An Emotional Impasse

It’s a while since I have mentioned Young Donald – a couple of years probably. He left home some years ago and lives in another state. This was a strange adjustment for me to make. One moment, I was excitedly anticipating the arrival of a baby, one that I’d gone to considerable effort and expense to conceive and in the blink of an eye, eighteen years had passed and he was off to face the world on his own.

There was a brief period where he returned home from a few months, but then he was gone again, and our contact was limited to very occasional visits – either me to Perth or him to Adelaide. He always worked over Christmas so that special time was not shared anymore, nor his birthday which followed a few days later. I was always sad that we were apart at this time, but had to accept it.

One of the important lessons in becoming a parent is that we don’t create clones of ourselves; rather we give birth to separate human beings, with their own views, personalities, attitudes, hopes and dreams.  As Gibran said, ‘You may give them your love but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts’. While we are alike in many ways, we are also different in so many others. That, I had to learn to accept.

There have been frequent phone calls over the period of separation. Sometimes it has been to ask advice – how to cook something, what to buy, or some such. The calls that I liked best were those that were simply to have a chat. Not that they were frequent. Usually he was in the car and calling to fill in the time until he reached a destination.

I couldn’t escape from the feeling though that there was a growing distance between us; a separation over which I had no control and couldn’t breach. What caused me the most angst was that it seemed to be an indifference. He was moving onto his new life, one which didn’t really involve me to any great degree.

Gradually, I could see that his ideas and perceptions of the world were changing. Although I’d tried to bring him up with an appreciation of social justice issues, and values which reflected a fair go for all, his interpretations on events around us were developing differently to mine. This meant that we frequently fell into arguments, and when I spoke to him on the phone, I needed to have other topics up my sleeve so that I could quickly move us onto safer ground when it seemed that we were reaching an emotional impasse.

I was dismayed to see these views evolve, but could only surmise that they arose from his current circumstances. He has been living with other young men in shared households and most of them are online gamers. Their interaction is with others of their ilk, and I suspect that many of the views perpetuated in the online forums are conservative and misogynist. His work environment is likewise a manual and male-dominated environment, not known for intellectual debate.

Now we have reached not a point of no-return, but are currently estranged. Part of the problem lies in communicating electronically, where issues and meanings can become distorted. I don’t wish to detail the issue that gave rise to this breakdown in our relationship, but what I thought was a discussion he interpreted differently and responded with astonishing vitriol and hatefulness. He also told me to f*ck off and not speak to him again. So I haven’t.

It was such an inappropriate response to what I had disclosed to him. If it hadn’t been for those final words, I would have attempted to salvage the situation but my heart is shattered into a thousand little pieces. I can’t let the situation remain indefinitely, but am not at the point of mending bridges either. I’m not sure if he even understands how totally inappropriate his response was, but there is another thing that worries me. He has little emotional support. Whatever differences we had, I was still at the end of the phone for him, and now he has no one. I worry about his emotional resilience and ability to cope on his own. Young men don’t always do well with emotionally negotiating their way through life and when you have a person who habitually sees the negative rather than the positive in a situation, that scenario is magnified.

Although he should apologise, I am not sure that he will or will fully understand why he should. I still need to resolve what I will do and when, but until that time, the night hides my tears. He is still my son.

 

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Phoning Mother

This morning, just before waking, I dreamt of my mother. It was just a fleeting connection and very mundane.  I was at the kitchen sink doing the washing up and she brought me some more dirty cutlery to add to the pile needing to be washed.  Moments later, I woke up and felt both astonished at her appearance and bereft.

Ironic that it was today, Mother’s Day that she chose to appear.  She died with breast cancer twelve years ago, and of course I miss her – even though she often exasperated me or we disagreed on things.  I realise with hindsight though that although I was aware in a general sense that she did so much for me, I took a lot for granted and never really thanked her properly.  This morning’s episode reminded me of a story I wrote in the months following her death.

 

 Answer the phone Mother – answer the phone!  

     “This call is being diverted to another number.  Please hold.”

     Not again!

            “You have reached the mail box for …”

            “Nancy … Shorne.”

