Tag Archives: childhood

White Goose’s Reign of Terror

This was not unusual. Parents of small children must keep to a strict schedule of Ruining Everything to prepare their brood for the challenges of life. It is important to get all your tantrumming out of the way as a child when you get the wrong colour cup, so that as an adult you can cope when your favourite movie is remade, or people like a new fad that you don’t like.

Up until this point, my parents’ preferred method of Ruining Everything was letting my sister sit in my chair and stopping us from watching Jurassic Park on endless repeat. The goose came as a surprise.

If you have ever met a goose, you know where this is going. You probably have your own Goose Story. In fact, you are probably cowering behind the couch right now because if you’ve met a goose and aren’t afraid of geese, either your name is Chuck Norris or you’re lying. And even if you are Chuck Norris, I’m sceptical.

Geese are objectively terrifying.

If you haven’t met a goose and think I’m exaggerating for the sake of humour, enjoy it while it lasts. Your Goose Story will come for you. Maybe it will happen on a picnic. Maybe when you stop your car on a road trip for a quick pee a goose will catch you with your pants around your ankles. Maybe it will happen inside your own house. One day, you’ll learn.

Just like I did.

Before this all unfolded, I thought I knew about geese. We had a large yard with a utopia of poultry—chooks, ducks and two geese. The geese were sisters. They had been my parents’ pets longer than I had been their child. They were lovely and gentle and shy. And, perhaps, this is the more noteworthy Goose Story. We called them the Grey Geese.

Maybe the Grey Geese are why my dad—who had been around longer than me, had met more geese, and really should have known better—thought a new goose would be just the thing.

The new goose was beautiful. He was sleek and pristine white with a submarine yellow beak and cornflower eyes. If he were human, he would not need Instagram filters. He was the Miss Universe of geese.

We called him White Goose.

He came for my brother first.

That first attack crossed a line that could not be uncrossed. White Goose got a taste for violence, and nothing would stop him.

My Goose Story was not a single event. It was not an afternoon of alarm followed by a good night’s sleep and amused retellings, the way my Emu Story was. My Goose Story was a nightmare cycle, an abusive relationship, a siege. My Goose Story was like camping in Jurassic Park. In fact, if you ever meet anyone who doubts that birds evolved from dinosaurs, introduce them to a goose.

Dad, the instigator of the madness, insisted that it wasn’t so bad.

It was that bad.

Our yard was no longer our yard, it was White Goose’s. I could not come and go as I pleased. I could not play where I liked. It was like getting the pink cup when I really wanted the green one. White Goose was, figuratively speaking, sitting in my chair. And my parents were allowing it.

Unacceptable.

(You have to get your tantrumming out of the way young.)

So instead of trying to avoid White Goose, I decided I would outsmart him. I would go where I wished. I would play where and how I wanted. No goose would stop me.

I tried being tall.

I tried being fierce.

And in one memorably innovative and stupid attempt I tried wearing armour.

Although actually I’m the eldest sibling, children under ten are basically tiny Bond villains minus the funding, and memories are a bit vague after two decades, so for the sake of honesty I should mention that there’s a chance that last one went a little differently.

Accounts vary.

In the end, I had to admit defeat. I could not outsmart a goose. White Goose had won. He reigned supreme over out yard for several long years, until one night he met with a large marauding dog.

We were free.

For a while.

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Things I Learned At School

When I was a child I was bullied.

Brace yourselves. I am about to do that irritating thing where I tell you a story from my life that you probably aren’t interested in, and then apply it on a wide scale, even though it’s kind of like comparing apples with orange monsters that want to maul your face off.

apples-and-oranges

The bullying started with a few kids, and it spread. There was a song the whole class would sing when the teacher wasn’t in the room. It wasn’t a particularly offensive song, just a childish one. And it wasn’t the words that hurt so much as the laughter and the crushing weight of numbers. With the wider class, the song was as bad as it got, but the original bullies didn’t back off that whole year.

I’m not writing this to blame them. They were kids. I don’t know what was going on with them. I was also a kid. Initially I tried fighting back (with words). It was unsuccessful, or seemed so, but perhaps a blow or two landed and perhaps they don’t have fond memories of me either. I don’t know. But I do hope they are doing well with their lives, and if they remember it at all, I hope they learned something positive.

