Grief Train.

My first miscarriage was a bit of a surprise because I didn’t actually know I was pregnant.  I sat in the bath trying to ease the pain of what I thought were incredibly painful menstrual cramps when I suddenly realised I wasn’t alone in that bath. My eyes closed for a very long time while my mind raced with blank thoughts… my eyes opened and I looked into the water with more blank thoughts. My mind was truly empty as it was impossible to comprehend or process what I saw.  Describing what I found in my bathwater isn’t appropriate here.  The decision to pull the plug and watch it all drain away became a silent tug of war between the trauma of what was real and obvious and the fantasy that this was a mistake – miscarriages only happen in hospital. Once the reality of my situation hit I didn’t want to reveal what had happened to anyone because I didn’t know how to answer the questions they would surely have.  One positive my doctor offered was that it’s a relief to know I’m able to get pregnant; which meant that, one day, I will be a mother.

My next pregnancy progressed further than 7 weeks and I was very excited to read up on the size of my baby and how he or she would look from week to week. The trans vaginal ultrasound at 6 weeks showed a normal pregnancy, a lovely heartbeat and I felt safe enough to buy a beautiful pram, some blankets and little newborn outfits.  Pastel lemons and greens were my favourite colours.

At the my 12 week visit my gynaecologist asked how I was feeling and his disappointment was obvious when I said I felt great.

“No sign of morning sickness?” he asked with caution in his voice.

“Not even a bit!” I bragged, naively.

The look on his face told me everything I needed to know.  This wasn’t as good as I had imagined.  He saw my face drop and went into damage control; explaining that some women don’t get morning sickness and I might be one of the lucky ones.

“Yes,” I said hopefully, “I do feel lucky.”

A few days later I walked out of the hospital ultrasound room reeling in shock.  The nursing staff watched me emerge from the little room in tears, sobbing uncontrollably. One nurse came over and sat beside me and, without knowing what exactly was wrong, she asked if there was something she could do.   “A tissue?”  I sobbed.

She sprang from her seat and came back with a whole box, placed her hand onto my back and the warmth of her palm flowed through my crisply ironed work shirt, giving me a sense of warm, energetic kindness.  The next few days were a blur as there were ‘arrangements’ to be made.

It was quite late on the Friday afternoon of the Queen’s Birthday long weekend when I was admitted to hospital for a curette.  The nursing staff spoke gently and with care as they inserted the cannula into the back of my left hand.  They rubbed my forearm and squeezed my wrist gently in the most reassuring way as they spoke about what they planned to do over this long weekend. The conversation was distracting and strangely comforting.  As they wheeled my bed from the pre-op room and into the operating theatre I began to speak to the nurse.

The pre-med warped my sense of time  and I could hear that my voice sounded urgent and panicked. The nurse wiped tears from the sides of my face as I went through my spiel, “This was going to be my first baby and it’s my second miscarriage.  I haven’t had any babies yet please don’t rush through my procedure so you can get away to the long weekend.  Please take care of my womb.”

Before hearing their response – or without remembering their response – I was asleep.

Afterwards, I was confronted with ‘those’ questions:

“How’s the pregnancy going?”

“Any morning sickness yet?”

“Hey Mumma Sue, how’s bubs?”

And my response, “My baby didn’t make it.  I miscarried over the Queens Birthday weekend.”

And then I was confronted with the other questions:

“Oh, I’m sorry…. how far along were you?”
“I’m very sorry to hear…. was it a baby boy or a baby girl?”
“What did you name the baby?”
“Is there going to be a funeral?”
“Did they let you bring it home to bury under a rose bush in your garden?”

I don’t even know how I responded to those questions. That time is just a blur.  A blubbering blur of dismantling the pram and hiding all the baby stuff in a big cardboard box in the wardrobe of spare bedroom.

My false smile meant that life got back to normal pretty quickly.  The most awkward conversational moments had passed and I entered the phase of quietness; no conversation, no thoughts, no plans – just moving forward one day at a time. In my mind I had began to believe the obvious.  Perhaps I was not born to have babies. Maybe pregnancies weren’t natural for me. Growing a human was too difficult for my body and there was no point in asking why because nobody knew the answer.

