to mention here that while 14 year old boys have a reputation for being generally unlikeable, I loved every single one of these smart, ingenious and often hilarious young men. The only thing is, not all of “my boys” (as I called them) felt the same way. While many young men of that age expend their energy hating the world and raging at injustice, one of my students chose to focus all of his rage and hatred solely on me.
This was not news to me, nor to the other boys. All year, whenever I would question this particular young man on his late arrival at school, he would announce loudly: “I was late because I figuring out ways to kill you”.)
Knowing that I was definitely not able to go back to sleep, I got up and went to find the other teacher, as well as the student in question. We found him on the edge of the river, lighting pots of metho (that he had secreted away from all of the other boys’ Trangia stoves) and trying to sail his home made bombs across the river to set the houseboats on fire.
Needless to say parents were called, and he was driven home that night.
That meant I got to sleep blissfully for at least two whole hours before I got up and walked 15 miles so that I could go to the loo without any spectators (this was in the days before phones had cameras, but I wasn’t taking any chances).
You will be relieved to know the final day of the camp passed without incident and we were soon headed home.
Well, if you don’t count the boy who became lost in the bush for several hours during the orienteering activity.
Or the other boy who unknowingly squatted on a nest of fire ants to defecate and was bitten on the testicle, which then swelled to three times its normal size.
But what happens on camp, stays on camp, right?
The media is not kind to teenage boys. They portray them as inarticulate, lazy, grunting beings who like to sleep all day, eat all of your food and play video games. They are stereotyped as being loud, smelly, entitled and self-absorbed.
Having taught teenage boys and now living with a teenage boy (please send wine), I can attest that SOME of the generalisations are true:
Teenage boys do stink.
The fug emanating from a teenage boys room (or from the boy himself after 3 days on camp) has to be experienced to be believed. The smell is a heady mix of boy sweat and body hair and hormones.
Sweet baby Jesus, teenage boys can fart.
Nothing can destroy a moment of blissful silence more effectively and completely than a meticulously timed, well executed teenage boy fart.
Teenage boys fart like they live their lives: with reckless abandon.
Like their farts, teenage boys are loud and can be physically intimidating.
They exist unapologetically. They take up space: lots of it, and are seemingly unaware of where their body ends and others begin.
They eat. So. Much. Food.
At times their physical presence can assault every single one of your senses.
They are SO MUCH MORE than just the stereotype.
Teenage boys are hilarious. (Honestly, they are hands down the funniest human beings on the planet).
And fiercely loyal.
They forgive quickly and completely. (Having also taught teenage girls, I cannot tell you how much this statement deserves a Hallelujah!)
Teenage boys are a mass of contradictions.
Even if they seem to be unaware of where their bodies end and others begin, put them on the football field, the basketball court, or at the end of a cricket bat, and you will witness the most amazing synergy as their bodies perform superb feats of athleticism.
They will barely blink an eye in response to their uncanny ability to lose a school hat, shin pads, their left footy boot and a ridiculously expensive blazer all in one week, yet their reaction can be off the scale when they lose a game on PS4.
They are growing into their bodies faster than their brains.
They are realising their strength, while still being incredibly vulnerable.
They have a keen sense of justice and moral outrage, matched only by their ability to loudly burp the alphabet.
They are spectacularly bad at explaining how they feel, but extremely good at showing you.
They possess so much love, even when they don’t like us very much.
They respect clear boundaries, even if they constantly push against them.
They crave human connection, but prefer to punch and shove each other than to hug it out.
It is their physicality that makes them look intimidating from the outside, while making them feel connected from within.
For as they are pushing and shoving and jostling their way through each day, they are simultaneously walking the fine line between “boy” and “young man” and “bloke”.
They are growing into their masculinity just as surely as they are (slowly) growing into their brains.
Yes, they are growing into men in a world that privileges men, that is true. But at the same time they are being bombarded by warnings against toxic masculinity and feeling that the world hates them nearly as much as it fears them.
What a tightrope act, eh?
So when I look at the teenage boys around me, those I know and those I live with, I do not see the stereotype. I do not judge them on the teenage boys they are; instead, I look into their eyes and see the good men they are in the process of becoming.
And that makes me smile.
There is a fire inside of me. I don’t remember the moment the spark was lit, possibly because it was so long ago. I suspect the moment two X chromosomes fused and deemed me female, was the moment the flame flickered into life.
For 40 years it has been a slow burn, with the exception of four years in my late teens / early twenties when I discovered Women’s Studies at university. Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar and Laura Mulvey’s essay on The Male Gaze were profoundly life changing. I even wrote my Honours thesis on Angela Carter and her subversion of patriarchal gender norms in her fiction.
But it was all a bit of a theoretical exercise.
It is easy to parrot feminist theory and rage against the patriarchy while reading the current issue of Elle Dit in the safety of the Women’s Room. It is another to leave the liberal, free thinking borders of the university and cross the road and exist in the “real world” as a young female.
