Sitting at home on a Friday evening, I receive a random text via GoSMSPro (an Android SMS Replacement App with a Chat feature, like Whatsapp for the Apple folk.). Up until tonight, I didn’t know that random people could chat with you.
Like many women, I occasionally get random texts from people I can’t remember giving my number to, or who I have since deleted from my phone because they are douchebags. It seemed like a standard late Friday night lame ‘booty’ text from lost suitors of old… so… benefit of the doubt when I received this:
Give me the child until he is seven, and I will show you the man.
So, looks like we’ve done our job then. Ah well, you’re on your own. Time to get a job…
Jules. My kind, funny, odd, smart baby Jules. My easygoing, sweet, Angry Birds-obsessed son. I apologise for using a clichéd phrase as the theme for this birthday letter, but hey, you are seven. And because we are in a place where I need to focus on the bigger picture, I often think about the man you will become. Grandma used to say that phrase a lot too, so, as I sit down to write, it is the most prominent thought.
Part of me hopes that it isn’t true, because I get you full time next year and I like to think that I can somehow undo some of the damage. Despite there being very good reasons for me being absent, I know how it affects you. I know it has hurt you. It has hurt me too. But I hope that one day, when you are a man, because we have done a good job, you have the capacity to understand and forgive.
I am so excited that you are coming to live with me. And I have to be honest, I am also terrified, because I know that there is a chance that your Dad is right, and you will want to go back to him after 3 months. I have learned to deal with my decision not to fight. I have learned to accept the emotional fallout of how my decisions are represented to you. I have learned to accept that someone else is raising my children. And I am thrilled that you have so many grownups that love you and want what is best for you, even if I end up on the periphery.
I chose this. It is difficult. It is painful. I frequently question my decision. But I have realised that even if I lived around the corner – I am forever the bad guy as long as I make my own choices. It occurred to me, earlier in the year, as I was being chastised for my apartment in West Perth… that no matter what I do, I am wrong. It occurred to me, when I was making the decision to move to Sydney, that even if I did suck it up for 10 years, living in a city I hate, with no career progression or other things that make me happy – I would still be wrong and that bar would just keep moving.
It’s why we are not together anymore. By opting out of the relationship, I opted out of the abuse. I let him have his way, avoid conflict, and try to make it work. And I just keep writing these letters… so that one day… when you are a man… you will understand.
But I am excited, because you are coming to live with me! And even though that also causes me intense fear… I still have hope that your Dad is wrong. Because I am a good mother. And I love you and can give you all of the support that you need. And if you do decide that you want to go back, I will not take it personally – because you should never have to choose. You have 3 parents that love you, and because of that, I am happy.
So in less than 6 weeks, you will be here with your brother and sister for Christmas. Then, it’s you and I. And Angus some of the time. So even though I am unable to make it today… I am hanging onto 6 weeks time, as the time I get my beautiful boy with me, full time. And despite some of the damage done in your first seven years, and even though despite this I know and love the man you will no doubt be, I will do my absolute best to make it right.
For anyone who knows me, this will not come as much of a surprise, but I absolutely adore bad reality TV. If it were possible to be a connoisseur of trashy TV, I am pretty sure I would be it. I love it. I love watching, sneering, judging & laughing at people and feeling the warm glow of smug self righteousness at the stupid people that will sign a release form.
My favourite? Toddlers & Tiaras. It has all the trainwreck of stage mothers, overdone makeup, rednecks and sequins to get me excited. I don’t understand pageants. I don’t understand pageant Moms. But to watch them is a delight. They are generally miserable, vain and superficial and… well… I like to mock people to feel better about myself.
I first saw Honey Boo Boo (aka Alana), with her mother (“Mama”) June on Toddlers & Tiaras. I remember June, because I mocked her. I stereotyped her and judged her. I was outraged at the idea of giving her daughter a pep drink. And I remember Alana’s cuteness & OTT precociousness. As did most people. But, that was that – I watched it, I moved onto the next train wreck in the next episode, and continued my life.
Then, this month, I heard everyone talking about Honey Boo Boo. It rang a bell, so last Friday, I said to Martin “I need to find out what this Honey Boo Boo thing is all about”. We hit up YouTube and watched the first few minutes.
And that was that. We laughed our arses off and I decided right then & there that I needed a piece of this show. You know, because I am a Toddlers & Tiaras fan and have been known to yell at the TV during Keeping Up With the Kardashians. I needed this delicious trainwreck.
