For the first time ever, in the almost three years since he was born into my arms, there is silence. Machines are beeping, other kids are crying, and refusing their medicines. The air conditioner is humming and wheels are rolling across the floor in the nurses station. but from where he is, on his side, fast asleep, there is only silence. This is the first night since he was born that he has slept peacefully. For the first time since he arrived earth side, he doesn’t have his head back, his shoulders arched and his mouth wide open. He is sleeping, and his oxygen levels are amazing. He isn’t tossing, he isn’t crying, he isn’t snoring.
He is just… Asleep. And it’s wonderful.
I feel like I have to post this, as a sort of public safety announcement to anybody who like me, is trying to kill themselves on a semi regular basis in the pursuit of ‘healthy’. (I can’t in good conscience use the world happy here..)
If you should happen to buy a treadmill off eBay for $80 so as to convince both yourself and your husband that this isn’t another passing ‘gonna’ phase, (the ab king pro, the slidey-leg shaper thing, the protein shake diet and the eating dinner at lunch thing.. there are so many..) you might surprise yourself and start to like it. You might start to get up early to get on it before work, and send the kids to bed a little bit early at night so as you can use it before Big Brother starts (What? I’m not totally reformed!) and then you might use it so much that you manage to break it. You might think it was the one time you dared to run on it which finally sounded it’s death knell, but it’s most likely because you spent $80 on a treadmill from eBay…
Don’t make my mistake. Don’t assume when you buy a fancy new treadmill to replace your not at all fancy piece of junk that the speed settings are the same. Because that is how you find yourself on the garage floor, with a little bit of skin missing off one knee, wondering what the hell just happened and how you suddenly learnt to fly.
You can take time to spend with loved ones, you can spend time reading stories, singing songs or just listening to your children laugh. You can make sure that they eat well, that they sleep at a reasonable hour, that they are warm enough, cool enough, stimulated enough, rested enough. You can make sure that other people treat them well, you can make sure they treat themselves well. You can discuss things with them, you can try and educate them about things that matter, about kindness, selflessness and being honest. You can do so much for your kids.
But sometimes you can’t fix them. Sometimes when their hearts are failing, when their kidneys won’t function, when doctors say things like terminal, renal failure, transplant, surgery, incompatible with life, you can’t do anything.
And suddenly it feels as though all that effort you put in, all the things you did right, all the things you did for them, and with them, all the love and sacrifice has been for nothing. Because when you get told your child is dying, that they are sicker than you can even imagine, that their lives will be over before they begin you suddenly learn how to be grateful. You know instantly that treasuring each second is a cliché, and that sometimes it’s brutal and hard and painful and so unfair, but you just keep going and being grateful that in that moment, you saw her eyes. You saw that they were blue, that you saw she had curls and that you felt her fingers wrap around yours. You realise that the time you got to change her nappy and there wasn’t anything there was precious because that was something you won’t have with her again. You understand how some people can choose to walk away when they first hear the diagnosis, and prognosis. You become amazed by the people around you who have never shared your walk before but suddenly are the ones who prop you up. You see beauty in stable sats, you see sunlight through a window and you feel joy because it’s as though the sun rose that day just for you, and just for her. You know that every day is another day of tests and conversations and all you want to do is sleep but you feel so lucky to be having those conversations because it means that she’s still here, that she’s still fighting.
And the silence at the end when you finally go home, is the hardest part of all. Because choosing to stop, to let the fight be over, to give peace and freedom and the ultimate act of heartbreak and love is to let her go, to say no more, and to hold her closely while she slips away for the last time.
And suddenly you know that you are grateful for every second that you had, for the tears because for those days she was here and now she’s gone and there is this empty gap where you know you were lucky to have her but so unlucky to lose her and really, what else even matters now, except that there is a hole, and everyone expects you just to keep carrying on.
And some days, you just can’t.
I’ve hit delete on the first paragraph of this post about ten times so far. The truth is, I don’t know what to say but that’s not to say I don’t have anything to say I just really don’t know where to begin. Again.
My parenting self confidence took a real hit after Lucy was harassed at school. I know that technically, what happened to her was a form of assault but using that word in conjunction with my beautiful daughter just seems too………awful. I still can’t really believe it happened, I still can’t really believe I had no idea. It’s been in the back of my mind, ever since. Every Friday when I send her back to that place where she once felt safe but even now does not, I have a knot in my stomach and I wile away the hours, crossing my fingers and praying she is ok while being all too aware that she might not be.
While the tremendous guilt has been assuaged now, I still feel sad that I missed such an important detail, that I believed so wholeheartedly that she would tell me. Because why wouldn’t she tell me? And I still am anxious about sending her back there every week. I think i’ll probably carry that misstep around with me for some time to come but mistakes are meant to be learnt from and I am trying not to go too far to the other side where I am hyper aware and anxious about mythical scenarios. I’m learning as I go.
Looking back on the past couple of months, it affected Lucy more than I assumed it might, too. She acted out in ways so totally unlike her for many weeks – only now does she seem to be relaxing back into her old self. She made mistakes in the past couple of months and found herself sitting in the principals office being berated for something that was totally her own doing purely because she relished the attention. She learnt a valuable lesson that week about consequences and harmful behaviour and about how past behaviour affects future decisions and possibilities. Lucy’s school hands out behaviour certificates – Bronze is the expected level of behaviour from all students, Silver is a step up and Gold is for consistently self managing their own behaviour. In term one, Lucy earned a Gold certificate and she worked so hard for it. She was so proud, as were we.
Given some of her choices this term, I told her to be prepared for a lower certificate this term – she was devastated, but determined to work harder. Her teacher had asked me what I wanted them to do – did I want them to award her the lower level to make a point? I was very happy to leave it up to her school – it was their call.