     My mother’s disembodied voice.  I listen intently, absorbing the tonal nuances and waiting for what else she might say.  You never know, this time it might be something different.  The two names are spoken distinctly, as though there is no association between them.  Nancy – pause – Shorne.  Two separate words, not Nancy Shorne, with the words running into each other with a combined inflective melody.  I listen to the message, hesitating.  Should I speak?  What should I say?    I dither and the silence extends into an embarrassment.  I hang up, feeling stupid and bereft.  Unfinished business is so unsettling.

       After a few moments I collect my thoughts and pick up the phone again. 

            “Nancy … Shorne.”

            “Ummm, it’s me Mum.  Just calling to see how you are.” 

     This time I’m prepared and hang up the phone quickly.  No pause.  I feel a little flushed and unsteady though. 

     It’s strange – it’s not as if I am a kid any more, but there are times when you still want your Mum.  I was surprised when it first hit me.  I was always quite independent and confident.  I had unexpected surgery a few years ago.  When I awoke, I was overcome by post-operative melancholy, to say nothing of pain, and all I could think was ‘I want my mum!’  That was bad luck, because we were in different parts of the country.  I wept miserably, saved only by a nurse of mature years who recognised my distress and isolation and sat with me for a while. 

     I would have phoned Mother then, but only local calls were permitted from my bedside phone, and I couldn’t walk down the hall to the pay phone.  I had to wait for her to call me, just like I am waiting now.  I wonder if she knows what time it is?  Perhaps that is why she hasn’t rung.

     Phones have become such a way of life.  They are more than just communication devices.   They are statements of personality, fashion accessories, reminders, companions, and cameras..  I have a theory that in the not too distant future, our phones will be the means of Big Brother keeping track of us all, and we will use them for everything.  They will hold all our identity information and through our personal phone number it will be possible to access our tax file number, credit card info, social security number, etc.  It will happen gradually and we will all be seduced by the gadgetry before we realise what is happening – a sort of pocket sized Trojan Horse.

     Mother’s phone is just of the basic variety.  It took a while to coach her on how to leave the message.  All she wants is to be able to make and receive calls.  It does have other features, but she never uses them and she seems to have lost the instruction book now anyway.

 Once, we used to solve our problems for ourselves, and now when we are unsure what to do, we automatically reach for the phone.  Our children are loosing survival skills, and are really dependent on their phones.  I know it, but I still reach for the phone for the simplest thing.

          “Nancy … Shorne.”

     “Mum, do you know where your address book is?  I need to do the Christmas cards and I don’t know where anyone lives.  I could send email cards instead, but it is nice at least once a year to actually post something.  I suppose all I really need to do is wait until other people send their cards and then just note the addresses from the back of the envelopes.  I’ll write some notes in the cards as well.  Is there anyone you particularly want me to write to?”

       While I wait for her to call back, I could have a look through her desk.  It seems a bit intrusive though – like looking in someone’s handbag.  They are such personal spaces.  If anyone looks in either my bag or goes through my desk it feels like a real invasion of privacy but how else can I find anything?  I’m very careful and try to put everything back just as I found it.  Hopefully she won’t even realise what I’ve been doing.

       Actually, I have been looking through her recipes too, but she never seems to file anything in a logical order.  A lot of stuff she just keeps in her head and never actually writes it down.  When you do read the recipes that she has written, she leaves out the crucial bits, like in which order ingredients should be added, or how long to cook things and at what temperature.  I have to sort of guess, or else give her a quick call at some crucial moment when I’m getting a bit panicky.

           “Nancy … Shorne.”

  “Mum, how long do you cook quince paste?  How do you know when it’s ready?  This stuff that I’ve got on the stove now looks more like jam.  It’s taken so long to peel and cook and sieve and cook, and it just doesn’t look like yours at all.  What do I do now?”

       I wait for a while, just in case she has just picked up the phone and has heard my message and is going to reply.  I know that’s silly, because although you can pick up the phone and interrupt a call to a land line that is connected to an answer phone machine, calls to mobile phones go to virtual mailboxes instead and you can’t interrupt those.  I still wait for a bit, but there is only silence, so I hang up.  With some answer phones, a silence is interpreted as a completed call anyway, and the device actually hangs up on you, the caller.  Bit rude.