My third pregnancy was my blessing.  I wouldn’t tell people until I’d kept my growing baby alive for 12 whole weeks.  The morning sickness was very strong and I threw up through my huge smile every morning for 6 months.  I couldn’t bring myself to unpack the pale yellow and pastel green baby clothes or re-assemble the pram until the 8th month had passed.  I was excited and terrified.

My gruelling 26 hour labour ended with my darling baby girl born at 2.30am on Friday 2 April 1993.  I needed to sleep but lay there in my bed staring through the plastic sides of the crib at the miracle I had finally created.

Some nurses came into my room and asked to “have a look at the wee babe”.  They said they remembered me sobbing in the corridor last year after my ultrasound, and one was there in surgery when I’d asked them to take care of my womb.  They congratulated me on finally winning the jackpot. These ladies had been following my motherhood story from the sidelines all along.

Every year the Queens Birthday weekend comes along and I’ve thought of the little lives that I had lost.  At first the thoughts were very painful and I found myself crying at no notice.  After a few years I was unaware of any thoughts but I was moody – and then, once I realised the significance of the date, I realised why I was so uptight.

Twenty five years have now passed since that Queens Birthday weekend and I have two wonderful daughters (aged 24 and 20).  I can talk about all of my pregnancies without tears; although I always feel a heaviness in my heart and a strange quietness sweeps over me.  Maybe my grief is like a slow moving train which has taken me further away from the need to cry, further away from the disappointment and anger.  Maybe the grief train is now at a new Station where I remember what happened because it’s the only thing I can do in my role as the mother of my lost babies.

Neurology

When you create a life for yourself and it’s stolen by your DNA you realise identity isn’t as fixed as you thought it was.

aaa

When I was in my twenties my workplace had a drive to recruit bone marrow donors for the Australian Bone Marrow Donor Register.  I suppose people in their twenties are at a very helpful age and I wanted to help the sick children to survive bone marrow cancer.  First step was a blood test to determine which of the few categories of HLA Types I came under.  This is a quick chromosomal categorisation, but my blood test had been contaminated, so I was called back to give another sample.  The second sample was also a bad batch and Dad joked with me about probably having Alien parents on our way in to be re-tested – my third blood test and Dad’s first.

Three doctors emerged from their little laboratory beaming proudly, like the cat that had caught a mouse.  Dad stood up and I followed him in his manners.  Dad shook the doctors’ hands as they introduced themselves to him and I held my hand out to do the same.  Taking my hand, the male doctor looked at me directly and paused in silence for a second, before blurting out, “I’m very excited to tell you that your HLA type is a completely new one, never before discovered.  You are the only person with this HLA on earth… at this stage. We can write a journal article about your unique HLA!”

I had questions, “Does this mean my bone marrow isn’t any good to anyone?”  They nodded.  “And does it mean that if I get bone marrow cancer that I can’t get a transplant?”  They nodded again, adding awkwardly that this could change any day if they discover someone in the world like me.  The scientific excitement began to fall from their proud faces as they faced having to deal with the human side of their exciting HLA discovery.

I was a 26 year old genetic mutant and didn’t know whether I should feel special or embarrassed.  We figured it was probably caused by the X-Rays mum had when she was pregnant with me.

Fast forward about a quarter of a century to my mid-forties and I have been married and divorced, and am living with my two teenage daughters, Maree and Rose, and their two dogs. Our lives seemed pretty straight forward just a few years ago.  I was at university finishing my studies in psychology, social science and primary school teaching.  My eldest wanted to be a vet and her little sister wanted to be a surgeon.  Each of us was capable of achieving our dream.  My eldest enjoyed her daily swim training and my youngest’s passion was gymnastics.  We were all fit, driven, happy and well.

A week after I’d askeded my husband to leave, our eldest daughter Maree developed Type 1 Diabetes.  It was a shock because her symptoms were thirst and sudden blindness… naturally I figured it was a brain tumour.  Type 1 Diabetes is life long because there is no cure.  Each time she eats food she has to inject insulin into her stomach. Hearing this was like a horror story for us both and I took silent, frozen fright; while Maree took screaming flight… running from the nurse and the insulin needle.