They made their decision, and on the second last day of term, this came home with Lucy.
She learnt from her mistakes, too.
There are always signs. I get home so late on a Friday night that most of the time both kids are already in bed, fast asleep. I kiss them goodbye in the morning and I put my faith in other people that they will be safe, and cared for and safe. I always pray they will be safe. When I get home of a Friday night I go into their rooms, and kiss their cheeks and wish that my life was so simple and carefree. I wish to dream their dreams and know their lives as they know them.
Seven nights ago Lucy had a nightmare. She scared me when she came into my room, she was so quiet and so gentle. I don’t know how long she was there for but when I woke up and realised she was there she was crying, silently. She told me she had a bad dream, and we sat on the couch and talked about funny things that happened at school and what we were going to do on the weekend and drank milk together and wiled away a half hour before she felt ready to get back into her bed. She slept late on Saturday morning and her life, and mine continued on with me blissfully unaware.
When I was seven my Mum caught me at the fence with the boy from the house behind us. He wanted me to show him mine, and he would show me his. He already had his pants down when Mum came up behind us. She scared him half to death, but it never stopped him from trying again. He came from a broken home, we came from a home where we were taught that you don’t show people your private parts, that those parts are special and only for us and not to show them off at the back fence. Still, there were times I was tempted because so what? It’s just a body part.
On Monday, Lucy came home from school starving. I had left work early because I hurt my back, and had picked her up, instead of her usual routine of going home with friend for an hour until I could get there to pick her up. She asked for something from her lunch box and without thinking about it, I handed her the whole box. We went to pick up Oliver and she ate a packet of biscuits, a muesli bar and a piece of fruit. She told me she hadn’t eaten her sandwich because she wasn’t hungry at first break, and ran out of time at second break because she was helping the teachers on duty. No wonder she was so hungry. Make sure you eat it at first break tomorrow, instead, I said.
There was a man, when I was a kid, that we were never allowed to be around. My mum used to tell me that there is something inside of all of us that warns us of danger. It was a special sense, and it told her to never leave us alone with this man. He went to our church, and was always friendly to our family, particularly we kids. It must be a Mum thing, because I can’t recall my Dad ever saying anything about being concerned or worried by this man.
On Tuesday, Lucy didn’t eat her lunch again. I got a bit annoyed, but the usual Tuesday afternoon rush took over – getting something sorted for dinner and getting Lucy to swimming lessons on time, and then I had to be at a CPR training session that night. I switched parenting duties with Matt at swimming, and got home long after both kids were in bed, again. Lucy didn’t eat her dinner which undoubtedly will have ended with Matt sending her for a shower, frustrated about yet another cooked but uneaten meal.
I always walked away from those conversations about personal space and private parts of the body wondering how it would feel if someone ever did cross that unmentionable line. I was told not to keep secrets, that if anybody told me to keep a secret big like that it was a sign that I should tell someone right away. But the only person to ever tell me not to tell anyone was my boyfriend. I kept that secret.
Wednesday was my day off, and with my back increasingly painful I dropped Lucy at her classroom. She asked me to walk her in both Tuesday and Wednesday this week and I had because she never asks and she never wants me to, and maybe this week she just wants me around. So I walked up that hill, with its up’s and downs, limping as though I’d been in a terrible car accident and kissed and cuddled her goodbye. She begged me every day to stay until the bell and so every day until the bell rang I did.
I hated OSH care when I was a kid. We went to this horrible place in a big shed with kids from all the local schools who all knew each other and never wanted to know us. I would sit on the play equipment, at the highest point while deathly afraid of heights and watch for the car that would deliver my parents to us. We didn’t go there a lot but when we did, I hated it. It was a big reason I was so scared about sending Lucy to OSH care, but the nature of the beast is that what is perfect for a family isn’t always perfect for a boss and there has to be compromise. And so, with a heavy heart and sweaty palms I enrolled Lucy for one afternoon a week and prayed to God that he would keep her safe there, too.
Her first adventure there was a big success. She talked about the kids, she talked about the games they played and how she wished she could have stayed longer than one hour, but that is when Grandpa picked her up and the arrangement suited us. The next time she could stay longer. The next time, she did stay longer. Cautiously optimistic, I broached the idea of a possible second day at OSH care, in the mornings to allow me greater flexibility with my roster with Lucy. She was interested, so we went ahead and enrolled her. The first day was a success and so I felt satisfied that maybe, I had been projecting my fear and my memories on her, and robbing her of this opportunity and maybe I was mistaken and this would be a good thing for her.
Today I spoke with a very kind, and very stern deputy principal, who used terms like sexual assault, intimidation and bullying. Today my husband asked me if I knew that someone had tried to put something in Lucy’s bottom. Today, I shook and my eyes filled with hopeless tears of rage and fear as I realised that someone had done something to my baby. That fear only lessened slightly on realising that it was another child because she is six and she is innocent and pure and someone else has done something, or let their child see something that has led him think that this kind of behaviour is ok. Someone else’s’ child is also a victim, and someone else’s child tried to make my daughter one as well.
Lucy is strong. She is educated. We have talked about good touch and bad touch, about what people are allowed to do to you, what is ok and how to handle it. She was so let down by semantics. My six year old reported what happened, but she didn’t know enough. I didn’t teach her enough, I didn’t tell her that she has to be specific when she reports someone for trying to be inappropriate with her. I didn’t tell her that she needs to tell the teacher that someone tried to put something in her bottom. She told them that he was bugging her. They brushed it off, and a little piece of my beautiful six year old daughter gave up, and believed that nobody would help her.
My vibrant, funny and sweet Lucy stopped eating her lunch, stopped playing on the playground and started hanging out with the teachers. She had nightmares, she wanted me to stay at school. Every sign. All of them. They were all there. I missed them all.