Stand By Me

March 12, 2011

March 11th 2011 (yesterday) was my first post for a year! My eldest daughter has had anorexia. She is stable now. She passed her final year at high school with flying colours and has begun an arts course at university. She still has not fully recovered but is in recovery. Its been a tough road but together we’re getting through it. I’ve learnt that to survive your child’s mental illness its best to forget your dreams, your guilt, and love the child before you, illness and all. I’ve also seen how much my four daughters care for each other. Family therapy has been a large factor in her recovery.

During 2010 I worked full time on my dissertation, taking leave to look after Kat. I published my first article in a professional journal and met some new and interesting colleagues in Helsinki. This year I have changed my tenure to part time, and already I’ve experienced less pressure and more creativity.

For one year I have not blogged, read a novel or convened our book club. Finally I’ve picked up a novel (Stieg Laarson’s first, and looking for the second. Although I have started on Dorris Lessing’s The Cleft, until I find it), reconvened book club and have conferences in the pipeline: April in New Orleans, July in Adelaide, August in Exeter, September in Lyon, December in Hobart. I’m looking forward to charging up my camera and posting on my travels. It feels good to be back ūüôā


A birthday on the ward

January 7, 2010

Kat spent her seventeenth birthday in hospital. Christmas time was her undoing. We had established a routine at home since her previous admission. She was eating each meal and staying out of the bathroom for thirty minutes afterwards and putting on tiny amounts of weight each week.

Our family’s tradition is to head for the beach for Christmas. Our beach house has a reputation as a place where people can drop in anytime and join in with whatever activity our family is up to, whether it be sailing, surfing, beach combing, snorkeling, cooking, barbecuing, watching a movie… This Christmas was no exception. My brother-in-law and his family rented the place next door as they did last year. Cousins were often in our kitchen before anyone was up for breakfast. Tents were erected on our back lawn in preparation for New Years Eve, where we planned to do the usual – open house barbeque and a walk in along the beach to watch the fireworks on the pier. We accumulated a loose group of around 25 children and 15 or so adults. We decorated the children in glow sticks so we could find them on the beach walk in the dark. We counted down and danced after midnight.

This we have done every year for a decade. A decade ago leading up to New Year’s Eve the media worried us about the Y2K bug, Sally was three months old and Kat was six going on seven. This New Years Eve, Sally was ten and three months and Kat was sixteen going on seventeen – her birthday is on the 2nd of January.

The chaos of our life at the beach left Kat anxious and unable to maintain her health. Too many people and too much food. She lost two and a half kilos in the week beginning on Christmas eve. Her blood pressure dropped. Her heart rate soared. She ended up back in hospital on December 30th.

Rosie and I drove back to Melbourne to visit Kat in hospital for her birthday. We had given Kat her birthday present early – a pandora charm bracelet. All the relatives knew this and by the end of christmas and her birthday she had eight charms. With nothing to give her on the day, Rosie and I decided to buy some helium balloons.

We went to the party shop on the morning of Kat’s birthday. Hung above the entry to the shop were dozens of brightly coloured pinatas.

“Oh a pinata!” exclaimed Rosie.

“Yeah. Good idea”, I immediately agreed. Memories of stringing up pinatas for our children over the years flashed through my head and it felt like the right thing to buy. Something fun. Something a bit ‘out there’ for a hospital ward. “You choose which one”.

Rosie chose the orange stegasaurus:

We ordered seventeen helium balloons as well. I paid for the pinata and the balloons. For the balloons we had to wait half an hour.

“Hey we need to buy lollies to go in the pinata!” Rosie exclaimed.

“Oh yeah!” I said, “I forgot about that but there’s a supermarket just up the hill. Lets go while we’re waiting”.

“Good idea”.

Taking the pinata out of the shop to put it in the car, I queried the need to buy lollies because I couldn’t see a hole to put them through. I enlisted Rosie’s help. It had been so long since we’d had a pinata I could hardly remember.

“There’s a hole at the top” said Rosie confidently. Together Rosie and I located the hole. I was reassured that it was indeed empty and that lollies were needed.

“We need the type that come individually wrapped”, Rosie added.

“Yeah. I do remember now. And maybe lollipops”.

We schemed as we walked to the supermarket, charged with the excitement of giving and fun of surprising. We were halfway up the hill and in mid conversation before we both suddenly stopped, looked at eachother and in a moment of realisation, almost unspoken, but I think one of us did say something like “Oh god, hang on. Its a ward of anorexics”, but both of us began to laugh and laugh on the street almost doubling over with tears of mirth springing into my eyes. “What were we thinking!” A pinata for anorexics! It was suddenly the most absurd idea in the world and the more we thought about it, the more we laughed. Partly at the idea we laughed, and partly at ourselves for not thinking it through earlier.