They’re just apples. Apples aren’t monsters that try to maul your face off. This isn’t about them.

This is about the day I tried to get help.

It took me all year to work up the guts to say something. I was afraid of being labelled a dobber, but I was more afraid that nothing would happen. That I would be told that the bullies weren’t doing anything wrong. That I deserved it.

So I waited until the end of the last day of school for that year, figuring it was the safest time. I dawdled while the other kids left. Then I went up to the teacher.

(She was one of the better teachers. She was friendly and fun and she taught well. She was a favourite of a lot of kids. I liked her.)

I learned a lot of things at school. I learned times-tables, spelling, and how to write a sentence.

And I learned that I was on my own.

theres-nothing-i-can-do

Nobody would help me. I learned that the bullies weren’t doing anything wrong. I learned that I had deserved it.

I had seven years of schooling left, and I never spoke up about being bullied again.

(Silence killed the dinosaurs.)

But I did speak up for other people.

Like I said, I learned a lot of things at school. I learned about hypotenuses, writing essays and the Cold War. I learned that it is a powerful thing to tell someone that they are on their own. And, by extension, I learned it was an even more powerful thing to tell someone that they are not alone.

As a child, you think growing up fixes everything. I thought that when I grew up and left school and left home and left my hometown, I would be free.

But then I did all that, and I found that the world is still a frightening place full of monsters that shouldn’t be compared to apples. And the orange monsters in the adult-world have the power to cause destruction on a large scale.

monsters

Trump’s expressed opinions of minority groups are concerning. His promised and actual legislation against some of these groups is alarming. But it is the manner he does it—through dehumanisation, blatant lies and the deconstruction of science and truth—that is truly terrifying. Not just for America, but for every democratic country.

It is easy to feel helpless.

tweet

But there’s always something. And it is heartening to see so many people finding it.

cartoons

Perhaps, as I had left it to the last day of the year, the teacher did not have any authority to enforce consequences for the bullies. Even if she did, perhaps it would not have stopped them.

But there is always something. There always is. And I know there was then, because if I could rewrite that scene I know exactly how it would go.

better

Because it was wrong. I didn’t deserve it. And I shouldn’t have had to be alone.

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Failure in A Minor (Some Other Girl)

Once there was a girl who wanted to be a music teacher. She started playing the piano when she was eleven and the clarinet when she was thirteen. She loved playing and wanted to spend her life helping others like her have that opportunity too.

Third person, you understand. She isn’t me. Some other girl.

some other girl

But actually that’s not the story. If you want to understand, it can’t start there. It has to start further back with a little girl who wanted to be a novelist. Or maybe an artist, she hadn’t quite decided.

some other little girl

The little girl loved reading books and drawing and making up her own stories, and she hated waking up early. She had heard that full-time writers and artists could wake up whenever they liked and never even had to change out of their pyjamas if they didn’t want to.

writing bliss

Sensible adults warned her that neither of these were easy careers. You couldn’t expect to make a living straight away, maybe ever, and you had to be really good.

She wanted to be really good.

She taught herself everything she could about writing from the internet, but most of what she learned was about bad writing. She read never-ending lists of mistakes and snide articles that dissected books she had loved to display their failing organs. She discovered plot holes and infodumps and two-dimensional characters and weak adverbs and purple prose and countless other things. There were so many ways to fail.

bad writing

Maybe in another story she would fight on, learn things, face her demons and emerge successful and glorious.

But we’re here for the other girl, the one who wants to be a music teacher. And we haven’t quite found her yet.

You still need to know that the little girl didn’t have many friends. This little girl, the one who wanted to be a novelist or writer (but wasn’t good enough), was a social failure. She didn’t fit in and was being bullied.

bullied

And she was lonely.

So she joined her school concert band and clarinet ensemble. She had some friends in these groups and made some more, and she found she could cleverly schedule her instrumental lessons over the parts of the school day that she most wanted to escape.

And there she is, the other girl. We’re back at the beginning. I’m sorry about the detour, but it was important, and we can begin properly now.

Once there was a girl who wanted to be a music teacher. She played the piano and clarinet. She loved escaping to play them and wanted to spend her life helping others like her have that opportunity too.