So I started watching. They are all on YouTube… start with this and work your way through:
The first episode exceeded my expectations. As did the second, and the third. I found myself laughing in disbelief, condescension and outright disgust at what I was watching. And, when Martin pointed out the lifetime supply of toilet paper in the background – I was a goner. But then… something strange happened.
I kind of fell in love with these people.
I can actually pinpoint the moment it happened. The precise moment where the Thompson family felt like family, and someone made fun of them and I wanted to punch them in the face. There is a scene in Episode 4 with a smirky pedicurist (or whatever they are called) snarking with the camera about June and the girls’ feet.
Something shifted. What started out as a pretty transparent attempt by the TLC Producers to show up the family as idiotic, grotesque hicks dancing like monkeys for my amusement – in that moment, turned into much more. That pedicurist, with her condescending smirk about the ‘interesting’ family turned it all on its head and made HER look like the idiot.
It was quite startling.
There is actually substance to Here Comes Honey Boo Boo that I never, ever expected. And, despite all the power of Reality Show editors, farts & closeups of a fat woman eating (oh have Mercy!), it became pretty clear that this family… are… happy.
How many people do you know that are happy? I know I’m sure not. Looking past the superficial, that family – made up of a fat matriarch with a ‘forklift foot’, her de facto a short toothless man called “Sugar Bear”, a pregnant teen who gives birth to a baby with an ‘extra thumb’, and an obviously screaming untreated ADHD world-famous 6 year old daughter – not to mention the fact that Mama’s 4 girls are to 4 different Dads, they eat roadkill and go “shopping” at the dump (yes, for those who haven’t seen it yet… I know how that reads… and yes, it is funny writing it down) – they are living the life so many of us want and daren’t admit it.
Bear with me, because I am not saying I want to eat roadkill or eat sketti with butter & ketchup.
OK, I kinda want to try the sketti…
There is a sweetness and authentic love in this show that makes it impossible to continue laughing at them, and instead, you begin to laugh with them. They are just so… endearing. And funny.
Not in a condescending way. Not in a “oh look, they’re poor and fat and they’re ignorant” way.
In that truly envious way, where they remind you exactly of what is important, and see the wisdom underneath. “Sugar Bear” is devoted to his family, and doesn’t differentiate between his biological daughter and the others. Both parents create fun & happy memories for their children, spend quality time with their friends and play in the mud. Even when it is uncomfortable for Mama to do so, she gets out there, puts on a bathing suit and goes on a water slide in public. They eat food because it tastes good and is cheap so that they can support their youngest daughter’s expensive ‘hobby’.
And they laugh their arses off. They play stupid games like “Guess the Breath” and hang shit on each other in a way that only someone who truly loves you can. And when the teenage daughter’s baby was born with the extra thumb, they laughed at it, embraced it and moved on. The love in that family is just so obvious, that it just smacks you in the face. Watching that baby come into a family of people who truly were excited to see her join them was… surprisingly moving. Yeah, I cried. Shut up.
There’s been a lot of hate towards the family. The South Park episode was rather mean-spirited, and commentators are calling it ‘exploitative’ (like, somehow they are in need of our middle class/educated ‘protection from themselves’, because… you know… they’re so stoopid and muddy and fat!), or that it is mocking them & their ‘ignorance’. But, much like the pedicure girl who thought she was the clever one – maybe the joke is on us.
Because you know what? They are happy. And most of us are not.
The Kardashians are not happy. The Pageant Moms are not happy.
But Mama, Sugar Bears & their family? They are happy.
This is confronting to us, because they lack the “happiness” metrics: thin bodies, good looks, teeth (!), money, a house without a train running through the backyard, big screen TVs, marriage, romantic dinners and possessions… in fact, in most ways the Thompsons do pretty much everything that is opposite to what most people deem to be “successful” in life.
And yet, there they are. Right in front of us, mocking our value system: Laughing. Smiling. Happy with who they are. Charitable to those less fortunate. Having fun with ‘extreme couponing’. In love. Water slides! Raising women who are secure in their bodies. Supporting and loving their pregnant teenager, and celebrating the arrival of their granddaughter (at 32!) and showing love and acceptance to each other – no matter what. Even the gay uncle “Poodle”.
That’s pretty uncomfortable, isn’t it? To think that you might have it all wrong and that these people that you initially watched with the intention of feeling superior, actually did the opposite.