She struggled with all the awful side effects of fluctuating blood sugar levels in her final years of school and I allowed her to leave before finishing her final year IF she had a plan.  Oh boy – did she have a plan! At just 17 years old, Maree moved to the city, to live with my sister, while doing a course, which she finished on a Friday. Her new, highly paid job started the following Monday and soon after she moved into a small apartment in the city.  Maree was doing great and I couldn’t have felt more proud of her drive and determination.  Her only problem is that she gets very tired at work. After hours she’s too tired to cook a meal and on weekends she is too tired to go out socialising. We figure it’s just the way of Type 1 Diabetes.

There was no time to celebrate the achievements of our Maree because, suddenly, a mystery illness had stolen her little sister’s strength, stamina and planned career.

Young Rose struggled through her final years of high school, downgrading her career goals from surgeon… to doctor… to nurse… to receptionist… to typist as she realised she was getting weaker and weaker.  Finally, she was devastated at having to quit gymnastics.

Rose’s strange symptoms took us on a four year odyssey visiting respiratory and sleep specialists, an endocronologist, two neurologists and a cardiologist.  Over these years I learnt what was needed of me as her human rights campaigner in high school, her advocate for university, her medical records co-ordinator and the voice in her head as everything dropped away after she’d given it her all.  She now takes a colourful fist full of medication every day to keep her body ticking over properly – this, my child who I wouldn’t allow to drink Coca Cola because of the chemicals – now takes chemicals just to survive. It feels ironic.  We went through two years of neurological testing; some were frightening tests looking for tumors in her brain and spine, a test for motor neurone disease, heart tests and all sorts of painful poking and prodding.  Her heart now beats at 130 beats per minute while she sleeps – and it actually stopped beating during a heart test!

Over these two years I had many silent screams in my head while my face smiled encouragingly at Rose. Upon leaving specialist appointments and tests we sat in the car quite stunned at the results or at our next step. We felt lost and frightened in a frustrating maze of emotions that needed no discussion, we each knew how the other felt.  Sleepless nights haunted me as I hardly coped keeping up with work, specialist appointments 70 kilometres away, medical procedures and normal life. People offered to help but I couldn’t figure out what useful thing anyone could do – besides plucking Rose and I out of this nightmare and letting us get back to our normal lives.

On one visit to the neurologist a distressed lady came bursting out of the doctor’s room and paced the hallway, sobbing, before falling to the floor nearby.  Everyone ignored her as if she needed her privacy but I couldn’t stand it and went over to sit on the floor beside her.  My hand moved up to touch her shoulder and she continued to cry as she spoke.  Her husband is still in the room with the doctor and he has a degenerative muscle disease – he wasn’t expected to survive the six months to Christmas.  She went on and on talking about how they met late in life, married and had two baby daughters at home, “How can I lose him now?  How can I raise the girls without a father?”

I took a tone of voice that was a mix between my mother’s stern, authoritative voice and my own gentle, soothing voice and said, “Stand up.”  Helping her to her feet I told her things I needed somebody to say to me and I stood listening to myself while I spoke.

“Your husband needs you to help him leave this place with dignity.  He needs this time to know his daughters and for them to know him. Now is not the time to mourn. You will go home and figure out where to go for support, help and strength… and you have a window of time right now to find those supports. Friends, family and professionals can all help you to plan, cope and do this the best you can.  Don’t you dare fall apart now.”

These were awfully harsh words and I don’t really know where they came from. She smiled through her tears and hugged me, thanking me for helping her see what needs to be done. She stood back and gestured her hands in a sweeping motion as she realised that I’m also at a neurologist’s office, and she asked if I was also experiencing the death of a loved one.  This question was a bit unnerving because I had been wondering whether Rose was dying and I suddenly wondered whether I actually was living the same nightmare as this lady.  But this very moment was not about me and I replied: “No, I have no experience in this stuff at all.”  Twelve months have now passed since I hugged that stranger in the hallway and I often think of her and wonder how she coped with her husband’s death.