     Having got this far with the quinces and seen how difficult it is, I think I will just buy some from the providores in future – there are some good stalls at the Central Market – but it seems such a waste to just throw out this batch.  I’ve invested so much time in it.  Perhaps I will just keep it as jam.  Pity I never eat it.  By the time she calls me back, it might well be Quince Toffee – a new culinary delight.

       Sometimes when I phone her I don’t wait.  I dial her number and that impersonal mechanical voice starts with This call is being diverted to …” and I just hang up.  I get a bit irritated.  I don’t want to hear that strange woman’s voice.  At least it’s not an American voice, like those you hear in lifts telling you what floor the lift is travelling to.  The phone companies seem to have developed some sensitivity to the local markets.  I haven’t thought about it before but perhaps this is a new job for current times.  Qualification – well modulated voice, slow delivery, absence of regional accent.  A bit strange – there would be exposure around the country, all day every day, but totally anonymous. 

     Even one of my printers talks to me, and tells me when it has a paper jam, or if it has finished printing.  Voices everywhere.  I wonder if there is an association for recorded voices, or whatever they might be called.  There is bound to be some very important sounding technological name.  What would happen if they all went on strike one day?  What would we do with the silence?

     Speaking of silences, I wish she would call me back.  It’s a bit of a one-way street, leaving messages and not getting a call in return.  I have my mobile with me most of the time, so I am always contactable.  I miss some calls when the phone is in the bottom of my bag and no matter how frantically I scrabble around, I can’t find it in time and it stops ringing just as I locate it.  She doesn’t have a silent number, so I would know if she had called.  Her number would be displayed as a missed call.

     Dad has the phone now.  He inherited it by default, but he is even more technologically illiterate than mother was, so he often forgets to take it with him, or even to switch it on.  As for changing the recording or even reading the messages, forget it.  He has no idea.  It means that any time I want to talk to Mother, she’s there, her voice permanently preserved in virtual reality.  It’s comforting in a bizarre sort of way. 

     “You have reached the mail box for …”

            “Nancy …  Shorne”

     “Hi Mum.”

                   24 June 2004

 

Shortly after this story was written, my father erased the recording, as he pressed random buttons on the phone, trying to figure out how things worked.  My trojan horse comment was more prophetic than I realised at the time.

 

Children born through IVF have no souls

An acquaintance reported recently that another guest at a BBQ was loudly critical of people who used IVF services and declared that children born via IVF ‘have no souls’.  As my friend (unknown to the gathering) was mid-cycle with her latest IVF attempt in conceiving a child, thins was highly distressing to her.  As the mother of a child conceived via IVF, the comment was insulting to my son and I was understandably indignant .  You don’t know whether to laugh or cry at dim-witted comments like that.

Young Donald is now 21 so I have had plenty of time to observe the soul-less creature.  He was a fairly conventional kid really.  Baulked at eating vegetables, had too much screen time, thought that I nagged him too much and protested at being made to walk or ride his bike when surely it would be much quicker for me to just drive him.

Admittedly he didn’t have much of a religious upbringing – well none really.  I had to attend a church service in an official capacity when he was about four and took him with me.  We sat up the front with the dignitaries.  During one of the hymns, all in attendance standing of course, I looked up from my hymn book to realise that he was standing on the pew along side of me, conducting the rest of the congregation.  I don’t think that we have attended a religious ceremony since then, except for a recent wedding in Japan in a Buddhist temple. I guess there wasn’t the need for someone without a soul.

When small Young Donald loved cuddle time (and still gives me beaut hugs), is always ready to give his mates a hand, and is very generous – especially for a soul-less person.  He has morphed from at times being a morose and moody juvenile to being a socially adept young man who charms one and all with his conversation.  It gives me a frisson of pleasure when people seek me out to tell me what a personable young man he is and how much they have enjoyed their conversation with him.  What a pity he doesn’t have a soul.

I am reminded of a Valentine’s Day a few years ago, when Daisy was very much a feature in young Donald’s life.  He took her out to dinner, selecting a cuisine the he knew she would enjoy.  When he brought her home, he had set up my massage table in his bedroom and scattered the whole room with red rose petals.  When they arrived home, she was greeted with soft lighting and massage oil.  Whatever else she was greeted with, I as his mother don’t really want to know, but think what he could have done if he actually had a soul.