If you haven’t seen the show yet, do. It starts as a laugh and ends as a journey with people that, truthfully, I envy. And I am not ashamed to admit it.
Mina, it’s your birthday and you are…OMFG… Eleven years old. I have posted this early for many reasons – partly because I am travelling on your actual birthday and time gets away from me when I get back, but also being the night before I fly to see you for your birthday, it just seems the right time (and mindset) to write your birthday post. With wine. Having missed you for a month.
It’s amazing, actually, the kind of pressure I feel now as I write this, not only because of my absence in your day-to-day life and trying to say something meaningful and reassuring that will somehow, magically, make up for that (I know it won’t), but also because this year, I heard the words that will make any mother recoil in horror:
“I read your blog, Mum”.
It’s enough to stop me dead in my tracks, really. Despite you not having a problem with it and reassuring me that you liked reading my posts, I have to be honest – I contemplated not writing a birthday post at all, because I know you are growing up and don’t necessarily need your mother gushing about you online for all and sundry to read. I want you to know that I nearly didn’t. But… bear with me. I promise I won’t embarrass you (too much).
It’s strange how something as simple as a blog post can come to mean so much, and have so much impact on someone’s life, as it has mine. This blog, that I have been writing for all of the time you have existed on this planet, well… it is quite an extraordinary thing to read back on. Much like going through old photo albums, going through and reading the letters I have written to you in the past provides just… so much reflection and insight into my thoughts and state of mind at the time. And I feel that pang of regret when I read it, because, there were times when life was a lot easier for you. And life will get harder, and more complex, and… well…
Much like photographs, my blog entries, for better or worse are a snapshot in time, that one day, will hopefully provide you with comfort.
I speak from experience.
As you probably know, I have a photograph that is 1″ wide and 1.5″ tall, in an oval frame, sitting on my bookshelf. It is innocuous, barely even noticeable, but it is the only photograph that I have of Grandma Chris, because she avoided photos. Well, that and our fractured family meant that, basically, I have one photo.
But, Grandma’s reluctance and fear of embarrassment means that now… there’s no photos. No record. I know it’s morbid, but…
I don’t want that for you. I want you to understand, and know that I love you. Have it written here, stored by the Internet in forever-land, that I battled daily with my decision to move away. But, I love you, and I fought, and continue to try to make it work. I made choices that I think will be better, and provide you with opportunities that can’t be provided in Perth, in the long term. And hopefully make you see that there is a world bigger than sitting around, staring at the TV, waiting to die.
It’s strange though, having written this blog for this long, that in part was started so that you would read about the cute and funny things you said and have a laugh at the “letters in a shoebox” when you were older… has, through the life of the blog, somehow morphed into this big, complicated need to tell my “side of the story”. My actual side of the story will come when you are an adult. In private. That is a private discussion that will no doubt occur, but just know that, in those moments where you doubt that I love you, or that I don’t miss you, or that I am not doing my very best with a situation where my hands are tied… I want you to know that… I’ve done my very best.
And that, right there, is why I decided to write the post. So you don’t have a 1″ photograph when you need me, and know that… in my words… that it’s going to be OK.
Yes, I know. Another Charlotte Dawson post. Another social media person making commentary in order to get some Google Juice. Another person who has been the victim of online harassment speaking out. Another person sharing their story.
I know you’re fatigued with the discussion, because so much has been said already, but hear me out. Because whilst Charlotte Dawson’s Twitter bullying saga, landing her in hospital, and subsequently in the mainstream press, has been done to death, there is something I want to say about it.
There seem to be two, rather polarised, camps on the events of last week. The first, in Charlotte’s defence:
Decrying the bullies (and “trolls” being lumped in for good measure);
Calling for harsher legal consequences for online behaviour;
Calling this a feminist issue, where “strong” women are frequently targeted online with vicious attacks;
Criticism of telling a person, who has openly battled depression and lost a partner to suicide, to kill themselves (and rightly so).
That to criticise Dawson’s own contribution to the events that unfolded, is ‘victim-blaming’;
Commenting on the bigger picture of violent behaviour online, that stalkers are a very real problem for ‘celebrities’, and that you cannot understand unless you are in that position.