As a 19 year old who desperately needed to keep my Christmas casual job I was in no position to stand up to the Santa who kept entreating myself and my fellow elves to sit on his lap, or try to pull down our elf costumes.
At 20 I simply smiled politely at the knob cloud at an engraving booth in the city who gifted me with this enchanting conversational gem:
Me: “Hi, how much do you charge?”
Knob cloud: “For what, love?”
Me: “Um, for engraving. I mean, is it per letter?”
Knob cloud: “Oh (chuckles heartily). I thought you meant making love”
What the actual fuck?
When I was 21 I was chastised by the football coach at the school I was teaching at, telling me I was “making the boys soft” and “sucking the toughness out of them”, presumably simply by existing as a young female in a heavily male dominated environment.
Each time I was rescued by other people: Santa was sacked, my boyfriend gave the knob cloud a mouthful, and coach was forced to write me a letter of apology.
So yes, fucking #MeToo.
But now, I want to say, I’m ready to #BeMyOwnFuckingHero.
There is a fire inside of me. The slow burn has turned into a bonfire. A combination of my age, the momentum of the #MeToo movement, and the “outing” of celebrity after celebrity who have felt it is ok to use their fame, their influence, their gender, to exert power over women and intimidate, harass and ultimately assault them has me seeing red. No longer do I need anyone to come to my rescue. I will be my own hero. I will call men out on their unacceptable behaviour. I will not smile meekly and try not to make a fuss. If a fuss is warranted, expect this rage bubbling inside me to rain down on your head. So much rage.
I will not laugh it off. I will not make excuses for any man based on his ignorance or his age or his “sense of humour”. A dirty old perv with a sense of humour is still a dirty old perv.
I will fulfil my role in the sisterhood: to lift other women up.
Support them when they need it.
Be their rescuer if they need it.
Although I suspect my wonder woman wrist cuffs won’t get much use because I see it in the women all around me: in the supermarket, at school pick up, at sports training. Women of all ages, shapes and sizes, with a fire in their belly; flames flickering in their eyes.
I am not alone.
We are fed up.
We will not be silent.
We will support each other, lift each other up and link arms as we collectively say: #NoMore.
There is a fire inside of me and it is spreading like wildfire………………………………..
My son’s teacher has a reputation.
Last year my little man emerged from his half hour meet the teacher session with a smile on his face and a spring in his step. Simply uttering the surname of his new teacher evoked random high fives from other parents within earshot. This thirty minute glimpse into the future was enough to see us through the entire eight week break without a moment’s hesitation about heading into a new school year.
My son has a teacher who knows him.
By the end of week one of first term his teacher had spent enough time with him to work out the kind of kid he is, what makes him tick, and more importantly, what lights a fire in his belly. He has then used that information to teach him in a way that he knows will hold his interest.
My son has a teacher who nurtures his passion.
From day one the football banter began, and has developed into an ongoing conversation that includes my ten year old and his thirty something teacher addressing each other using the nicknames of old football legends.
My son has a teacher who cares about him.
There have been a few instances where I know my son has been a bit flat or unwell and all it takes is a kind word from the teacher to lift him up.
My son has a teacher who believes in him.
While my son is an inherently kind, empathetic young man who cares deeply about other people, he is also a ten year old boy. So when he laughs a little too loudly or a little too long with his mates instead of concentrating on the task at hand, when he joins in a dare a little too enthusiastically, and even when he googles “exploding cats” and tries to argue his way out of it by claiming that is the name of a new band and he is “researching” them, his teacher is there beside him, calmly guiding him back on track, believing in the good, kind young man he knows him to be.
My son has a teacher who challenges him.
He sends him home with twenty vocab words instead of fifteen. He asks him math problems he knows he will have to think about to solve. He cajoles him out of his safe, happy comfort zone, encouraging, and gently pushing him further, urging him to test his wings, so that he will one day be able to spread them and soar, all the while walking beside him like a safety net, ready to catch him if he stumbles.
My son’s teacher has favourites.
Everyone knows the favourite students always get special treatment. The teacher is nicer to them, they can joke around with the teacher more, and they receive more positive attention.
My son thinks he is the favourite. His table partner thinks she is the teacher’s favourite. The child on the opposite table is convinced it is him.
In fact, if you question them, every single child in his class will proudly declare themselves the favourite. That’s because they are. He makes them all feel special. He listens to all of their stories. He has time for all of them.
My son’s teacher has a reputation.
For being the best.
Because of this, my son’s teacher has a class of students who adore him. They chant his name, and in their sing song voices loudly proclaim that he is the best teacher in the school. Their parents do too (although not in song): in conversations over coffee, at school pick up, at sports training. It is universally understood.
My son has an inspirational teacher.
Being a teacher is not just what he does, it is who he is. This class of children will become adults, who will always remember how he believed in them, encouraged them. These children may not remember everything he has said, but they will never forget how he made them feel.
I wish this sort of teacher for every child.
Learning can happen in any classroom. Magic happens in this one.