I was born in 1951. I was born into a Catholic family. I was educated well and in catholic schools. My Dad had a good job, well respected. My Mum was an “ at home Mum”. She took on responsibility, with Dad, for providing a home for her Mother. Grandma was a “present” for me on my 9th birthday when she came to live with us. Mum, Dad, five kids at home ranging in age from 15 to 1, in a three bedroom home. My oldest brother had left home at the end of the previous year to join a religious community. Grandma brought with her a brand new Holden Special CDS 992, automatic, which became a much loved and well cared for means of transport for years.
We weren’t a wealthy family. I knew that. However, there was enough money for our parents to send us to catholic schools. This was a requirement made by them when they were married “to bring the children up according to the laws of God and his Hoy Catholic Church.” Each of the six of us had piano tuition from the Nuns, some of whom were Sister of Mercy. Mum was a talented musician who regretted not learning classical piano. She learnt “sheft method”. She could construct every chord required to play hundreds of songs at the hundreds of singalongs we held as a family. When she became a resident in aged care, living independently, at the age of 86, she would advise “Do not come to visit me on Tuesday afternoons. That’s when I go down to the Old People to play the piano!” Dad was an informed, wonderful appreciator of classical music. He played the mouth organ. Duets with Mum and singalongs were always a highlight!
Three generations in one household, two generations of strong willed, determined, intelligent women, one generation of two strong women in the making, a gentle, funny, highly intelligent older brother, a couple of little boy children and our Dad, made life interesting to say the least.
To prepare for the arrival of Grandma, what had been the girls’ bedroom became Grandma’s room. The two single beds remained in the room. A new set of two double decker beds were purchased to go into the third bedroom. Dad converted the back verandah into a narrow little extra bedroom. What had been the linen cupboard and ironing space he turning into a study desk and wardrobe. This room was occupied by my older brother giving him privacy and study space.
The rest of us occupied what became known as the “front bedroom”. Girls on the top decks, boys in the bottom decks. Privacy was an issue dealt with by close proximity of the bathroom.
There was a door that led to the front verandah. A half brick wall, pillars for the roof and an open space overlooking the garden. Security was a bit of an issue! The door was opaque glass and there was a lock of sorts. Our Dad drilled an angled hole through the wooden frame of the door into the adjoining door jam. He fashioned a screwdriver and this piece of brilliant security system ensured the door could not be opened from the outside. Many years later the verandah was enclosed and eventually became Dad’s office after his retirement from journalism.
Our home would be a complete write off in terms of personal space, security, accessibility- just about everything. The bathroom ( separate from the toilet) was a multipurpose area used for baths and showers. At high risk of fire with the gas water heater mounted on the asbestos wall. It was also used as the isolation room when infringements were committed by the children. “Go to the bathroom and wait there till your father gets home!” or “Take those vegetables into the bathroom and do not come out until you have eaten them all!” One of my siblings (whose gender I will not disclose for the sake of privacy) and I spent one night in the bathroom with our carrots and beans. My sibling was clever enough to feed all beans and carrots on his/her plate through a crack between the lino floor and the wall and obtained freedom before I did. I ate mine. Cold and horrible!
There is much about the manner in which I was raised, parented is what they call it today, that has left me with angst. My parents were products of their formation at a time when the world was completely different to the world I was born into. The one thing I was sure of about my life as a child was that I was loved. It was not always an easy love and I was rebellious. I know I caused my parents angst. I knew at the time. I know it now. The rebellion in me, in retrospect, prepared me for the rest of my life.
The all powerful, over riding culture of generations of my family was the catholic church. In my formation into adulthood it was my support. It was my home. It was my life and I embraced it as it had been embraced by my parents and my older siblings each one of whom entered religious life or the priesthood. I wallowed in the status of our family. How blessed we were. What pillars of the institution we were.
The story of my fall from “grace” at the age of 19 is for another time but a refection from a sibling that “your extra marital pregnancy at the age of 19 knocked this family off its pedestal” is sufficient information for the moment! My Mother and Father supported me in a manner that is beyond description and I never once felt it was out of a sense of guilt over their parenting of me. I never felt the need to blame them. I know not every one experienced the kind of parenting and support that I did. When I look to “blame” for what has happened in my life that has harmed me, I look to the institution. And I reject the Institution even though I worked for it, I volunteered for it, I raised our children in it.
Now I am a Grandmother to 6 grandchildren. Their Grandfather is a good man. Our children are sources of inspiration to me every day. In our dotage now, we are assured of their love every day. “You did not ask to be born” has been a mantra of mine to them since they were old enough to need the reassurance that they owe me and their father nothing. I am honoured by their presence in my life. I revel in the connection with the family’s generation that has started because of them and their choices! I have learned that thinking I know what they should do because of my experience in parenting ( good, bad or otherwise) is not always (if ever) helpful. The children and adults of my daughters and my daughter in law and love, Mother them with love, challenge, creativity, a sense of family story and spirituality that has supported generations and will continue to do so I believe.
I remember the words of Kahlil Gibran “Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.” It is a magnificent piece of insight! It has carried me through all my angst periods when watching them as little children, through the necessary rebellion of adolescence, the pressure and responsibility of adulthood. It is in my own dotage now that the final verse resonates the most with me:
“Your are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth. The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite , and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far. Let your bending in in the archer’s hand be for gladness: for even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves the bow that is stable.”
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