Naturally, Rose has had her dark times, but she continues to hold her head high through every single disappointment. We haven’t had screaming moments like the lady in the neurologist’s hallway, we’ve just gone from one step to the next.  At each set back Rose simply renegotiates her physical boundaries and gets used to the adjustment. Hers isn’t a story of death – just of a different life.  She has a disability parking sticker for the car but refuses to use it unless absolutely necessary.  She is yet to find her niche in the working world but she forges forward, trying everything possible – just to see how she goes.

Like her sister, this girl is my little miracle.

Last year I took more control of Rose’s specialist visits.  I decided to become the patient, giving Rose a rest from being poked, prodded and tested. My plan was have my own muscle disorder diagnosed, which had actually been diagnosed when I was 7 years old – though she never remembered the name of my condition (and my records had been destroyed).  Mum just said, “You just got tired before the other kids.”  My childhood was a time where disability was taken in your stride, which wasn’t a bad thing.  Without normal muscles I couldn’t suckle as a baby and didn’t walk until I was three years old. My body wasn’t normal but it was normal for me. I wasn’t expected to climb mountains but I could walk up a hill.  I didn’t feel disabled – my body just got tired faster than other people.  My life and my body felt quite normal, considering my Alien HLA type.

First my blood tests were all clear.  Then nerve conduction tests, where 3 inch electric needles were poked into my skin and zapped repeatedly into a muscle, was all clear. My nerves and muscles worked well together.

My muscle biopsy was the one that showed a result and now I know I have muscular dystrophy.  The neurologist confirmed that my feeling weaker over the past few years wasn’t my imagination and it certainly wasn’t me going out in some psychologically-induced, sympathetic weakness with Rose.  This is how muscular dystrophy works. Older age brings hormonal changes that trigger more muscle weakness.  My full time working capacity had been reduced to part time.  All that education and I can only work part time!

But this isn’t about me, it’s about Rose, and I felt we were on to something big here.  An explanation didn’t necessarily mean a cure but it would help her to plan a future, knowing her physical limits.  She had a biopsy but it came back clear of muscular dystrophy!  How the heck can that be?  If it’s not muscular dystrophy then what would it be?  Why would she have my symptoms but not my disease?

Next I went for a genetic test to map the pattern of my chromosomes within my DNA. I had this done because I wanted to know the type of Muscular Dystrophy that I had, and understand the implications this has on my grandchildren. The DNA test showed up a glitch right next to Chromosome 6 where HLA types are determined.  The glitch meant that I have a particular type of Muscular Dystrophy, which I won’t elaborate on here because this isn’t about me – it’s about my Rose.

The neurologist and I now wonder whether Rose’s muscle biopsy was a dud – she may actually have what I have.  She has my symptoms (although more severe) and a couple of extra symptoms in her heart, and she has blood pressure issues – but the logic of genetic inheritance says she’s likely to have muscular dystrophy and my Neurologist agrees.

It would seem that my Alien DNA has caused my unique HLA type, which prevents me from ever being a useful organ donor; and it’s also the cause of my weak muscles, which I appear to have handed down to both of my children.

Now we wait to have blood tests for Maree and Rose; looking for the same dud chromosomal pattern in their DNA that says “Muscular Dystrophy”.  But this is a game of patience and I can’t get orders for the test until I next see my neurologist – which is months away.

DAS: A Bank Robber, Drug Addict, Ex-Con, Survivor.

My observations of an interesting man who grew up in an abusive home, turned to drugs, crime and, after 10 years in prison, he came out deciding to be a man that he, his wife and daughter can all be proud of. These are my observations of his story.

Through writing this blog I’ve come across other blogs, which have introduced me to different lifestyles, writing styes, sexual orientations and cultures. The person I’m writing about today is a stranger to me – I know him only through his blog where he describes himself as an abused child, a drug addict and a bank robber. He also describes himself as a survivor of that life.  He has plans for a better future.

This guy isn’t just a creative writer with a big imagination; his story is real.  Nobody could write like he writes without having experienced the awful things he has described.  His words have been honest, shocking the reader at each of his awful life experiences. He has been a repulsive, selfish, greedy human being in the past and anyone reading his blog would hope he manages to suceed in his quest to be a good husband and an exceptional role model to his daugher.  In fact, I think some of his past actions were so bad he may have deleted the worst from his blog because I can’t find them to re-check the facts.