In the end we found one packet of low joule sweets, two boxes of confetti and some novelty erasers. We kept the sweets packet so Kat and the other anorexic teenagers could check the contents and calorific value if they had the need to do so.

Kat adored her pinata! She adored her balloons. She peeked into the hole which we had roughly covered over to see confetti ready to burst underneath and with a laugh decided not to crack it in hospital.¬†She was only in hospital for a week. I picked her up yesterday and she is doing well. Yesterday evening she said, “I didn’t mind having my birthday in hospital. I felt happy and we had fun anyway”.

Gingerbread Respite

December 12, 2009

Our kitchen has become a ginger bread factory.

Cooking alleviates the anxiety my daughter Kat experiences with her disease, anorexia. She has been out of hospital for six weeks now and her physical condition is stable. Finding cooking has been one of the reasons for our success. She is perpetually focussed on food but whilst cooking she is productive and active in a family space. Her sisters pull up a seat at the kitchen bench naturally and easily and she feels reconnected with her family.

Independently she has developed expertise in short crust pastry and quiche making, cheese cakes, pavlova and ginger bread men. The ginger bread men have been so popular that she made a batch and lovingly decorated them every day this week. I’ve made them many times, often with the kids when they were little, but I had never thought to decorate them with melted chocolate before. She used white and milk chocolate and added detail with icing tubes. The result was a joy to behold and magnificent to eat.

We served them to my book club girlfriends on Monday night.¬†¬†We convened at my place for our last meeting of the year to watch on DVD one of the books we’d read during the year, Revolutionary Road. The women noticed the variety of expressions on the gingerbread faces and were delighted. But the real joy was the taste of the ginger biscuit with an¬†unexpected hint of chocolate. I hope Kat can experience it soon.

Somebody’s Sons

October 11, 2009

Kat sits on her hospital bed. Her sketches are displayed en masse behind her on a pin board. I scan them as I take the seat next to the bed. Its 7.40, twenty minutes before visiting hours end; the most usual time for me to visit. She types one more thing onto her computer and closes the laptop.

‘How’s everything at home?’ she asks without genuine interest.

‘Good thanks. I like your Sprite’, I say to liven the subject, ‘your new drawing’.

Its a crouched fairy in Autumn tones. It has perfectly shaped wings and looks up out of the drawing with intelligent eyes. Its naked body is hidden behind its bent leg and defensive arms. Around its ankle and wrists are stylized tatoos. It reminds me of a character my first boyfriend made up for me because he was into Dungeons and Dragons. He wanted me to join in the game. I never did. But the character was called Trinity. I don’t tell Kat this, because its not about me…

The sprite provides me with some relief. Its comrades on the pinboard range from skinny women on the catwalk dressed out of Kat’s imagination, to emaciated figures in various contortions of grief or depression, to horrific images of vicious half humans with crazed eyes feasting on human body parts. Kat herself is emaciated and sits on the bed in a crouched position, but her face is beautiful and she seems relaxed.

‘How come no one else in the family came today?’ she enquires. She is more relaxed than usual. She never usually enquires after her sisters. But a week ago we were in Queensland on a family holiday and although we had our tense moments (she rarely kept a meal down), the time away provided bonding time with her sisters.

‘Oh, they were all going to come after school but when dad rang you said you had other visitors’.

‘Oh yeah. Just one visitor. Ethan’.

‘Who’s Ethan again?’, I enquire.

‘Mum don’t you remember him? He was visiting me here once last time when you and Rosie came in. And then you randomly bumped into him at Nandos!’

‘Oh yes, I remember. I just forgot his name. Where do you know him from?’

‘He’s one of Jacob’s friends. I met him through Jacob’.

‘You seem relaxed. Was it a good visit?’

‘Yes he was here for two hours. The time went so quickly! He came straight from school and was here until he was kicked out at dinner time. He even looked at his watch at half past five and said Oh my god I meant to leave at 5 lol’.

‘Wow you met him through Jacob and now he visits you in hospital every time you’re here! Won’t it be nice when you can continue your friendship on the outside. Have you seen much of Jacob?’

‘Yeah I’ve been talking to him’

‘On the phone?’ I ask.

‘No, on facebook! He was the one I was talking to when you walked in just now’…

There are parents out there who I do not know, who have raised caring sons. These boys visit my daughter when she is in hospital for anorexia. Three times since March she has had to go in for her physical health. These boys have visited her and provided gentle support and light hearted company at a time when she needs friendship the most.