I started to wonder just what might have been intended with the reference to ‘soul’ and resorted to online sources for interpretation and definition.  There were many, all much of a muchness and Wikipedia captured the essence with this explanation.

    “The soul, in many religious, philosophical and mythological traditions, is the incorporeal and in many conceptions immortal essence of a living thing.”

I’m not going to debate the presence or otherwise of a soul, whether from the religious, philosophical or mythological perspective.  In my son however, I can see and hear the essence of many who have gone before – my parents and probably their parents and it is possible that his essence will be reflected in those who are to come.  I see mannerisms, I hear laughter, I see reasoning, I see a sense of social justice, I see an observant young man – and I see an individual.  This individual has a resonance that impacts not only on myself, but also on his mates and those he holds near and dear.  Does not that impact render one immortal and if so, is that the influence of a soul, that incorporeal essence of being?

Whether or not my son has a soul is irrelevant really.   What that man was insinuating was that my child, and others who were conceived via assisted reproductive services, is somehow deficient and not a complete human being.  It’s that sort of bigotry that has fuelled the justification of those who would impose segregation on others, and worse.  I just hope for his sake that when the time comes that he wants to reproduce, that his swimmers are up to the task. How would he cope with fathering soul-less children of his own?  That would be karma.

Sold the Family Home

It ended up being a brief process that was easier than I expected.  I handled the sale on behalf of the family and we elected not to bother with an agent but to make it a sale by vendor.

Front-2

This is the house that Dad built

My first preference was to auction the property, as the land size was highly desirable and the house itself was unusual.  There were not many comparable sales around so establishing a value was not easy.  Auctioneers who I approached to act on our behalf declined to do so, saying that they had to work for licensed agents for insurance reasons.  That being the case, I decided to call for expressions of interest instead, with offers over $550k to be received in writing on the designated form by a specified date.  We had already received a valuation at that price shortly after our father’s death and so that was our base price, allowing for some capital growth since that time.

Before commencing the advertising program, I engaged a conveyancer to prepare the forms that needed to be provided to a purchaser, and a blank contract as well so that I could seal the deal as soon as agreement was reached.  I designed a sign board and commissioned that, organised paper advertising (Mainstream and the local Chinese Property News) and advertised on line as well.  That just left the open inspections.

The interest invoked by the property was good and within a day we had an offer of $600k.  There was a little negotiating with different parties but 8 days after our initial open inspection, on behalf of the family I shortened the sale period and accepted an offer of $612k.  I felt that it was a very good offer and that the purchasers were so intent on buying something – if not our property then something else – that I should take it and not risk losing them.

It sounds easy but there was sadness too.  I grew up in that house.  Here were people pacing around the back yard and working out how many smaller homes they could fit on the block (they could fit three) and asking if there were any problems in chopping down the trees.  In the middle of the yard is a huge olive tree.  It has kept the family supplied with olive oil for years.  It was our playground as kids as we climbed its branches and acted out various games.  That was the first tree that everyone wanted to remove.

I made a conscious effort to dissociate myself from the emotional ties and to treat it all as an arm’s length transaction.  We still told our stories though at the open inspections – about how our father designed and built the house; why he came up with such an innovative and unusual design, the environmental features and what we remembered growing up in what was once an outer suburb.  People enjoyed the stories and appreciated being able to ask us detailed questions that perhaps an agent would not have been able to answer.

There is still another month until settlement day.  I’ll be relieved with it is all over, but there will still be a little part of me that is left in that house and up the olive tree, the ghost of childhood past.  It’s the end of an era.

Digging up Mother

My parent’s house will shortly be put on the market.  Father died in February 2013 and clearing out the house has taken much longer than I would have anticipated.  We are almost there (my sisters and I) with some garden rubbish to be disposed of and a few shed items as well.

We will probably manage the sale ourselves and if we can find a willing auctioneer, will sell it via auction.  What this means then is it is time to dig up mother.  That was the decision I came to this Saturday as I surveyed the house and considered what needed doing next.  I knew that she was under a rose bush and was confident that I knew which rose bush.  My sister disagreed however and was sure that it was the adjacent bush.  Perhaps it was.

