Spring, grief, and success

by Veronica Foale on August 29, 2015

in Me

The rain fell wet and heavy as I dragged myself out of bed. First light peeked over the hills and I was grateful for it, grateful the light appears earlier each day, grateful that while it rained this morning, we’ve had a little sunshine lately, and spring is coming.

I dragged myself out of bed, double checked my market boxes, forced myself to eat toast. Tired children sat around the fireplace while I got ready to leave.

If I hadn’t had a market, I might have spent the day curled up in pajamas, with netflix and pikelets and hot chocolates. But there it is. I have responsibilities, and so I left my family at home while I headed out to work.

I have markets most weekends now, and when I’m not at a market, I’m frantically trying to keep up with demand. More soaps, more orders. I’m not complaining – success was the whole point of this venture, but sometimes I miss lazy weekends, and whole days spent in a patch of warmth with a good book.

My youngest child is three now, tall and gangly, running around like a maniac, demanding things. I have this idea in my head: if I can just hold on until she’s in school, maybe there will be time to do everything I want to do. Soap, writing, reading. Maybe.

I’m lying to myself, I know this. Things don’t get easier as your children get older. The questions just get more complicated and involved. “Mum, why do people have sex? Can dogs feel sad? Why do you look so tired?” At the very least, the three year old is a simple child. She wants milk and cuddles and cartoons. Hot cheese sandwiches and peanut butter on apples. She wants to know why she can’t draw on the walls in sharpie, and where her purple baby is, and can she share her breakfast with the dog. Simple. Intense, but simple.

Someone asked me today if soapmaking is all I do. No, I write things too, I replied. And then realised, that’s almost a lie now. I haven’t written anything in too long, I’m all full to bursting with unspoken words. I miss it. Success is never to be complained about, and yet …

My brain is breaking again. I can feel it. I’m holding it at bay with vitamin D and music and hot chocolates drunk in an almost-spring garden. But there’s grief as I head into the spring – grief worse than last year, and the year before. Or maybe I was medicated last year, the year before. I can’t remember anymore.

It’s been six years since my grandmother died, and I miss her more as I head into spring this year. I miss the unconditional love – when so much of my extended family barely likes me with conditions attached, I miss her. I miss her delight in my children, and her love of spring, and the way she showed up whenever we needed her.

It’s a funny thing, grief. Less linear than you’d believe, but there you go. It’s nearly spring, I’m full to bursting with words and emotions, and my grief is harder to deal with.

Outside, the world is full of muddy puddles, wet chickens, and cold crisp air. The warmer weather will hit soon, leaving the plants pushing upwards as fast as they can. I plan to join them, standing in the sunshine, stretching as high as I can.

I have work to concentrate on. Soap to make, orders to fill.

And spring is coming, soon.

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Broken and disjointed

by Veronica Foale on July 19, 2015

in Life

I used to write every day. With music in my ears and words spilling out of my fingers, I would write and write and write. My heart was soul slick, bubbling over, unable to be tamed.

Now I’m a bottle with a cork it; a well fast running dry; a knotted ball of yarn. I know how this works but I’m angry and my fingertips have run dry. There’s no words as I navigate an almost three year old having a meltdown, a six year old with home reading and a desire to have me watch all the video games, an eight year old who needs to know the why of everything.

I am lost in a haze of no words, of chemistry, of fatty acid profiles and caustic experiments.

Who would have thought that making soap could run the word well empty so fast.

My three year old screams in the background, angry again.

The weather is ice and wind.

I can’t send them outside.

There is sharpie on the walls and someone has stolen all my notebooks and unpinned my scribbled notes from the cork board I use to organise my life. I frantically hunt for a pen while I take notes on the shaving soap cooking, but someone has stolen them, my pen cup removed from its home amongst the high shelves and left scattered on the floor.

Now there are two children screaming.

Please just shhhhhhhhh.

I can’t believe there are eight pairs of scissors in the house and I cannot find one of them.

Find a playlist. Turn the music up. The dog is chewing headbands again. Shaving soap cooks and I stir stir stir the caustic mix, waiting for it to come together, to trace, to be soap rather than a messy collection of liquids.

Business is good. I love what I do. But sometimes I feel like a shaken bottle of soda, ready to explode if the words don’t come out. I need to write. Making soap is my passion, but writing saves my sanity and god knows there’s little of it left.

School goes back tomorrow, and the almost three year old will spend the day asking when we can pick up her siblings and screaming because she doesn’t want them to come home and ruin her games anymore.

I can feel a splash of lye on my finger and I should go and wash it off, but the pain reminds me that I still exist in this tornado of business and screaming and need.

Everything is too bright, too dark, chaos whirlwind, around and around. My hands are soul slick again and I wash them off, down the drain with the bubbles, there go the words.

