Sunday, February 24, 2013

The day I remember the women who shaped me… yes, you…

I am nothing special, but I feel very special being asked to speak with you today.  So in the spirit of International Women’s Day I would like to honour all the women that are special to me and share with you how they have moulded and lifted me to feel like I might be a little bit special.  And I would like to remind you of your own journey and the kismet that has proceeded it, and continues to stretch out  before you, lined in a path of women that have been special to you.

When I was six weeks old I was told that I had died.  This was at a time when SIDS babies where never survivors, they were only tiny grief's that families mourn for eternity.  But God was blighted the day that he decided to take a child from my mother.  Because with her roar and the consequential arrival of my Grandmother (who was born of the tough stuff of surviving depressions and world wars), I was belted continuously on my back until breath returned and the ambulance arrived. And the jury is still out as to whether I suffered lasting brain damage…. But it is a powerful legacy to be reminded from a young age that you survived and this was obviously for a special reason.  So no matter how great my self loathing and how very low my self esteem plummeted throughout my youth, this mantra formed a far superior background to my self worth… and one I always try to remember when talking to people.  What a miracle every life is, and how very special a person must be to survive it.

My Cash ancestry is also a little proud.  My Great, Great Grandfather was the first settler of Samford and Albany Creek (and how befitting the lunch was nestled in the great frontier of James Cash Court and Cash’s Crossing).  In his forties he ventured down to Sydney to choose a 14 year old bride from a potato famine ship.  Mary would become my Great, Great Grandmother - bare children in her mid-teens, endure still births and see young children die in household fires.  She had a reputation for educating the local Aboriginals and clothing them… and maybe my DNA is implanted with the need to clothe people in lycra.  Her life was hard and she was alone for months on end armed with only a pitch fork and corn pipe while the men worked the banana planation in Mt Glorious.  No Facebook, iPhone or online shopping.  Can you imagine the horror?  This is a tough act to follow.

My father left when I was young, in the most literal sense: physically, emotionally and financially.  My little sister was only three days old and it was Christmas day.  But I was raised in a large family tribe with my two sisters and brother, having three females in charge… My Mum, my Aunty and my Grandma. My mother and Aunty finished each others sentences and spoke in a secret short-hand language, and we thought it perfectly normal to be raised as a pack.  When my Mum couldn’t afford gymnastics for me, my Aunty would pay.  I would work with my Aunty Jenny at "Tradelink" as a teenager in school holidays, and loved seeing her in action.  And she made me a fearless Plumbing Supplies receptionist at the age of 14.  I learnt very young to fake it till you made it.   Especially in a man’s world.

I think the 80’s was a wonderful time to be raised as a girl, even though my adolescence was like a more high-haired version of puberty blues (without the panel vans and beach-side location).  Me and my dudette girlfriends had ‘Pretty in Pink’, and ‘The Breakfast Club’, and ‘Wall Street’ to aspire to…  Australia back then had relatively free education and medicine, and my mother was an active socialist during a political period that saw the strongest Federal cabinet in Australia's history (just quoting the Courier Mail on that one).  So being politically sensitive was never really my mother’s strong suit, and she effectively passed the ‘hotly opinionated banner with little regard for social niceties’ to me.  I remember seeing a home tax return on the kitchen table showing my mother lived on only $8000 one financial year, but she managed to not only keep four children alive and fed, but also steer each and every one of us through university before the age of 21.  Not bad for a single parent with a grade 8 education.

I also had the most wonderful, ambitious friends at school and university.  We would all boldly state, “Why do we need to learn how to type when we are going to have our own receptionists?” and snickered loudly at typewriters.  And we completely believed it.  My girlfriends and sisters got TE scores in the 900’s, and even though we still wanted acceptance from some of the more bogan trendy boys, we were also pretty sure that there was something more to life.  And how lucky I am to have been a part of those amazing ambitious minds that never once doubted we could do anything.

So I can only feel I was a disappointment when at the age of 18 I had chosen a mothers worst nightmare for a boyfriend.  After I arrived home one morning with a fractured skull and a very attractive set of matching black eyes I would find discretely placed pamphlets and newspaper cuttings on violent relationship helplines.  She would secretly encourage my girlfriends to take me on trips away that would now only be described as planned interventions.   And in the end she shook me in desperation and told me  ‘One day you can cry over your children, but never a boy, a boy is not worth these tears.’  She had never raised me to be so weak minded and pathetically incapable.

And while I battled to end this relationship with this angry, illiterate boy that hated me going to university I would drag myself to my Public Policy lectures and see a woman in a Queensland Police Uniform…  Myself and my equally ambitious uni friend would nod and say… “We can do that!”  And we did both end up doing just that…. But for very different reasons.  I went to escape a toxic relationship and try to gain some sort of identity at the age of 20 (and maybe marry a policeman).   Helen went because, well, she was really good driver and unemployment was higher then 13%.  Helen subsequently left the Academy to become one of the most successful women in Australian banking. 

I would meet the woman wearing the police uniform from QUT about 8 years later.  I was helping her in a cell extraction of a female prisoner that spat faeces onto her face (I always have a poo story don’t I?).   It is only now that I truly realise that  otherwise insignificant meetings lead to significant life choices… and I am humbled by its importance.

