To my extended family

I adore my immediate family, my husband and kids, and although they’re far away it’s nice to have a strong connection with my children’s grandparents too. But I don’t mention much about my extended family. I’m an only child, so I’m talking about aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. This is because I haven’t made much effort to be in touch with them. Actually, I’m going to be honest here, I’ve actively avoided them. And now, at the age of 37, for the first time, I’m beginning to feel terrible about that. So this post is an apology to my family for cutting them out, even if they didn’t notice.

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my family. none of the people in this photo are alive any more and i never met any of them. this is my great-grandparents’ wedding, taken at St Bartholemew’s somewhere in London’s East End, Boxing Day 1923

I didn’t really grow up with my cousins. They mainly lived in Sydney and my parents and I moved to Canberra when I was two or three. We’d visit of course, but it’s not the same. And frankly, I don’t know why, but I always felt different, like I didn’t really identify with my family. On one side, I think the lack of language contributed – they all spoke or understood a bit of Serbian and I knew none at all. On the other side, I felt a little closer to them, but culturally, again, they were more ‘Aussie’ or something. When I was a teenager and even into my 20s I was a real snob. Yeah, this is an honest post. I was so stuck up, constantly comparing myself with others, insecure, immature, unable to accept that everyone is different, with different influences and ideas and desires and strengths and weaknesses.

Having said that, I was very anti-Australia for the longest time, despite having been born and growing up in Australia. I considered myself ‘European’, whatever that means. I think it meant that I didn’t identify with Australian culture and I felt like being European was classier, like people from Europe have more of a world view, are more educated, more intelligent, more refined. I was revolted by bogans. It really was snobbery on my part.

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countdown to departure, July 2007

I think there were a couple of pivotal moments that changed my perception about my cultural identity and where I belonged, but it’s only recently that my familial identity has begun to matter. Just after turning 18, my dad took me to the UK for five weeks. I was so excited as it was my first overseas trip and I was finally going to visit this mythical land of ‘England’ where I felt my cultural heart truly belonged. It was a shock, to say the least. I will never forget the feeling of weight I experienced; all those people, all that history, all mixed up, rushing, spilling, washing over me. I felt claustrophobic, weighed down by the sheer volume of ‘stuff’ that had happened in that place over the centuries of city living. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t wait to get out. I was amazed at how dirty all the London transit vans were, just smog and road dirt accumulating. Some of the roads, remnants of Roman walls, puddles filling in uneven pavement, crowds trying to enter and exit stations and trains, it was all so full and overwhelming to me, a very naive, immature teenager with very little experience of the real world. I’d come from Canberra, the cleanest, quietest city in the world, a population of around 350,000 neatly arranged in suburbs around a handful of peaceful ‘town centres’. This is a city that was planned. The closest thing to a traffic jam occurs when you have to slow down a little bit because the NRMA are jump starting someone’s Datsun in the Parliamentary Triangle and it’s 8am. Everyone in Canberra drives. It’s about as far from London as you can get in every respect.

So at 18, I realised I wasn’t European. I was so glad to be Aussie. We landed at Sydney airport on a warm January evening and I have never been so glad to get into a creaky Falcon with a Lebanese driver and try not to get car sick because the suspension on those things is like a roller coaster ride gone wrong! I was home. But the gratitude for being home didn’t last long. Four years later I embarked on an adventure to take advantage of a scholarship and I studied in Siena, Italy for three months. That was a great experience and my world view expanded quite a bit.

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at Telstra Tower, Canberra, in 2013

When push finally came to shove and I realised how toxic my life in Canberra had become, I went back to London in 2007. I was 28. I planned to stay for six months and I wasn’t there to party it up or take drugs or have fun. I didn’t do fun. So much for that. As I’m sure anyone who knows me knows, my London years changed my life. I met the love of my life, I grew up about 20 years in the space of two and a half, and my sense of cultural identity got a whole lot more complex.

Moving back to Australia in 2010 and having my son in 2011, the pull to find where I belonged, to find a home, was even stronger. But I didn’t yet equate home with family. I was starting a family, sure, but I still had this firm belief that ‘my’ family would be my husband and child(ren), and the extended family, some of whom I’d fallen out with by this point over various misunderstandings and overreactions, were not going to be part of my life. I am a fair person by nature, but I’m also a classic overreactor. If I feel stressed or under pressure, I will back out. I’ll just drop everything, push everyone away; it’s all or nothing. I am insecure, I hate intervening or getting in people’s way. I don’t want to disturb. But often this is interpreted as snooty-ness or rudeness when really it’s the extreme opposite! My worst nightmare is having to ask for something, even if it’s something I’m entitled to, something I own, I just don’t want to confront, I don’t want to state my case, I don’t want to attract attention to myself.

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London. Nuff said

So continuing on from my escape to London, I slowly began to extricate myself from any hint of connection to my extended family. They are all clever, sensitive, aware people, and I’m sure many of them wondered what my problem was, why I was trying to disappear from their lives. I worried that one falling out meant I’d automatically burnt my bridges with others connected to that one person, so I just unfriended everyone on facebook and set my profile to private and got on with life.

As my son grew up and my husband and I got to know each other better, questions arose. My husband was a bit miffed at not getting to meet my family, but I remember saying, oh, don’t worry, it’s more trouble than it’s worth. Secretly, though, I knew that wasn’t the case. I just didn’t know how to make things right. I felt stressed out by all the emotional stuff I was going through and I couldn’t deal with the communication challenge. So I keep everyone at arm’s length.

