Warning: Some of these blog posts will contain real life content that may shock or confront some readers, or trigger PTSD.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

The harshest lesson

If Children are raised in the right way, they have a basic understanding of right and wrong.

They know what lying is. They know they shouldn't lie.   They know that stealing is taking something that doesn't belong to them, without the knowledge or permission of the person it belongs to.

But there are always grey areas, and unfortunately, the boundaries for these are only often learned by making mistakes - and more often than not - suffering the consequences - or punishments for those mistakes.

When I was in primary school,  money was not something that children (in our family)  had access to - apart from the occasional tuck shop order.  There was no pocket money system in our household.

Once a fortnight (when Dad could be bothered to show up for his access visits with me) we would go to the house where my father grew up - his parents house - where I was often subjected to sexual abuse by my Grandfather.  For new readers, I have talked about this here.

But my Grandmother was amazing.  She was an amazing cook - whenever we came, it was no trouble to make an amazing soup, or stew, or roast. And there was always dessert.  Home Made Fruit Salad with fruit - mostly grown in her garden. Custard Made from Scratch - with eggs - and a manual hand beater - or creamed tapioca pudding.  Dessert was a MUST - it was never something that was taken for granted  - but it was cherished - and because of Grandma, dinner is never really 'special' unless there is dessert.

She also didn't like my stepmother, and she didn't like the way my stepmother treated me.  I think she also thought I got a bit of a raw deal with my parents being divorced, and remarried.  And although I wasn't the first Grandchild, I felt like a was a favourite in her eyes.

Truth be told, I probably wasn't a favourite - she probably loved all of her Grandchildren equally, but she made me feel special.

(Weeping right now as a write this).

After each visit, Grandma always made sure I took home a bunch of bananas that she grew in her back yard, or eggs from the chooks, oranges and mandarines, and even lychees, cumquats, five corners, pumpkins and cherry tomatos.  (Sometimes I wonder if she thought Mum wasn't feeding me).

And one day Uncle Tobys (the staple breakfast in the house was Porridge made from Uncle Tobys Rolled Oats) came out with a new product - Muesli Bars.  These were AMAZING!  A crunchy bar with fruit and oats! OMG.

Soon after each visit, Grandma would make sure that I took home a couple of boxes of Muesli Bars - sometimes they were Crunchy Apricot ( my favourite) and sometimes they were Crunchy Peanut Butter Flavour , or soft and chewy (when they came out - but I let her know I preferred the crunchy ones).

One day, when I was about 11 years old, Grandma started giving me some pocket money to take home.  This started off at 50 cents,  sometimes one dollar.  WOW! Money. This was awesome, I could buy stuff from the tuckshop, or from the shop across the road from school.

My best friend Lisa always had money. She was always able to buy tins of  Maringa Fruit Drops from the
shop across the road from school. (Maringa Fruit Drops were an amazingly yummy fruit flavoured hard boiled lolly, dusted with icing sugar - mmm my mouth just waters at the memory - and they came in a round tin).  Unfortunately for me, the 50 cents and Dollar, didn't go very far.....

This was when I discovered, and understood for the first time, the true value of money.  The Fifty Cents, the One Dollar, was not enough to buy things that I wanted to buy.

This was also when I discovered, people often left small amounts of change lying around.  If I took these very small amounts, no one would probably notice.  I reasoned that they probably didn't even want these little bits of money.

Over the next couple of months, 1 and 2 cent coins, 5 cent coins,  10 and twenty cent coins were all full game. Soon even 50 cents coins. If no one missed them, what the harm?

Dad smoked B&H Special Filter.  I had been smelling the second hand smoke my whole life, and just recently nicked a couple of them from his packet, and smoked them (coughing up my lungs the whole time) in the chicken coop on his last access visit.  I could be like him, and smoke the same cigarettes.  That felt awesome.

Soon I had enough money to buy my own packet of B&H Special Filter.  I bought them from the shop across the road from school ( they assumed you were buying them for your parents in those days) and smoked my first one walking home from school.  Awesome.

Unfortunately for me, Mum was a non smoker, so smelt the cigarette smoke on me straight away.  She searched my bag and found  the cigarettes.