The girl went to university to get the qualifications she would need.

She thought it would be like music at school, only better because music would be all the lessons instead of just some of them.

music bliss

It wasn’t.

None of this happened to me of course. I didn’t have a bad experience studying music at university. I did not fall short again and again. I was not humiliated.

But maybe—third person—she was. That other girl.

failure

Maybe she was told that it was a character test, everything was a character test, and that she was failing.

She remembered how after-school cartoons had tried to teach her that failure wasn’t a bad thing, real failure was not trying and supreme failure was giving up.

But it felt bad. And she was trying really hard and it wasn’t helping.

She didn’t really understand. But she thought she did, and what she understood was that she couldn’t give up. Not ever, no matter how much she wanted to.

So she tried to remember that she was a girl who wanted to be a music teacher and kept going.

She endured a whole year of not giving up. And then she attended her last lesson before the summer holidays and walked out and went home. That other girl.

walking out

And as she walked out she said good bye and happy holidays and see you next year.

walking out with talking

Because she hadn’t quit. Everyone believed she would be back. She couldn’t even give up properly.

It didn’t start with a girl who wanted to be a music teacher, but where does it end and which girl does it end with?

Maybe it ended years ago, when the girl who wanted to be a music teacher got home at the end of the year wanting to be anything but a music teacher. She finally gave up, the most terrible and absolute way to fail. She changed degree (softly, safely via email), knowing that it was all character test, but not yet understanding that there is no grade.

quitting

 

It was not a decision she ever regretted, not even for a moment.

Maybe it ends now, with the little girl who wanted to be a novelist (or an artist) as a woman working as a writer and an illustrator. Perhaps, in the end, she did fight on, face her demons and emerge glorious.

writing and illustrating

But is it only okay that she failed then if she succeeds now? And success is a slippery term. She loves what she is doing and believes she is finally in the right place. But she isn’t making a living. And she has a chronic illness and cannot have another job to protect herself. And she is still frightened that she is not good enough, cannot be good enough.

(You have to be really good.)

do it anyway

Or maybe it ends someday yet to come, with a woman who sees her clarinet case and feels something close to curiosity. She will pull it out, wipe off the dust and put the instrument together. She will rediscover how the pieces fit, and then she will play again and enjoy it.

clarinet

But that’s not quite the right ending either. And maybe nothing will be. I think that this isn’t the kind of story that ends.

Because she’s still walking out. That girl, that other girl. Somewhere, always.

She was caught like a mosquito in amber as she pushed open the door, with all the failure crushing down on her and no resolution. So she is still smiling—a tired, fracturing smile—and still saying nice things to the people who made her feel worthless. And she is still telling them she’ll be back next year. And she is always promising she can do better.

(She didn’t mean to lie, but she did and it is caught too).

The moment is suspended, and then that other girl is dropped back into my life, sending ripples in all directions.

me

I am always heading away from her failure. I am always heading toward he failure. I am always her, failing.

But I understand the cartoons a little better now. Failure isn’t a bad thing.

(Even when it feels bad.)

The Girl Who Built the Tree-House

It’s easy to let silence take over part of your life and to forget the good things about yourself. It’s easy to twist your mind and see yourself from a bad angle, to believe that acts of anger or rebellion are always bad things, to submit and tell yourself it’s only this one time. And if that’s easy, then it’s easy for it to spread, like metastasising cancer, from one part of your life to others, until it’s everything.

It’s hard to be sure exactly where it started. It’s hard to recover.

This, just like all my stories, is about who I am. It is for me, although it is available to anyone. It is a rebellion. It is a reminder, because I forgot.

When I was twelve I built myself a tree-house.

I had pestered my parents for one for years before finally accepting that an adult was not going to build it for me. Fair play to the adults; my dad had already built me and my two younger siblings a cubby-house fort.