For this story, I’ll protect his privacy and call him DAS. His social and emotional journey is the focus of my writing today.

The very first words I read on DAS’s blog is that his past haunts him and that, because he can’t rid himself of what he’s done, he is making an effort to come to terms with it. Plunging a needle into his arm used to be his four hour escape from reality and he spent a total of 10 years in a prison cell for his crimes. His blog has photos of him performing a bank robbery and his mug shot. He writes that, when a prisoner is released there is a 78% success rate when he has a loved one give a loving hug and say say he is forgiven. DAS had a daughter and his wife waiting to hug him.

DAS struggles with depression (maybe he always has) and describes this depression as a lazy mental state that has him automatically agreeing to poor choices.  He struggles through a haze of mental laziness which he hopes he can wean himself out of and gather enough strength to recognize that impulsive, automatic agreement to poor choices is his constant undoing. His blog features a gorgeous family photo of DAS on his first Father’s Day out of prison; posing with his daughter and partner – his pride is unmistakable as this was the first Father’s Day they weren’t separated by a piece of thick prison glass.  His blog also features a security camera photo of DAS holding up a bank (not the photo featured in this story) and a mug shot of him, dated about a week after the robbery.  DAS hopes his future self will one day read his blog and see how far he has come.  This is an optimistic person with a future.

One of DAS’ earliest memories was of his father calling him names for not being able to throw, catch or hit a ball.  He has been an abused child, a homeless teenager (actually I think he was 11 yrs old), a drug addict, theif, bank robber, I think he stabbed a man (or witnessed a stabbing), spent a decade in prison.

Out of prison he writes about himself as a proud man who has no intention of ever returning to the life he left behind. Instead of grabbing a needle he now grabs a pen and writes. He works out.  He is now a hands on father, a loving partner, a responsible person, clean of drugs, clear in his thinking, able to reflect on bad times to inform him of better times ahead.  He and his partner have started to plan having a baby. Instead of robbing the bank he recently opened a cheque account with money he earned through an honest living – which was a proud moment and evidence he is successful at turning things around. He says he walks through ife with his head held high and I sense the fog of his depression had lifted. He wrote about standing at a bus stop thanking God for giving him another chance.  This year has been pretty good for DAS.

DAS writes from somewhere deeper than his heart. His words are dictated from the wouds on his soul. Here’s an example:

“All of my yesterdays were bags brimming with lies and deceit that I hauled around…  All of my tomorrows passed with me begging for them not to return. …”   (D.A.S.) 

I can’t imagine the huge accomplishment of turning yourself around like he has – he described his turnaround as ‘hit the ground running’. But by mid-year he could see his life racing back to a place he has worked so hard to escape from. He said that, with his own hands, he destroyed everything he had built and that the man he saw in the mirror wasn’t the guy he believed he was. This was him and he didn’t like it one bit.

He struggled along and had a radio interview about his life and how he had managed to turn himself around; it was a really interesting, honest and inspiring interview.  But shortly afterwards, he blogged that he had an argument with his wife and she asked him to move out of their house.  He’s been back on the streets for three weeks, during which time his lazy mental state automatically agreed to bad choices, bringing him back to the drugs.  He said he sees only two scenarios to drugs…. prison and death.

His blog called for help, but I can’t see how anyone can help him.  He came to a bump in the road and he fell, then he rolled around down there and now he’s dirty.  Getting up again will take strength and resolve.   I responded with a passionate plea for him to be a man and help himself up out of the slum of his past for the sake of his child!  I said he is at a crossroad and he’s taken a wrong turn.  Go back!  Actually, I carried on a little passionately, as I do.  It as devastating to see a good person with purpose and goals wasted like this. Who would be his daughter’s father?  What priority does his wife feel she has in his life when he chooses drugs to apologising and fixing the mess he made at home?

Two days ago I checked his blog to see how he was doing and saw that he’d had a do not miss appointment with his probation officer for a urinary analysis.  Apparently he had missed 4 of these appointments before because he was getting high.  He doesn’t write anything fancy about this and doesn’t create elaborate excuses. He says it how it is and it’s blunt and ugly.