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I just don’t like Sydney but I must admit it was nice living across the road from this

I think since coming to Canada and experiencing such homesickness I have also begun to feel sad about my lack of connection with my extended family. I unblocked everyone ages ago and my profile is no longer totally locked down. I occasionally have a little look around, see some comments and conversations on the pages of some family who I am still privileged enough to be friends with, and I see them loving each other, my family. I see how grateful they are to have each other, how much of an effort they make to stay in touch, and I envy that connection. I wish I hadn’t been so stubborn and stupid. I don’t know if I’ve burnt my bridges, I hope not, but I don’t know what I could say that could make it right. All I hope is that my family can forgive my silliness and we can move on in peace. I hope we can reconnect, but if not, I hope they all know that I bear no one ill will and I am grateful for each person’s impact on my life.

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Adjustments

So I’ve discovered a lovely chiropractor and both the Dude and I have just had assessments and adjustments.  Yes, I know, chiropractor, that’s so 1985, right?  That’s what I thought, but this chiro is different.  I’ve always gone to osteopaths, who I think are fantastic, but this particular chiro, Allison at Newtown Community Chiropractic, is something special.  The treatment and approach are very wholistic, which I like.  It’s nowhere near as expensive as I expected and I really feel like there’s going to be some progress here.

For the Dude, he is doing this odd crab-style crawl where he puts his right foot flat, and it appears he’s very much right dominant, so we’re going to see if this treatment helps him balance out a bit.  It may also help with his skin as that is very much constitutional.  I secretly think, though, that while it might help, it won’t cure it, and I need to change my diet before any change will occur.  I actually think he has come to teach me how to do this, or at least provide me with the opportunity to do it.  I don’t know if I can or will.

Which leads me to the reason I went to the chiro.  My body is so far out of balance, far more than ever in my life.  My weight and eating issues stemming from bad habits learned through life in response to traumatic events are my main concerns.  I never thought something like chiro, which I’ve always seen as very focused on the physical, could affect the emotions or mental state, but having spoken to the chiro I can now see how it can.  That’s not to say I think it’s going to sort out my issues, but I think it will help give me the opportunity to heal them for myself.  I found myself telling the chiro, during my assessment, about all my food issues and she really helped me look at how various traumas can trigger the formation of negative patterns of behaviour.

As she began the treatment and very lightly and quickly slid her hands down my back and all the way down to my ankles, I felt a very odd hot-cold sensation in my calves.  I didn’t say anything, but I remembered it.  She spoke a little about what we might achieve as she did the treatment, getting me to breathe in and out at certain points and making the table do its clunky up and down stuff.  When she mentioned establishing a heart-head connection I felt emotion rise in me, as though I was going to cry!  It was bizarre, totally unexpected.  But I noticed it and remembered.  The only part I found a little disconcerting was when she cracked my neck.  I didn’t expect it, and although I’ve had it done before and it wasn’t painful, it felt a little more invasive than I’d like.  My neck felt great, free and clear and flexible, afterwards but I’m not convinced that kind of manipulation is ‘right’.

Anyway, we’ll see what comes of all this.  If anything I hope the Dude gets his stuff sorted so he can grow without blockages and his nerves are firing on all cylinders.  For me, I’m not sure, perhaps this will lead me further on the path to healing.  It feels like I’ve got a massive mountain to climb, a sheer cliff face in fact.  So many things are out of balance in my life at the moment, both on a practical level and an emotional level and I find it hard to work out where to begin.  I’ve got grand plans though…

The Dude’s birth: post script

Our little Mr I, aka The Dude, was born on Monday 9 May 2011 at 7:57pm in the pool at home.  The birth was transforming, as expected, but beyond anything I could have imagined.

There are a few key lessons I learnt from this birth.

First, my relationship with my mum completely transformed.  During the pregnancy I was able to identify the fact that I’ve not relied on anyone for a very long time, since I was a very young child in fact.  I’ve always been independent and headstrong, and I had some kind of complex about relying on others, probably because I couldn’t be sure they were reliable.  No one had shown much in terms of reliability.  It wasn’t so much anyone’s fault, it was the situation, the circumstance.  My mum, through no real fault of her own, let me down somewhat because she didn’t stand firm with me.  It was hard, I was clever and angry and strong and lacked empathy; I’d be so adamant about what I wanted and she found it impossible to stand firm against that, she actually needed to protect herself.  So when, during the birth, I lost control, lost faith, lost hope, and was running from the very thing that would bring the baby down and out, my mum did something heroic and unlike anything she’d done before.  She stepped up.  She didn’t let me escape.  She wasn’t mean, she just supported me and she didn’t let me down.  She was there, no matter how long it took, and she was prepared to go through it with me and be my rock.  And I needed her, I really did.

Second, I couldn’t take shortcuts.  All my life I’ve been really good at most things without exerting as much effort as most people.  I was always healthy and strong, tall and flexible, clever and funny, and I managed to cruise through most things others would consider a challenge without much effort.  When I had to put effort in, it would be half-hearted, and if I wasn’t great at something firs time, forget it, give it away, not worth doing anyway.  I didn’t take direction well and would ignore teachers at every interval, from the ice-skating teacher I had at age 8, to the maths tutor I had at age 14, to the flute teacher at age 16, I wrote them all off, did whatever I wanted, scraped through and escaped the challenge.  My mum always said, ‘you’re living small’ and that made me angry.  I know my dad could see it too, as he does the same thing.  But this labour, this was by far the biggest challenge of my life, and I couldn’t escape it!  There was a way out; hospital, intervention, drugs, disappointment.  I couldn’t do that.  I knew that was wrong for me and for baby.  So I did it, I rose to the challenge, I pushed through pain a hundred times beyond anything I could even imagine feeling, and I achieved a huge goal.  I overcame this without any shortcuts.  I don’t ever want that feeling to go away; I want to always remember how it was to beat myself and overcome this, so that I can achieve really great things in life and not wimp out or make excuses like I have in the past.