She confronted me when she found them.  I did not want to say where I got the money, so I lied and said that Lisa (my best friend) had given me the money.  Mum said to me 'SMOKING! What next? Stealing?'  I can't remember what my punishment was, but I remember feeling REALLY guilty, thinking, "eeerrr, I have already been stealing, how do you think I could get this pack of cigarettes?"

As a consequence for the cigarettes, Lisa was not allowed to be my friend anymore.  She had access to too much money and was a bad influence.  I even believed my own lies and disowned Lisa at school.  But the worst was to come.

Dad came down for a a visit on the Mothers Day weekend.  As was the custom, he came down with his wife and new kids on the Saturday, we stayed at Grandmas on Saturday Night, and then he dropped me off home on Sunday Evening before driving home.

On Sunday Morning, while walking down the hallway, I noticed money in a glass vase on top of the bookcase.

It looked like a Five Dollar Note.  I decided, if it was a five dollar note , I would take it.  I knew this would be wrong, but figured no one would miss it.  Five dollars would buy me a lot!

Eventually, I found the right time. No one was around, and I took the note out of the vase.  Once I had taken it I had to keep on going.

But when I got to my bag, I realised that it was a $20 dollar note, not a five dollar note!  Damn, I had taken the wrong note! I decided I had to return this note. Taking twenty cents here or there was one thing, but taking a TWENTY DOLLAR note was SOMETHING ELSE.... Not acceptable....

If finding the right time to get the note from a vase in the hallway was hard, with time running out before it was time to go home, trying to put the Twenty Dollar note back and swap it for the smaller Five Dollar note was super hard.

Eventually it was time for my shower, and I figured it was now or never.  The money was in my hand, Dad was in the lounge and couldn't see the hall from where he was sitting, and no one else had view of the hallway or the vase.

But just as I went to put the money in the vase, Dad got up to go to the kitchen, so instead of putting it in the vase, I quickly slipped it into the bookcase - and then kept on walking, and went downstairs and had my shower.

When I came back upstairs, I noticed the Twenty Dollar Note was not in the bookcase where I thought I had stowed it, but I had the perfect opportunity to get the other note, so picked it up and kept walking to the room I was in to pack up my bags - only to realise this was a TEN dollar note, not just five dollars.  I couldn't keep this either.  But there were now a lot of people around and it would be impossible to find the time to return it.  I put the note in my slip on shoe, so that I could carry it without being noticed and quickly return it before going home.  Hopefully I would also have an opportunity to find the twenty dollar note and put it back in the vase.

After about 10 or 15 minutes, Dad came to confront me.

When I put the money in the bookcase on the way to the shower, it had actually fallen straight out of the bookcase onto the floor, and looked like I had dropped it. He figured out I must have taken it from somewhere and went to find Grandma to find out where I got it from while I was having a shower.  By the time she remembered she had the money in the vase,  and they checked it, they realised this was where I must have gotten the twenty dollar note from, and there was also a ten dollar note missing.

Dad told me that he knew I had stolen some money, and to hand it over. At first I tried to deny it, but he knew it was $10 and it came from the vase. Everyone knew I must have taken it, so eventually I handed it over.  I tried to explain I was trying to put the money back - and even though it was the truth, it just sounded like lies.

The money had been put aside in the Vase for Grandma's brother, who was collecting it the next week.  I had let Grandma down - she had never had a reason to not trust me before, never worried about where she kept her money, and I had let Dad down as well.

My stepmother and half-siblings stayed at Grandma's while Dad took me home.  On the way home, he said to me, "Do you know what today is?"

I said "What?"

"Mother's Day" he replied.  "Now I have to bring you home to your mother, and tell her what you have done.  Some Mother's Day Present".

I hadn't known. If I had of been at home on the weekend,  my stepfather (even with all of his faults) would have done something special for Mum and Mum would have made sure we visited Nanny and my Stepfathers Mother to give them a mothers day present.  I had missed out on that.   Dad had come down for a weekend access visit, we stayed overnight at Grandmas, and we had not wished her, or my stepmother a happy mothers day, and had not done anything special.

This was horrible.  I was scared and I felt terrible.  Not only had I stolen from Grandma, but on Mother's Day!

We pulled up at the house and walked down the driveway.  I trudged up the stairs with my bag.  Dad told Mum and my Stepfather what I had done.  They all decided, that as a punishment, I needed to get a 'belting'.  My Stepfather went and got his belt from the bathroom, but Dad would be the one who had to give me the punishment.