The second camp, are not terribly sympathetic of Dawson’s situation, and:
Say she is a troll herself, and therefore deserved everything she got;
Say that as a public figure she needs a thicker skin;
Say that she needs to disengage and detach from it, and accept that this is ‘how it works’ online;
Say that Dawson contacting the girl’s employer (a University), means that she was the one to overstep first;
“Don’t Feed the Trolls”;
Defending the definitions of harassment vs trolling (which are very different things, with different intent) and expressing concern that people who provoke for a bit of fun are going to be labelled “bullies” and hauled through court for “harassment” (a valid concern).
I think I have summarised most of the commentary, aside from the extreme , that my peers, the media, other commentators & friends have said over the last few days. I took a few days to really digest what was going on, and how I can provide some original thought on this subject that has been done to death… and I am still firmly… empathetic. More on that in a moment.
My point is, that despite people being polarised in their support (or lack thereof) of Charlotte Dawson, every single one of those points above… is true. It is all true. They are all factors in a complex issue, where… there are no absolutes, no right, no wrong. And as such, because I am still on the fence and believe that everyone has a legitimate point to make, I am going to recount some personal experience to try and make a broader point.
Like most people who are active on Twitter, I witnessed the incident in question. Honestly, when all the hubris hit, my immediate thoughts were that Charlotte Dawson was handling this… like a bit of a n00b. We’ve all done it. We knew it would happen eventually – you provoke the wrong person and BLAMMO. So when things got nasty, I honestly did not expect things to go the way they did. Because as you and I both know, Internet, a bit of fisticuffs is something that kind of goes with the territory.
It goes with the territory of being a public figure.
It goes with the territory of being online.
It goes with the territory of being a woman online.
It goes with the territory of having an opinion, on anything, ever, on the internet.
It also absolutely sucks balls when you are subject to an attack, particularly when you are battling with depression and suicidal thoughts on top of it.
Thing is, this stuff doesn’t just happen to celebrities. It happens every single day to ordinary people. It happened to me. It has happened to friends. I have had escalations and vicious attacks online that are certainly not for the faint hearted – ranging from a bit of rivalry & heated debate, to being systematically targeted by packs, to doing something I never thought I would and make a Police complaint & file an AVO.
Now, you all know by now, that I am not exactly innocent. I have been part of communities well-known for their snark and sarcasm, enjoy a bit of a playful poke and have built (and benefited from) a persona that is dry, sarcastic and snarky. I only ever target people who I think can either take it, ‘get it’, or are fair game (e.g. Reality TV show contestants & celebrities).
One of whom, has been Charlotte Dawson, who did one of her famous “RT the “bully”" things on me, on a fairly innocent-in-context remark, with NO opportunity for correction or recourse. To 30,000 Followers. It was a joke, during the Celebrity Apprentice, about a caricature. Not a real person. I said it. I own it. And I probably deserved it. But I don’t know that her response was entirely fair given the context. She was on Celebrity Apprentice, for fuck’s sake.
However, because I am a reasonable and fairly reflective sort, I learned from it. It made me think for a while about the role that sarcasm and snark, under the guise of “funny”, can hurt people, even if it isn’t my intent.
So, yes, in short, over the years, I have been complicit in some things I regret. Usually as a result of a misunderstanding (a big downside to relying on sarcasm rather than wit), sometimes because I saw bullying and harassment of others and didn’t speak out, because I knew that I would then become a target.
I have also been the target of harassment. I always intellectually knew that it wasn’t me, a real person, but my caricature, they were targeting (something that Dawson could actually try to understand). But, I have also struggled with an anxiety disorder for the better part of 20 years. On the good days, I can take it and dish it out. But on the bad days… it can be enough to push me over the edge. And quite literally, it did when I had a complete breakdown in 2010, partially as a result of Twitter abuse that escalated into full blown harassment. It wasn’t pretty. Claims about me as a mother in my most vulnerable time post-separation. Being called things that noone, ever, should ever call another human being (and remember… I defend the C word…). Of course, the abuse was not the only thing. It was not the cause of my breakdown. But to deny that it wasn’t at least a significant contributor, well, that would be a lie.
I don’t really talk about it. I let people think I was OK. But, I was terrorised. There is no other way to describe it other than… terror. Not just the self-inflicted terror of having a Formspring account (which I deleted quickly in an attempt to ‘ignore the trolls’), but absolute terror at logging onto my email, to work, to see what had landed in my inbox. Terror at checking my voicemails because I was getting abusive messages. Terror at even going online in case another well-meaning friend decided to tell me what was being said about me by those I had blocked.