I used to write. Stories. Books.

I’m drowning in a desert of no words and I can’t find my way out.

The soap cooks in the slow cooker and I make notes, ready for markets next weekend. There are twenty weekends until Christmas and 16 markets if I get into everything I want, and don’t get sick, or have my body fall apart. I take vitamin D, magnesium, fish oil, slow release opiates. I sleep when I can, but sometimes find myself sitting wide awake at 3am, wondering what I’m doing.

MUM MUM MUMMY MUM MUMMY MUM MUMMY!

I am not hiding in the bathroom. No, I’m not. Go away. I need to pee. Just, I’m working.

You’re always working.

Yes. Because you need new clothes and our house needs a new bedroom and a dining room and money doesn’t just fall from the sky kid. As much as I would like it to.

The soap is almost cooked in the time it takes me to write this, broken and disjointed.

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Six long years.

by Veronica Foale on June 23, 2015

in Navelgazing

I spend the day in bed.

A mild virus, combined with the middle of winter blues, and a shoulder injury all conspire to see me feeling shitty and getting shittier.

I spend the day in bed, a warm toddler snuggled at my back and crappy TV on my netflix. I cry, and cry some more. My shoulder hurts. My soul hurts.

Death anniversaries are always hard, but this one is hitting me harder than I expected. Maybe because I didn’t expect it. Maybe because after six years (six long years, tomorrow, six years, six years, it’s a litany over and over in my head) I expected to be okay, finally.

I am not okay, and everything is not okay.

June is hard. The puppy chews all my books, stealing them delicately from the bookshelf and shredding them while we’re out, while we’re distracted, while we’re sleeping. She pulls out the books I like most and destroys then. Roman Mythology. Alice in Wonderland. Zombie Survival Guide. They’re all dead and I am so so tired as I pick up pieces of my books from all over the floor.

It is hard enough I had to pack away most of my books to make room for business, squishing down the pleasure of reading all day, of researching and learning and writing, in order to work and make money, in order to improve our lot in life, without a puppy chewing all the favourites I lovingly left in the few remaining bookshelves which do not hold soap.

There is shredded paper everywhere and I spent the day in bed, pretending tomorrow isn’t the anniversary of anything, pretending my shoulder is not damaged, pretending everything was going to be okay.

Tomorrow will come, stay, and pass, like it does every year. Like every day before it, and every day after. I will try to distract myself, but my broken shoulder is making it hard, and I suspect I will spend the day in bed yet again.

Six years. Six years and so many missed milestones and events.

The sharp knives of grief might ease, but the missing never truly does.

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It’s a quick slide down into winter

by Veronica Foale on June 13, 2015

in Life

It’s a quick slide down into winter. The mornings and my fingers ice over, frozen solid, moving slowly. We wait for the frost to burn off, the fog to burn off, the wood in the fireplace to burn off. Life is cold chaos and we’re moving through treacle again.

I tell myself: No. Not this year. You are too busy to be sad this year.

But there it is. The sadness cannot be willed away as we slide into June, the icy runway slick under our feet. A little voice in the back of my head sings, it’s June again, June again, we all know everything is terrible in June.

The vacuum cleaner breaks, and the woodbox of the fireplace splits a little further. It’s June again and everything is breaking around me.

It’s been six years this year, since my grandmother died. Since we walked the year-long cancer journey to its close, a whirlwind of appointments and hope and treatments stopping dead in a palliative care room in South Hobart. One half of my support team cut free forever, as the masses within her lungs and bones shut her body down forever.

Almost a year (eleven days, eleven days, eleven days and a few hours and how are you feeling Veronica? how is that ice in your bones today?) to when we stood around her, a circle of family and love and light and watched her go, the world a lesser place for her passing, a better place for her living.

A part of me will forever be standing in that room, watching her die. Over and over again.

The wound is less raw, but the missing never fades. Grief is an interesting concept, a fluidity to the sadness and the tears. Maybe you’ll feel differently tomorrow, maybe you won’t.

My children grow ever bigger, and my grandmother isn’t in this world to watch them grow. That is a tragedy all on its own.

We were five generations of women, then five generations, missing our fourth, then three. Three generations of women left. It seems unfair. There was so much family here and now … nothing. Maybe that’s the worst bit about death, it cuts families up into pieces, slack hack slice. You over there, you here, now there.

People don’t like to talk about death and dying. There is a discomfort about it, a recognition of our own mortality. If they died, then we might die and everyone dies OH GOD.

The grief of my grandmother’s passing irrevocably changed my life. Set adrift, missing 50% of my matriarchal life support, awash in a sea of grief.

Death, dying.

It’s June again. The ground and my fingers are frozen equally, as a clock ticks down the days to Spring inside my head.

Six years, six years. Here we are.