We have had what seems like weeks of rain and as a result the clay-based soil in the front garden is damp and heavy.  Cutting through it was hard work.  I circled the rose bush that I favoured, levering out forkfuls of soil as I went.  I repeated the process and then resorted to the shovel to dig out the loosened soil.  Thus I dug a circular trench around the rose, exposing the roots and freeing them from the clay.  Eventually I pulled the bush out, severing some roots in the process but leaving a large bowl-shaped excavation that I continued to work on.

After a while, the soil changed consistency and I reached a layer of greasy clay that looked as though it would have been brilliant for making clay bricks.  It was also incredibly resistant to either fork or spade.  I now had a large and quite deep hole but had not found mother.  I conceded that perhaps my sister was right and turned my attention to the second bush.  It was only about 12 degrees but even so by this stage I felt the need to remove my jacket.

I started on the second bush, a bit peeved that I had been chatting to the wrong shrub.  There had been those occasions when visiting dad that I had felt the need for a discussion with mother and had slipped out into the front garden to commune with that rose, filling her in on the events of the day or just having a general chat.  The knowledge that I had misdirected my attention made me feel a bit silly.  I repeated the excavation process that I had followed with the first bush and soon had that plant released from the ground as well.  I dug deeper and wider until the second hole was about the same depth as was the first.  I still didn’t find mother.

I turned my attention to a third bush and divested myself of my jumper, leaving just a thin T-shirt on.  I was puzzled by this stage as my memory of the day on which we buried her did not support the location of the third bush at all but she had to be somewhere and I was starting to doubt the integrity of my recollections.  I repeated the process followed with the first two holes and dug the third hole and removed the bush.  Mother wasn’t there either and by this stage daylight was fading and I was exhausted.  I walked out of the garden 10 centimetres taller from all the claggy clay stuck to the bottom of my shoes, a bit cranky and perplexed by it all.

Today being Sunday, I was back at the house again, tackling some of the fun pre-sale jobs such as cleaning the oven.  My brother-in-law joined us early afternoon and somewhat in mirth when I advised that I could not find mother, undertook to dig up further roses while at that time I supervised and cut back some rampant vegetation.  He dug up a fourth rose leaving a small neat hole that did not disclose mother.

I thought that he needed a broader hole but no matter, he launched himself at another rosebush and dug that one up too.  This was now number rose number five.  By this stage he was feeling the heat and his jacket came off.  I noted a fair amount of huffing and puffing as he struggled with the sticky clay.  With the that hole finally excavated, there was still another option (the sixth) and he tackled that rose bush as well.  Somewhat slowly by now and with frequent rests in between.

There was some talk of perhaps leaving her in situ and that maybe we would never find her.  I heard what they were saying but really did not want to leave my mother behind.  When the sixth hole did not yield a result except for yet another bare-rooted rose looking somewhat shocked, I suggested a cup of tea and a bit of a break.  We all needed it by then.

Suitably refreshed, we emerged to widen the last three holes, giving a greater area to investigate. My nephew had also arrived and he manned the digging implements for a while as well.  I watched them using a stabbing motion with a narrow-bladed implement as they chipped at the bottom of their holes – holes that I still didn’t really believe would yield success.

It made me think again about the first hole that I had dug and I asked my B-I-L to use that digger to chip away at the bottom of the first hole.  Chip, chip, chunk, chunk.  He chipped away and then I scrapped out the loose clay with the shovel.  Suddenly there was a flash of colour.  I directed him to it and then I could see that we had found her.  Just 5 cms below the first hole that I dug, she was waiting all along.  It was a relief to know that I had been speaking to the right bush after all.

Mother has now been extracted from the garden, the clay washed off the cream plastic brick, and she is now sitting along side father in one of the bedrooms.  I am not sure if that is what they would have wanted but for now it will do.  The next resting place is a decision for another day.

It looked like wombats had attacked the front garden.

It looked like wombats had attacked the front garden.

At last, we found Mother.

