Sunday, January 27, 2008

A glimpse into the past ... origins

This is me as a wee child on a swing. I found it amongst my fathers memorabilia (brought tears to my eyes when I asked him if he had anything from my childhood and he brought out a shoebox overflowing with ephemera including photos, graduation leaflets and some of my first published articles - a seriously touching memory in itself). It conjures up a time in my life that is bittersweet. I spent few years with my parents. My father gained custody of his daughter when I was a babe. Not the usual thing, especially in those days and I understand he received a lot of pressure to return me to my mother because "a girl needs her mum".

My Dad today looking handsome and fine for 60.

Poor old dad, he really did treasure me but trying to raise a daughter, hold two jobs and relying on his critical family for childcare proved very difficult. My mother recollects coming to Wellington to pick me up. It was heartbreaking for her because she was a stranger to me, and I screamed all the way back to Auckland (a 12 hour train ride overnight in those days). It is still a very emotional memory for my mother to this day.

THIS IS MY BEAUTIFUL MOTHER - see I told you so. Absolutely stunning. So glad she is still very much a part of my life.

... My grandmother insisted my mother travel to Wellington and 'bring her moko home'. For the remainder of my early childhood I was raised by my grandparents in a small town called Ahipara, on the 90 mile beach called Te Oneroa A Tohe. As Maori it is not unusual for family to 'whangai' children, similar to being a fosterparent but without the formalities. These 7 years were the most stable of my childhood. My grandparents were already retired and their world revolved around me and keeping a house. A post-war couple, they made everything they had. Clothes were reconstructed from op-shop finds, furniture built and repaired, preserves and jams bottled, fish caught and the most beautiful flower gardens in the settlement. I walked for miles over the years along the beach, learned to beachcomb for shells, stones and driftwood; and leftovers from the summer tourists (how we scored our surf label clothes). I was taught to write my 'ABC's" on the sand and could write and read by the time I started school at FOUR years old (yes, four years old -I was 9 years old when I started Intermediate and 11 when I started college). My grandmother had baking days, washing and ironing days, going to town days, garden days, and visiting days. Sunday we went to our Maori Ratana church, a cool 5km walk from home along a gravel road.

My adorable grandmother and I in Brisbane a couple of years ago.

I was my grandmothers shadow. I went everywhere she went. I slept in her bed, I ate when she did, played on the floor beside her and watched her work with her hands in the evenings crotchet, trichem painting on fabric, sewing, darning, ironing, unwinding secondhand jerseys for wool, etc. We loved to trawl the op shops and my grandfather would take us to the tip (rubbish dump) where we would scavenge for treasures. I owned lots of novels, playing cards, ornaments with chips, clothes, high heels. My grandfather gave me some shelves in the garage for my treasures and I am still a gatherer today. This time came to an end and I spent five years with my mum in Auckland. My mother was young, beautiful and lived a full on life. While all my friends mothers were baking and attending committee meetings, my mum was dyeing her hair purple, cutting up her sweatshirts like Irene Cara, wearing stilletos, attending university and going nightclubbing. It was a very bohemian time and we lived in a funky house with black and gold wallpaper. I could decorate my room any way I wanted. Mum would give us kids $5 at the fleamarket and tell us to meet her back at the car in an hours time. I would fill large rubbish bags with cool clothes from second hand stalls, outrageous jewellery, shoes and anything else I wanted. At one time I was wearing a tiger skin fur coat to school with red suede winkle picker boots, a million silver bangles and lace fingerless gloves with crucifix just like Madonna; mini skirt and black net stockings. Some mornings Mum would tell us we were having a "Maori day off" and we would skip school and head to the beach for all day swimming, not leaving until the sun went down and we were shivering. I cannot go to Auckland without visiting Eastern Beach, Bucklands Beach and Mission Bay. I think my desire to give my sons a fun, adventurous childhood was inspired by my mother's out-there approach to life. Who gives a damn about housework when we could be having fun at the beach. Unfortunately the friends she had were not always healthy. I applaud my mum for raising three kids and doing her best to raise us. No easy feat in those days when we were the only Maori family in our neighbourhood. A lot of negative attention with people not wanting their kids to play with us cause we were Maori. In my country, being Maori was to be the underdog, the underprivileged. Basically low class. Even now the prisons are full of my Maori brothers. That is where our fathers are. I ended up in state care as a 'Ward of the State' at 13. This was a dark time in my life. My first and only suicide attempt. A family friend had been taking advantage of me when my mother was away from home (he wasn't the first but the most significant because it triggered a landslide effect in my life). I was an insecure girl, seduced by a smooth talking, good looking man. Eventually I didn't know how to handle the very adult situation I was in. I was lying to try and cover up what was happening but everything caved in on me. I have never felt so lonely nor so in 'survival mode' as I did during this time. The other fosterhome girls hated me because I had nice things. I was always clever and no one likes a know-all. I think because I was a loner with no history, I became a target for anyone looking for a fight. I got tough with my mouth but I was also very afraid and scared inside. I mostly hung out with the English Dept teachers because they were cool, bohemian and treated me like an equal. I met my father again for my first conscious time when I was 14. By that time I was hard, bitter, twisted and terribly insecure. I hated my past and was angry at everyone. I went to live with my uncle Steve and his family. Again because I was already formed, I did not fit in to this established family and struggled terribly with my aunt and my cousins. It was hard for them too. I am grateful they took a chance because it cost them to have me. Its a funny story, my story. It changes each time I tell it, not because I am lying but because the emphasis shifts depending on what is happening in my life. I have spent years as an adult trying to untangle myself from the more negative aspects of my childhood. I am no longer angry although I find myself incredibly moved when I hear stories of abuse and prejudice. I still have trouble 'fitting in' with most things. Most of my close friends are people like myself who tend to be slightly bohemian and walk to beat of their own drum. I like my life now although I find myself being my biggest backer still, I have had to believe in what I do or I would just crumple up and cry. I remember a friend who had a tough childhood say that when her kids were born, it was her chance to create the kind of family she wanted to be a part of. No doubt my kids will be p***ed about the things I do too (cause I make mistakes all the time), but I hope they will also know they are so loved and supported by theMan and I. I know that my passion for creativity and adventure was born in my childhood, as was my empathy for those who struggle with abuse, mental illness, single parents, minority groups and anyone who suffers. I think it's why I became a counsellor. My own desire to help others overcome their situations and learn not just to survive but to thrive.

My own wonderful family - theMan and theBoys in our backyard. You can see a glimpse of the harbour and hills in the background.

1 comment:

nina said...

rachelle, what a lovely lovely beginning for your blog - i've learned many things about you that i didn't know (of course), and have gained new appreciation and understanding of the person you've come to be.
i'm reminded - again, of course - here of two movies: whale rider, and once we were warriors (is that the right name?). i think i explained to you long ago that i feel a deep spiritual maori connection, one that i hope i'll be able to deepen with time and travel. one of my life wishes is to spend MUCH time working with maori, teaching them art techniques that i know, so that i'll be able to learn things on a spiritual level from your beautiful, beautiful people.
i loved the story of your dad and his shoebox.
and, my goodness, don't you have a beautiful family!
i send you much love and encouragement on your journey - xoxoxo