It was a very good fort. We could climb up its walls, through its windows, onto its roof. We weren’t supposed to do any of these things, of course. The only parentally sanctioned fort-climbing was up the entrance ladder. The roof was firmly and repeatedly deemed out of bounds and we were reminded often that the railing around the balcony was for fall-prevention, rather than a climbing aid. We climbed it anyway. We used it to fight pretend wars, and it was very difficult to invade the fort by climbing politely up the ladder.

treehouse1

Other than that it was obvious we would find a way for it to kill us, there were two problems with the fort. One problem was that there was only one fort. What was the use of one fort? You need two forts, at least, for a proper war. If you had three you could even forge alliances and have betrayals.

The other problem was that I had watched it being built, and I had enjoyed this more than playing on it. I wanted to build more things. Lots of things. Dangerous things. Our yard had stacks of bricks, piles of corrugated iron, heaps of unused wooden planks, mounds of excess pavers. And we knew Dad kept his tools in the shed.

So my brother built his own crossbow which shot chopsticks-turned-arrows with goose-feather flights. It was very effective. We never had chopsticks in the kitchen drawers after that, but they were all over the garden. We built a small table to go in our fort as well as a heavy door to defend it. Our family home got an extension, and a few weeks later so did our fort. We sunk new foundations and built ourselves a dungeon.

We built so much that after a few years of this we started to run out of supplies, particularly nails. The First Great Nail Shortage ended the Christmas after Dad discovered all his nails were disappearing from his shed at rate suspiciously similar to our garden construction boom. We realised that, judging from his irritation and how much he complained, he must really like having nails. We understood. We liked having nails too. We’d found lots of things we could make with them, and when we’d run out of them we’d learned that screws made terrible replacements; they’re so difficult to hammer in.

So the Christmas present we got him that year was perhaps not entirely altruistic, but then, we really did think he would like it too.

treehouse2

I was confused. He only seemed to pretend enthusiasm for the nails, when he had told us time and time again how badly he wanted them. Also, Mum seemed very amused, even though she was the one who approved the present idea and drove us to the hardware store—although when I came to think about it I remembered she had laughed then too.

The new box of nails did not last long, and we were soon plunged into the Second Great Nail Shortage. The Second Great Nail Shortage lasted years and years. In fact, as far as I know, it’s still going.

Nevertheless, other minor forts began springing up all over the garden so that we might have proper wars. One made clever use of existing materials and junk, another was made of corrugated iron and held together with twisty ties.

But I wasn’t satisfied. I wanted a tree-house fort. As a child I loved climbing trees and was good at it. I hardly ever hurt myself, especially if you don’t count the three times I broke my arm before the age of seven. But those incidents involved a car, an arm chair and a fitness trampoline respectively, never trees.

treehouse3

So I think I had every right to consider myself an excellent tree-climber in need of a tree-house.

In the end I decided to build the tree-house myself. And I had to do it without nails. Or screws. Or rope. Or heavy-duty tuna fishing line. Or any of the other things Dad used to have that we had completely used up.

But I still built it.

I used the wooden planks, which were round logs cut down the middle. I wedged two of them in the branches of a tree, roughly parallel, and then laid out more planks across them to create a platform. I dreamed of nails and rope, of bolts and drills, but I didn’t have those things so none of the planks were secured with anything. I had planned well though. The planks were quite heavy and there was a good deal of overhang on each side of the support beams which made it difficult for the planks to work themselves free. As long as I didn’t step on the overhang it was a relatively safe tree-house. And it was all mine and only mine, as I had built it by myself. Without even nails.

The ‘without even nails’ factor quickly became a big deal for my parents. It was dangerous. It would fall to pieces. They didn’t want me to play in it.

I ignored them. I was twelve and was used to parents and other responsible adults disallowing anything remotely fun, like spinning on office chairs, sliding in socks on wooden floors, climbing on the roof or setting the trampoline on its side and trying to climb up it as it falls over.

And my tree-house didn’t fall down. So I built a smaller, higher platform as a second story and installed a dog ramp.

I cannot claim the genius of the dog ramp as my own. Dad had come up with the idea for our first fort. He made a ramp out of a suitable plank of wood and he trained out little dog to run up it. Our dog learned quickly and soon understood how to do it without any pointing or instruction. If he wanted to play with us in the fort, he only had to run up the ramp.

I fixed up a similar ramp to my tree-house and trained our dog to climb it.