He wrote:

I had a do not miss appointment with my probation officer yesterday. Not my call. Hers. I guess somewhere along the line while getting high or doing whatever it was that I do, I missed 4 UA’s. For those who may not know what that is, well to put it simply, you pee in a cup and they test it for drugs… As of my last writing, things are…I dont know. I suppose better would be a fair description…  Last thought: Sue…thank you for the kick in the butt!!

His partner made a comment to this blog:

Reading these post(s) makes me sad… Things are going to get better, we need to have patience and faith and let the past be behind us. … it’s like we live in two different worlds, the life at home and what is on your mind that you express on here. I love you more than words can ever describe and we will get through all of this pain.

DAS may have grown up abused and alone  He has struggled through life without adequate role models and parental assistance and he has made poor choices.  But the best thing that ever happened to him seems to be his wife.  I really hope things work out for them.

 

Side note:  the image used in this story was found on Google and is not DAS.  
( http://www.ibabuzz.com/tricitybeat/tag/bank-robbery/ )

Children… excuses, excuses, excuses.

Some students need more encouragement than others when it comes to getting started on their school work. Their excuses are beautiful, clever and very cute.

An ideal classroom has curious students who are interested and eager to know more. Driven by their own success, they look forward to conquering the next step and the next. Proud of their achievements they eventually realize that hard work brings good results however, not all students are interested in learning because some find it difficult, laborious and boring. These conscientious objectors prefer to be outdoors on their skateboard, kicking a ball and running amok while their peers enjoy a mix of both play and school work.

Alex was in second grade and struggled getting started with his literacy work. The first two hours of school were devoted to reading and comprehension and he sat staring his work every day while I worked with my focus group.  I’d call out, asking him to show me how much work he’d done and he held up a blank page. He lay his head down onto his folded arms and closed his eyes. Pretending to fall asleep was his favourite avoidance tactic and I’d say, “Come on Alex, open your eyes and let’s get this done before play time arrives.  I don’t want you to have to stay in at play time to finish.”  He lifted his face and looked at me groggily asking, “Whaa??” And after some persistant urging, with the playtime threat, he would begin.

Branko was a little oder.  In fourth grade he avoided school work in general, especially when it came to having to write anything down.  Branko sat at the front of the room where I could quietly push him to pick up his pencil and make a start.  He complained that he couldn’t work because he had a head ache, he didn’t quite understand, he swore he already did this exact same work last week, he needed to sharpen his pencil, he couldn’t find his eraser… the excuses were endless and, when he did come to the end, he began again at the start – he had a head ache.

I sat with Branko one recess, gently explaining that if he just did the work like everyone else then he could be outside playing…  and he interrupted to say, “One question…”

I raised one eyebrow, knowing that another tactic was about to burst from his lips, “Yes?”

With his sharpened pencil in one hand and the index finger of his other hand raised to indicate that this was a very important question he asked, “Do you mind if I toot because I feel like one needs to come out… it can’t wait?”  I had two choices.  Either to agree that he stay put and toot as he worked or to ask him to step outside to let it rip into the open air.  Enough time had been wasted so I told him to just toot while doing his work. He giggled at the awful smell while I ignored it as if I couldn’t smell anything.  It was quite a sickening smell.  Such was my sacrifice on that day.

Claire was in third grade. She hated math and always needed a trip or two to the toilet during math sessions.  This was difficult because if I didn’t let her go she stood and shouted, “My wee is coming out!” and her clothes quickly darkened with the wetness of the largest and most efficient bladder I’d ever known.

Sixth grade students were much more inventive than the little ones. They put their head down and worked studiously, totally engrossed in getting pen to paper with hardly a pause.  At first I took this as a sign that they were on track and and not in need of any help. In fact I occasionally commented on how studious they were as they could focus without distraction.  Toward the end of the lesson I wandered over to see how they were coming along and found they hadn’t done anything at all.  Instead of a page full of writing, reading or math work I saw elaborate, artistic designs and a decorative title… but no work. I’d learnt my lesson at the expense of yet another lunch time devoted to ‘helping’ the lovely children get their work done.

