|Fifth Birthday - no French kids that year!|
Growing up in Hanmer in the 80's was pretty amazing. It was also known as Valley East. We were "Valley Kids". We had ultimate freedom. The neighbourhoods were generally safe, kids were free to roam. There were acres of bush land to explore. One of my favourite things to do was to play in the bush with my best friend Laura. We'd build forts and set traps for the imaginary Indians. We played for hours out there with no one knowing where we were or what we were doing. It was our own private world that we didn't share with adults.
We'd hop on our bikes and ride for miles through a series of dirt tracks in the bush which were made by dirt bike riders (and in the winter time, snowmobile tracks). These were called the monkey trails. There was an element of fear and thrill, you could easily get lost in the monkey trail maze. We loved the idea of someone sending a search party for us. We'd pick wild blueberries and raspberries, pack a picnic, our Barbie dolls, and play all day out there. Not a care in the world.
|Laura and I at the age of 13 hitch hiked into the city.|
Laura went to French Immersion - both her parents were English but they wanted their girls to learn to speak French. I went to the English Catholic school down the road - St. Anne's. It was a great school. I loved my teachers. I loved school, period. I was a straight A student but I rarely studied. I was Valedictorian of my class. Some people thought I was teacher's pet - and maybe I was. I respected my teachers and it made me feel really good being reliable and conscientious. I guess I'd be classified as a brown noser.
|8th Grade Graduation - Pretty in Pink|
My oldest sister taught me to sew. She was an amazing seamstress herself. I learned to make my own clothes. The pink dress I wore to Graduation was the first fancy dress I made. I hand beaded it and everything. I was very proud of it. I'm so lucky I had my sister. She was the only person who kept an eye on me, she was my main role model. She instilled a sense of decorum and style. She used to dress me up like a doll and do my hair and make up like one of those little perverse beauty pageant entries they have in the USA. I loved it.
But it wasn't all roses growing up with so much freedom. It not a nice feeling being invisible and having no rules. Boundaries and rules give you a sense of security. It was standard for me to come home from school to an empty house on a Friday afternoon, leave a note for my mom to tell her that I was at Laura's and I wouldn't come home until Sunday night. This was at just 8 years old. Prior to that age, my brothers and sisters were there but as they became teenagers I hardly saw them. My mom worked to support 5 kids on her own. To me this was normal. She worked hard to put food on the table and I took it for granted that she gave me practically anything I asked for. We didn't have much. She always put our needs first. She drank to hide her sadness. A lot of my friend's parents drank. That was also somewhat normal. They didn't all fall asleep in the chair in the living room without making dinner... that set me apart from the rest.
|Me and Al 1986|
Laura's parent's were strict and I was intimidated by her dad, not because he was mean, in fact he was generous and very good to me. I just wasn't used to strong male figures. We had to do what he said, I couldn't get away with anything there and I tried, oh I tried! I used to get Laura into so much trouble! Bless her. I think she spent half her summers grounded because of me. Her dad often forbade her from hanging out with me, but we'd sneak around behind his back so he gave up trying.
My mom was lucky, because I was such a social kid, I was often invited to stay for dinner and weekends with friends. It was an amazing way to grow up. I was everyone's foster child. I had motivation for this. I was looking for love.
|Sleepover at my house.|
My first sitter, our next door neighbour, used to look after me when I finished my half day at kindergarten. I would get off the bus and walk to her house for lunch. My mom specifically told her that I liked peanut butter and jam sandwiches and that the only thing I would not eat was mushroom soup. For two years that woman gave me mushroom soup for lunch. While she was watching the Price is Right in the other room, I'd allow the soup to cool and then I'd pour it down my pants. Why I chose to pour it down my pants and not down the drain, I don't know. I didn't want to leave any evidence and risk punishment. I'd excuse myself quickly before the soup ran down my leg, I'd go home, change my clothes and play outside until my mom came home from work. This happened daily from the age of 4. I thought I'd get in trouble for not eating my lunch so I didn't say anything to my mom. I thought she knew, and I was getting away with it without getting a spanking. I could never understand why this lady blatantly ignored my mom's instructions. Maybe she heard my mom wrong. Or maybe she thought she'd convert me into a mushroom soup lover. I know it sounds odd, how I didn't say anything or tell my mom that I wasn't eating my lunch. I was afraid. I was taught to eat what was put in front of me. I sat for many hours staring at cold food (especially at Laura's house). We weren't allowed to move from the table until it was all gone. It was easier to pretend, hide the evidence, say thank you and leave. I got good at sneaking food into my underwear or my big chipmunk cheeks. At home, I just had to wait until my mom was asleep in her chair and then flush the evidence down the toilet.
|I built the snowman but invited the French kids over for a photo.|
Decades later I spoke to my mom about these incidences. As you can imagine, I was pretty upset with her for leaving me with incompetent people. But talking to her made me realize she really had no idea. She was desperate to find anyone willing to look after me while she went to work. She didn't have much money to pay and these sitters were cheap. I asked, "Didn't you notice the mushroom soup in my clothes?" She said she thought I was a messy eater. She also thought I had separation anxiety. She admitted she didn't like leaving me with sitters and was glad when I made my own babysitting arrangements.
|Playing in the mud age 3.|
I often talk to friends of mine who say that they envy my natural sense of freedom and the fact that I picked up and moved to the other side of the world. They would love to do it, but they can't leave their family or the familiar comforts they grew up with. Some friends even have parents who would make them feel guilty for leaving. This is where I'm grateful for being raised to be independent. My mother may have been negligent at times but she did the best she could given her own personal circumstance. She ended up giving me the greatest gift - freedom to experience life, good and bad. This has allowed me to find my own path, draw up my own conclusions and live life how I want. When I was 16 years old I wrote in one of my journals that I wanted to live in Paradise. A place where it never snowed but I could still go skiing on a mountain. I visualized it and now here I am living the dream.
I choose to hold onto the good memories. I had an amazing childhood. I was given wings to fly... and look how far those wings have carried me!