I haven’t really talked about it till now. Because I was afraid. I am still a little afraid, to be honest. So, then, to try and preserve my sanity and emotional state, I completely deleted my blog, that I had been writing on for 7 years. I deleted my Twitter account & my Facebook account. I even contemplated (and trialled) changing my name at one point, just so I could do my job and be left alone. I was forced into virtual reclusion.
Bullying is not as simple as ignoring it when it escalates to that point. This is not a couple of negative responses. This is relentless. They follow you. You CAN’T just block it without taking napalm to your entire online life. Luckily for me, after 6 months, it settled down and I was able to rebuild my online profiles again. It briefly resurfaced, during the iPad thing, but… thankfully I was less psychologically vulnerable at that time and could take it.
I have been where Charlotte Dawson is, on a smaller scale, and It. Was. Fucking. Horrible.
And, like her, I have said things I regret, or crossed a boundary. Some may even believe that I deserve everything I get. I make no excuses, and have recently decided to reduce the role that negativity and sarcasm has in my life, and in the way I communicate. I have learned this the hard way. My point is not that I didn’t contribute to it, or to justify myself or look like a victim, or even to try and defend Charlotte Dawson, but to highlight the very real impact that these things can have on your psyche when you already struggle to begin with.
There is a difference between being sympathetic and showing empathy. I for one feel tremendous empathy for Charlotte Dawson right now. Even if I don’t have a whole lot of sympathy for her actions. It is unfortunate that she has had to learn the hard way, and I hope that, rather than play victim and deflect all of the blame, she does at least acknowledge her role in it, and try to… be better. Engage positively. Lose the snark. Lose the sarcasm. It hurts people and you know what? It hurts people.
And yeah, you may just tick off the wrong person one day.
It has been so long since I have blogged… this started as a Facebook status and I thought “hey… why not blog it and then people will think I am totally not neglecting my blog… suckas! ha ha ha”.
I am now almost 4.5 months into making the best and most liberating (and yes, terrifying) decision of my life. I am not generally adverse to making those kinds of risky decisions – I mean – I generally have a pretty adventurous disposition – but nothing has really paled to the decision to leave Perth to live in Sydney.
“Big deal”, is what most people would say… however… the decision to be further away from your children is one that is not easy. Most people just don’t understand, and some even go so far as to openly judge me for it. But, I love my children. I didn’t do it lightly. And… thus far, I think I am making it work.
When faced with the difficult choice between one piece of your heart (my career) over another (my children), there will always be doubt. And people will always have an opinion. And believe me, there is not a day that goes by that I don’t scrutinise that choice.
But as I sit here, after a week filled with some amazing developments for the business, and sharing it with someone… incredible… and with the once-tense relationship with my ex husband turning around into a positive co-parenting relationship, I realise that sometimes… you just have to go with your gut, even if everyone else thinks you are making a mistake.
On a day to day basis, I try to forget/suppress how much I miss the kids. I keep myself busy and fill it with distractions. We FaceTime as much as possible, and I try really hard to make it work.
I manage to forget the pain, for the most part, until I have a ticket booked to see them, and start preparing to have Moo again. We do month-on-month off with him, because he is not yet at school. And when my month comes around… I get so excited that I am reminded how much I miss my babies.
Missing them is such a normal part of my day and I am so busy I don’t give myself time to think about it…. that when the anticipation and excitement kicks in… I realise…”wow… that REALLY hurts”. And yeah, when I am exhausted or have a few glasses of wine… I get sad. I mean… who wouldn’t?
But, 4.5 months in and I realise, that Sydney is my home. I love it here. I made the right choice. Yes, it’s difficult. And there are aspects that do provide me with some stress and incertainty. But, nothing in life is certain (as the breakdown of our marriage proves), and… I am simply doing my best. I am finally starting to rebuild my life after an awful 3 years… and things are starting to work out. Sure, my kids may have a different view, and I am prepared for that (and would never blame them), but… I am trying to make it work.
And, my ex is coming around in a way I never expected him to, being more flexible with the kids and visits… and as money improves, hopefully it won’t even be an issue.
As I reflect on the craziness of the last 6 months, it hits me that, despite the odds, I reckon we can actually make this work. Against incredible odds, I reckon we can. And if there is anything that you can get out of this… it’s that you should follow your gut. Trust it. Make difficult choices as necessary, but follow your gut.