At last, we found Mother

The Journey

My son has returned home.  He got a big hug rather than a fatted calf and it was good to have him with me again, however briefly that might be.

When he left aged 18 to seek work and fortune interstate, it was a wrenching moment, but one that I knew he had to make.  Think ‘The Epic of Gilgamesh’, or ‘The Journey’ by John Marsden or all those classic stories relating to The Journey that you may have read.  It is a time when a young person leaves the safety and security of home to seek the learning and experience that life outside of the home has to offer them.  There is the call to adventure, entering the labyrinth, fighting the demons, achieving, reaching an understanding, etc. as described by Joseph Campbell in ‘The Hero’s Journey’.

Journey

Young Donald had reached a crossroads in his life.  He had realised that his relationship with Daisy was destructive and based on the web of lies that she continually spun.  (Donald and Daisy are discussed in earlier posts.)  He was played for the sucker.  He had dropped out of school and had no prospects, beyond the casual pub job that he had.  He was bored at home and I was forever on his back about helping around the house and just doing something.

I was fed up with the piles of dirty dishes around the house and other things just dumped anywhere and had made the decision at work that day that when I got home, we would have a serious talk.  Either he needed to leave home, or he needed to start paying board.  He got in first.  He said that he had been thinking and perhaps he would go to Perth and look for work.  I was both stunned and relieved.

Perth was not such a big deal in that my sister lives in that city and his donor father is also there, although Donald and his father hardly knew each other.  They certainly did not have a father/son relationship.  Still it was far away and it meant that Donald was going to have to find accommodation, a job, and to make a new life for himself.

While away, he did labouring work, did some TAFE study in the mining sector and got a job at the remote Woodie Woodie mine site in the Pilbara region.  He had to work with characters who Donald described as racist, sexist and homophobic.  (I was relieved that he recognised these people for what they were.  It meant that I had done something right.)  He found himself somewhere to live and made new friends.  Those were the social skills.

On the practical side, he learnt self-resilience, how to budget on minimal income, how to shop economically, and how to keep himself healthy with wise food choices.  He can drive a 4-Wheel Drive and change a spark plug.  He has a range of technical skills that surprise me.  He also has a new confidence in himself that I welcome.

OK – there are not total miracles here.  There are still dirty plates hibernating in his room but not as many and he is better at washing up and domestic chores and cooking dinner for us both too.  Importantly, it was a teenager who left and it is a young man who has come back.  It is so good to have him home again.  I didn’t realise how much I had missed that kiss goodnight before he went to bed or he went out with his friends.  It’s great to have someone with whom I can discuss issues and share decisions.  At some stage, Donald will move on and make his own life elsewhere, but for now I like the feeling of company and understanding.

I realised when he left that this was a move that he needed to make but it is only now that I have understood that it was a version of the epic Journey.  Thinking back, it is very similar to a journey of self-discovery that I made decades before, and that was important to my self-learning as well.  It is a pity that all young people are not able to make this trip of discovery though many of them do.

Did you make a journey?  What changes did it make for you?

Sorting the Linen Press

What do you do on a wet and wild weekend?  OK, stay in bed is one option but this morning I have been sorting and tidying the linen press.  Who would believe that there would be favourite sheets that are still retained when thin and see through?  There is a lot of history in that cupboard, and as I put out the various sizes ranging from single through king single, double and queen size – I remember which bed accommodated those sheets and who slept in the bed and when.  There are so many memories associated with each.

I don’t need so many and it is time for the cull.  Not just because I am running out of cupboard space, but because this is part of the process of de-cluttering my life.  It was started over a year ago (see A life in boxes).  These things take longer than expected, particularly when memories and life in general intervenes.  There is a great sense of achievement however when another sector of the house is reviewed and cleared.

My next question is what to do with towels and sheets that are excess to my needs.  Not all are thin and past their use-by date, but beds have changed and so not all of them are needed.  I am not so keen on the suggestion of giving them away for drop-sheets or similar.  Do I drop them into the charity bin, or would the refugee association or other organisation that looks after homeless people find a use for them?  Is it tacky to give away used bed-linen?  Questions to sort out before the end of the day.  I am just so grateful that my circumstances are such that spare sheets are a problem.