Teaching requires a good understanding of each student’s social, emotional and cognitive quirks.  As a teacher I am strict yet fair; assertive yet patient; angry yet kind; and unwavering in my expectations yet understanding at the occasional bad day. My words and actions constantly role model commitment, perseverence, hard work, empathy and pride.

Working with 29 children for six hours a day, five days a week, forty weeks per year can be both fun and difficult.  The satisfaction in knowing I’ve had a positive impact on these young lives.

 

 

Violence: A Little Bit Is Not Okay.

Out in the community and watching the news we can see greed, prejudice, judgment, violence, murder and war.  Individual violent acts vary from beating your spouse or child; to the murder suicide of a whole family; to the random killing of whole sections of your own community.

We’ve all wondered how an individual comes to inflict such violence. What happens to a person that makes them capable in making such drastic changes to others’ lives and feel justified… even proud?

Not very many years ago I did my undergraduate psychology and social science degree. During our first year we were asked why we chose to do this degree.  I said the following.

“How is one person capable of convincing a whole community of others to kill whole sections of their own community, (as we see in ethnic cleansing) and how individuals can bring themselves to carry it out.”

My psychology tutor responded:

First the leader of the country tells the citizens that they are being over run and denounces pacifists for not doing something to protect their country, their values, their children’s future.

The leader of the country aims to dehumanise the minority group under persecution so that citizens feel they are doing the right thing by getting rid of the offenders.  For many, ethnic cleansing becomes nothing more than killing a rodent and their country thanks the individuals for their service.

My sociology tutor responded similarly, adding:

Aspiring politicians introduce a narrative of hate and fear as they describe their country being over run by immigrants, the danger of terrorists among us and our jobs being stolen by queue jumpers who don’t deserve to be here.  This narrative appears on television news reports and quickly become normative thinking and the basis for hate in the general community.

At first this narrative explains why we have tough border laws, airport security checks and detention centres but this seems unrelated to genocide.  But think about it… this is exactly where Hitler began in convincing the SS to murder Jews and it’s also where a dominant family member begins in convincing their partner they deserve the violence being metered out to them- and it’s the type of power children take on when bullying other children in the playground.

 

Ask yourself, “How do I feel about those in the LGBQT community, people from the muslim faith, women’s liberationists, men, women, blacks, aboriginals, whites, Asians and migrants?”  Do you feel that any of these groups don’t belong in our society? Do you wish something could be done about them? Do you wish they would go away – that they should be locked up, sterilized, shot, gassed, nuked, exterminated?  If your answer is ‘yes’ to any of these points then you have a problem because yours is the narrative of an oppressor. A dictator. A bully. A tormentor. A persecutor.

If these feelings come naturally to you I can almost guarantee it’s not your fault. What we see and hear during our childhood can play an extremely important role in forming our social, emotional and physical responses to perceived invaders or to difference.

Parents, families and the wider community shape the way a young person views others. For a child, a respected adult’s actions and speech patterns influence a child’s concept of power, belonging, exclusion, hate and violence. In this vein, violence can become something that’s deserved; which we often see reflected in the saying, “If you don’t like it, go home!”

A child’s attitudes of prejudice, exclusion and hate begin at home. Take a moment to think:

  • Do you scream insults at the TV when your football team is losing a game?
  • Do you make a joke when you see someone who looks very different to you?
  • When disciplining your children, what words do you use?
  • Do you demand your children submit to your authority, no questions asked?
  • Is it okay for your children to approach you to give reasons that they disagree with your request/decision?
  • Do you demand the death sentence within a child’s earshot?
  • Do you generalize about other people, religions, cultures or attitudes?

These questions are important for reflecting on the role modelling your children are exposed to on different levels, on an everyday basis. Speaking in a derogatory way about any other person tells your children that there are people in the world who aren’t quite as good as you; that your opinions matter more than theirs; that you deserve better than they deserve; that they deserve what they get!   And, what do they get? Should the assylum seeking family go back to where they came from, despite the fact they will be persecuted and killed? Is it really not your problem?

Please consider what I’ve said about the way we speak around children. Prejudice, hate, judgment and violence has to stop and now is a good time.