I can’t give my daughter what these boys give.

A zebra pays a visit

August 19, 2009

My eldest is in hospital. We are lucky that the hospital is quite close to where we live. Its easy to pop in for short visits.

“Who’s coming with me to visit Kat?” I asked one evening recently.

“Me!” said Rosie. “I will”, said Emma and “Okay, wait for me”, said Sally,

Emma, Rosie and I assembled in the kitchen.”I’m freeeezing. I need to change first”, said Sally as she ran up the stairs to her bedroom. She’d¬†been in a pair of shorts and a T-shirt during dinner. The night had indeed turned cold. Before long Sally reappeared with the warmest thing she could find worn over her shorts and T-shirt. She tied on her red cherry converse runners and off we went to the hospital. Here are some photos of our visit:


Waiting at the hospital lift.


Sally sitting on the bed with Kat.

Sally was warm and comfortable in the zebra suit. And she made us all smile.

There is nothing like the world of a nine year-old as counter-point to teenager angst.

Ang Lee to the rescue!

August 6, 2009

I’m having a bit of an Ang Lee marathon. It started when I hired ‘Lust Caution’ and loved it. The tragic story and scenes from the movie haunted me for days afterwards. Its R rated because of the sex scenes, but these are not gratuitous. Without them the movie wouldn’t have been as powerful and the twist in the story wouldn’t have made sense.

Following this I remembered the first Ang Lee film I’d ever seen and had the desire to see it again (more than fifteen years later). I remembered it as a comedy of errors. I hunted it down online and had it shipped to home. I loved it, but its now outdated in a funny way and that made it enjoyable for different reasons. I’ve now lent that DVD to a friend who’s teenaged son is suffering through confusion about his sexuality…

This week I’ve been a couple of times to the video shop for Kat. She is going through a phase of watching horror movies. She’s trying to find one that actually scares her. This is something I do not understand. I find no enjoyment in the horror genre and avoid them outright. However, on our last visit I found¬†¬†‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’ in the World Movies section for weekly hire and picked ¬†it up for myself.

I’ve been home nursing Kat this week and this includes sleeping outside her room on an camp mattress to deter her from raiding the kitchen during the night. After three nights of this I’m completely worn out. Needing a lift and a spot of relaxation, I have decided to watch ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’ tonight. I am excited because I’ve heard its his best, and if its half as good as ‘Lust Caution’ it would still be amazing.

My family are going through a difficult time. My eldest daughter is battling an eating disorder. It crept up on us slowly. The early signs (in hindsight) were¬†her interest in buying low calorie and organic foods,¬†beginning to want to eat differently to the family and over-exercising. The next thing I noticed were her sleeping patterns. She developed insomnia. The links I’ve included in this paragraph are to posts written in November and December last year prior to realising what was going on. She kept it quite secret that she was not eating at school and had begun purging after eating at home.

The pediatrician who we saw for advice about sleep picked up that she had an eating disorder in February this year. I had been worried. Over summer she lost more weight and her lack of food consumption became suddenly obvious. In March she became an out patient of a Melbourne hospital with weekly visits to a team of specialists for children with eating disorders. On her fourth visit she was admitted to hospital for two weeks where she ate strictly supervised meals and was allowed no exercise until she slowly regained her physical health.

Today she is going in to hospital for the second time. The first time it was a shock to her and to us. She resented being admitted, not accepting that there was anything wrong with her, eventhough her blood pressure was dangerously low. Since then she has been having cognitive therapy and we have been going to family counseling, learning how to best support her and at the same time allowing her to witness the impact her illness is having on her sisters. Can you imagine a therapy room with seven people in it? I have been very proud of my girls through this process. They have been honest and articulate. There is a great deal of love between them.

This time as she goes into hospital it is her choice. Although its traumatic for us on one level, its also a relief that she is now able to say, “I can’t do it by myself”.

Its a break-though but she still has a long way to go. This illness has a strong grip.

Teenage consumerism

November 4, 2008

I went supermarket shopping with my almost-sixteen year-old this afternoon. Recently she has been exercising her choice as a consumer and deviating from usual family consumption patterns. She has become interested in accompanying me on shopping sprees with the aim of securing her products of choice. These are cartons of soy milk (instead of full cream milk like the rest of her sisters), chai syrup (to make chai latte at home), health foody-type fruit breads (so determined is she to have this in the house for her breakfast that she bought a loaf out of her own money over the weekend and put it up high where her sisters could not reach it), organic cornflakes, organic pure fruit straps and guava nectar.

Shopping with her is a far cry from the description of shopping with little kids that I wrote almost two years ago!