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Disadvantage and education in Tasmania

by Veronica Foale on June 2, 2015

in Life

I was in year nine when the girl sitting across from me during mathematics matter of factly told me she was living with her twenty nine year old boyfriend. She’d left home after her father raped her. She was 14. A few weeks later she disappeared from the school. Her name was called out for a few more weeks of attendance, and then that too stopped.

I don’t know what happened to her, whether she moved away or simply disappeared. I can’t even remember her name, although I can remember how intense her eyes were as I listened to her talk about how family was fucked and you can’t trust anyone.

She was not an unusual case.

I went to a disadvantaged school, in a disadvantaged area. In our uniforms, we were a rabble, often loud, with plenty of swearing. There were teen pregnancies and drama. When someone finally got around to teaching a sex ed class, two thirds of the class were already sexually active and had a better idea of how to get a condom on in the dark than the poor teacher showing us on a banana.

The classes were rowdy, full of angry teenagers and angry hormones. I took my work home each night to complete it, rather than fighting with the chaos, the noise. We laughed and teased and made the support teachers cry.

It wasn’t a good educational environment. Between the teenagers drinking and doing drugs, the raped and angry girls, the couch surfers and the foster kids, our teachers did the best they could, but there wasn’t a lot of privilege to go around.

On paper, I am exactly like my peers. I dropped out of college to get an apprenticeship, which quickly fell through under the pressure of work AWAs and subtle sexual harassment. I got pregnant at 17, was diagnosed with a degenerative disability at 20, ended up on welfare. I’m second generation welfare. At 26, I have three children. On paper, this is who I am. Teenage mother, dole bludging scum, college dropout.

But I am more than the sum of my disadvantage. The man I fell pregnant to, we love each other. We were married after our second child was born. I bought my house at 19. I freelance. I own a small business. I work around my disability.

It isn’t that easy for everyone.

At the end of the day, when I was a teenager, I had family who loved me. I had a warm safe place to go if I needed them, with plenty of food. People cared about my survival, about my school results, about my successes.

But then, I moved out of home when I was fifteen. I made bad choices, fixed them, made bad choices again. I lived in share houses, renting bedrooms from other people on welfare, all of us trying to eke out a living. I ended up in shitty situations over and over again before I met my partner (now husband).

I don’t know what the rate of teen pregnancy ended up being in my year 10 class, but I’d wager it was high. A lot of the girls I went to school with are mothers now, some single, some happily partnered. Some of us clawed our way upwards, some of us didn’t.

The things that separate the people who succeed and the people who don’t are often entirely insurmountable, an accumulation of things, one atop another. This person stayed in a stable home. That person’s mother walked out. This one here, that one there, a giant chess board shuffling us all around, grist for the mill.

I credit a lot of my successes to simply moving out of the suburb I was staying in, and the fact my partner had his drivers license. His driving opened up options for us which would never have been there. We moved into a tiny rental in a better suburb. We bought a house rurally. We moved away from the daily dramas, removing ourselves from the cycle of poverty.

Privilege is most often, at its core, good luck. The child who is lucky enough to be born to affluent parents in an affluent suburb has better chances than the child who is born into poverty and parents who are struggling to make ends meet.

My children are privileged now, even though we continue to fight the tyranny of distance when it comes to education. When you live rurally, your options for schooling are already limited. I’m hoping that having intelligent parents who love them will go a ways towards bridging the gap. But I also know that because of where we live, they won’t get the same quality of education as a child living in the centre of Hobart, with parents wealthy enough to send them to¬† private school.

The schooling system here in Tasmania is flawed. When it is easier to drop out of year 11, you know you have a problem. Some days there would be a two hour wait for the bus to take you home. There aren’t enough colleges for rural students. Housing is an issue. Getting to college if you aren’t lucky enough to live within the suburbs is hard work. Finding the energy to attend, day in, day out, despite poverty and no support system.

But the biggest problem lies with trying to pretend disadvantage faced by rural and low socioeconomic students doesn’t exist.

There is a problem if half of your students are going to school hungry, or unable to buy lunch. If there’s no support at home. If there’s no money for good food so you’re eating two minute noodles again because at least they’re cheap.

You can’t treat educational problems in a vacuum. There are societal problems everywhere, impacting on kids ability to engage and learn.

And if a good percentage of your teenagers see college or university as a waste of time because there’s no work anyway, well. What do you think is going to happen?

Disadvantage is a multifaceted thing, impacting on every part of life.

Shame won’t fix it. Privileged people refusing to listen won’t fix it.

There isn’t an easy answer to any of these issues, but we can’t pretend they don’t exist anymore.

We can’t keep refusing to see the poor people under our feet in the hope they will just go away.

And we can’t pretend that this issue is a simple one with children who don’t want to learn on one side, and children who do on the other.

 

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