They made me go downstairs into the middle of the front yard.  Dad looked at me and his voice was husky as he said,"This is going to hurt me a lot more than it hurts you".

Mum and my stepfather watched from the stairs as Dad held onto my arm with one hand, and wielded the belt with the other. After the first whack, I kept trying to jump out of the way of the belt and so I was hit all over my legs and arms with both the flat and the edge of the belt.  Although it was all over in a few minutes, to me it felt like a thousand years.

I don't really remember what happened then. I guess Dad left and I went to my room.  After a while, mum helped me to have a cool bath to try to ease the pain of the welts.

When I went to school the next day, Mum said I had to try to hide the welts, and must not show anyone. But that very week my Grand Aunt and her daughter came over for a visit and Mum proudly showed off the welts.

Not long after that, I was at orchestra practice after school, when Mum came to pick me up early.  The department of Children's Services (Child Safety) these days had been called in to investigate.

Its all a bit vague now, I can't remember if I still had the welts or not.

But because of the belting, I had to attend counselling sessions at the department of child safety each week.  I thought it was because I was in trouble and I was bad though, not because they were trying to ensure I was in a safe and stable home.

All I knew is that I had to make sure I put on a brave face, and keep all of my secrets, or I could be taken away.  Children who were taken away have to live in an orphanage with high fences and weren't allowed out until they were 18. That is what my family lead me to believe.

I can't really remember what I talked about during all of those counselling sessions.  I was angry at Dad for giving me the belting, so I told them I didn't want to have access visits with him for a while. In one session I had to fill out a scale of how 'close' I felt to people in my family.  I remember on the scale I drew Dad at the very far end of the scale and my Stepfather about middle on the scale.

Eventually Mum got sick of taking me to the department of child safety each week so she booked me into Gymnastics which fell on the same afternoon each week.  I loved gymnastics and really wanted to go, and they agreed that I didn't need any more sessions.  All of my secrets were still intact.

Once Dad was able to have access visits again,  his visits were only short, and for a really long time we didn't go to Grandma's.

I didn't think she would ever love me again.  It was the worst feeling in the world.   It was worse than any punishment, even worse than any belting could ever feel.

After a while we did start going back to Grandma's, and although Dads visits were shorter,  the fortnightly Sunday Night Dinner routine went back to the way it was.

And more importantly, Grandma FORGAVE me for what I had done.

But, I still had one harsh lesson to learn.

Once you steal, you are the first suspect when things go missing.

I was on my access visit with Dad, and it was around my birthday.   He took me aside (down to the van?!) to give me my birthday card.   It was a lovely card with many pages, he took pains to read to me the words the card said about being a beautiful,  loved daughter.

Then he looked at me very seriously and said that he had to ask me something, and that he wanted me to tell the truth no matter what.

My heart was racing as I thought he was going to ask me about the sexual abuse my Grandfather or my Stepfather had been perpetrating.  I thought that somehow he had found out and was going to ask me about  it.

But instead, he asked if I had stolen a ring.  We had recently been at my Uncles house, and my cousin had apparently left her signet ring in the bathroom, and it was missing, and they thought that I might have taken it.

I hadn't taken it or even remembered seeing it.  I told Dad that I didn't take it. I can't remember how the conversation ended, whether he believed me or not.

The card, those beautiful words, were ruined.  They meant nothing, they were just words, and I would never believe it.  I was nothing good, nothing beautiful.

I had stolen money, how beautiful could I be?  And now they all thought I stole something else.  The words on the card meant nothing.

I would never be a beautiful loved daughter.  I was an accident and a disappointment.

And for many years, this is what I believed.

And it was the start of a lot of negative self belief.

But the things that have happened to me, and the things I have done in the past do not define me.

Those things are not me.

I am special, and beautiful and loved.

I have an amazing capacity to love.

I have a great future ahead of me.

I am a survivor.

I won't just survive.

I am going to thrive.


  1. My heart is breaking for you. You ARE beautiful, inside & out.

  2. I love this post and your blog. I understand what you went through. I'm also a survivor of molestation. Domestic violence and a number of rapes. I do have my own blog also but I just felt that yours was so inserational.