The result was, I believe, a masterpiece.

treehouse4

I was fiercely proud of my tree-house, my space, and then I grew up and forgot to be. It’s easy to think that tree-houses aren’t real achievements. They don’t help you with school, for example. Only, really, it did. It may not have directly helped with my grades, but having my own space helped me get through at all. And even when I got older and stopped visiting it so often, being the girl who built it did help. Always.

Always, at least, until I forgot.

My tree-house was removed, plank by plank, and then the tree was cut down. And I forgot that I was the girl who built it, without nails or permission, who painted a flag for it, who loved it and defended it and who shared it with her dog.

My First Near Death Experience

I’ve been so bored. Thanks to chronic fatigue I live on my couch reading books, knitting and feeling terrible that I cannot participate in life the way I used to. So I’ve decided I should write something, something that I might have fun with that has nothing to do with my couch or my illness.

I get blood noses a lot.

This is an excellent topic, because whenever I draw a picture with blood-splatters I become ridiculously giggly and gleeful. I’m hoping that when they read this my friends and family won’t find this information disturbing and will instead shake their heads and think of it fondly as just another of my little quirks.

blood1

Please?

The blood nose issue was most pronounced when I was in school, although I had a stressful time in my first year of uni and ended up with a significant blood nose every day for about a month. One of those days my nose bleed lightly all day, and by ten o’clock at night I was light-headed and woozy and probably should have sought medical attention but didn’t (eighteen-year-olds are, of course, known for making sensible decisions regarding personal safety). During this month, every time I tried to practice clarinet for my performance exam my nose turned into the elevator scene from The Shining movie.

blood2

blood3

Perhaps it was an omen. That exam did not go well.

It could be very handy in school, though, and I managed to escape a number of lessons with tissues clamped to my face. My exits were most spectacular from classrooms that had run out of tissues. One time, I cupped my hands under my nose and they filled up and ran over before the teacher managed to usher me out the door. And then all I would have to do was exaggerate the time it took to stop, and voila! I could miss whole Maths lessons. Thank you, nose.

blood4

But it wasn’t all fun and games. My first blood nose was a horrifying experience. I was seven and, up until that day, I wasn’t aware that blood noses happened. The teacher sent me to the first aid room where I was instructed to clamp tissues to my nose, and then I was left by myself to wait for it to finish.

It had nearly stopped when all hell broke loose. I felt something weird, warm and large in my nose. It came out into the tissue, a lumpy bloody mess.

blood5

I panicked.

I knew what it must be. It was one of my internal organs. What else could it be? It was a slimy red lump and it came out from the inside of my body. Of course it was an organ. I was pretty sure it wasn’t my heart, but maybe it was my liver or a lung.

(Okay, so I clearly wasn’t the sharpest child. Most of my childhood felt dreamlike and drifting, because I didn’t understand most of what was happening around me and had worryingly little inclination to figure it out. At the time of my first blood nose, I only had a vague understanding that people were made up of tubes and wobbly-bits, and probably no awareness at all before that day that I might be made up of tubes and wobbly-bits. All things considered, I did a pretty good job of deducing that it wasn’t my heart. Seven-year-old me should get some credit for that.)

I sat for a minute, staring at it, and waited to drop dead.

But I didn’t die. I was pleased, but mostly confused. Although unaware of the actual probabilities of expelling my liver out of my nostrils, I was fairly confident that a person couldn’t expect to stay alive for long if it happened.

I began to worry about what adults would say when they returned to find me holding my liver in a bloody tissue in my hands. What if they said that having your liver drop out of your nose was always one hundred per cent fatal? I didn’t want to have to die to fit with the facts.

Surely if no one ever found out that I should be dead then I would be fine.

So I threw the damning tissue in the bin in the corner of the first aid room. But I was still worried that when someone emptied the bin they would find it and know. I was convinced that the minute my liver- or lung-less state was discovered I would drop dead. I half-emptied a tissue box into the bin on top of it, making sure it was covered.

And then I went back to class and never told anyone about any of it.

blood6

blood7

For years (yes, years) I was plagued by the uneasy memory of the internal organ that fell out. I often wondered which one it was and in what ways its loss was affecting my health.

And then one day I found out that blood noses sometimes make big, wobbly blood clots in your nostrils. I was almost disappointed.