I have had two more obvious significant meetings with women that would change my life.  One was with a mother that had lost her 6 week old  baby to SIDS, and me at the ignorant age of 22 bursting in, in my oversized Police Uniform, extracting the baby from Mums arms to be taken to the undertaker so we could commence our investigation with haste.  The poor shocked Mum kept saying to me, “We will try and have another baby,”.  And I remember thinking, “Wow, that’s just weird.”  The year I turned 30 I froze with horror one day as I remembered what I had done to that mother. I suddenly realised how very young, and very stupid I was.  These memories became more traumatic with my first pregnancy.  And now I would do battle with the Grim Reaper and time itself just to give that poor women another 30 minutes with her baby.... I pray daily for her and her baby that will never grow old.

Another meeting was with a young aboriginal girl that was a victim of sexual and physical abuse at the hands of Foster carers when she was a very young girl.  Sharleen and I seemed to be cosmically linked, because no matter how hard she tried to avoid aka hide from me, I would find her.  I would find her in Goodna shopping centres, public toilets, residential homes…  An invisible force would always lead me to her.  Wouldn't it be nice to think it was God?  Sharleen had a very young baby, and it was quiet obvious that her young boyfriend that recently released from jail was abusing her... and possibly the baby.  I remember saying to her, “He will kill you, or the baby… you have to do something.”  But she would just shrug.  And never let me help.  One year later I was called to give evidence on her behalf at the Foster Carers trial.  Why?  I asked the prosecutor.  Because she had been murdered by her boyfriend.  He had dragged her into a rear paddock and belted her to death.  And my imagination is cruel in its taunting that she lay helpless listening to her infant son crying for his mummy as she died.  Does her son remember her still?  Who comforts him now?

No one can replace our Mums.  They hang our moon.

This is why when I see a woman in an obviously unhealthy relationship I will not be silent.  I will not tolerate her shrug of the shoulders or the down play of her partners excuses.  I will no longer tolerate silence in the face of violence, mental illness, addiction and people who are unable to help themselves. The meek do not inherit the earth… they inherit only pain.  While others watch silently.  And I find it impossible to watch women teach their children that they are not worthy of love, and that apathy is the easiest option.  And I will probably shake doors and battle demons for the rest of my life to stop the silence, and the apathy.  Because there is something more…  I want something more for all women and children.

Even though I am a martyr of the less than heroic kind, and would go to war for my beliefs and to protect those who can’t protect themselves, the Police was never the forum for me to fight these battles.  After one very long night work in plain clothes, my dear female flatmate, also a police woman, had to save me from a meltdown that was reminiscent of Demi Moore trying to freeze herself to death in a windswept, psychosis scene in ‘Saint Elmo's Fire’  (showing my age here).  Luckily it was 40 degrees in Brisbane, and as she dragged me into a shower I mumbled something about an ”Oprah Winfrey” episode called ‘Finding Your Sacred Contract’.  My ‘contract’ with the Police was slowly killing my spirit, and my ‘Oprah light bulb moment’ would not fade.

Luckily for me, I also suffer from A.D.D. and so was easily convinced to join the QPS Women’s Advisory Group where I would meet Domestic Violence Liaison Sergeant Kelly Gurski.  A force of nature unto herself, she slapped me across the face and suggested I was not dying, and that I needed to study, get my Detective’s Appointment and get promoted. 

While I’m at it I could get my fitness and boxing coach qualifications too…  Because I could quit being a whiner and change SOMETHING…  anything.  Because nobody likes a loser.  And while I was at it why not open a little boxing gym?  And start a women’s active wear label?  Yes, that was possible.  Everything is possible…

Other forces of female nature were also at work… troupes of friends tagging clothes for me and painting gym walls and choreographing my upcoming fashion parade.  And I had a final female push, by an Inspector that believed that a good police woman can't possibly have a business at the same time.  It was just her false belief that exposed the transparency of the situation - I needed to move along.  The police was another woman’s dream.  I was moving out for her so I could move into my own.

I am also fortunate that the ZONTA tornado herself, Karen Fuller and her pose of loyal women folk (including Lancey), would burst into my gym doors and put wheels in motion to have my self defence programs delivered to school children.  And at the same time Karen fundraised for Sergeant Gurski to get demountable rooms for her special needs teens.  All the while Karen would be standing behind, puffing into my sails, convincing her equally generous friends that I needed a new shed to train in… telling me to get my lessons out there and pushing my ship out to sea.

I met women like Jodie Chambers that fought a committee of men to find me a place to teach and box.  And then came the silent workings of women who dragged 40 kilo boxing bags, truck tyres and 200 square metres of flooring to move me … again and again.  And again. And when I got cranky they fed me and provided me with lip gloss.  All the while their husbands and cordless drills were being rallied to the cause, and their children at their hips.  And not because I am anything special.  Or could offer them anything special.  Or give them any special recognition.  They are just special women.  They are exceptional women.  And they don't need an exceptional cause to prove how unconditionally exceptional they are. 

I want to be more like these women.

If resigning from the Police was the best day of my life, having my son Thomas was the luckiest.  Buoyed by that luck is the women in my life, my mum, sisters, friends… All have led me on such a magnificent journey, and all are gently teaching me how to be a better Mum.  My most proud job to date.  I want to celebrate these women, and if I haven’t met you yet, I want to celebrate you too… for the women that have led you here, for the role you play in shaping your children and family, your workplace and community. 

And on Tuesday I found out I was having a little girl.  I want to celebrate that in 4 months she will arrive in a world that has been made safer, and more bountiful and loving because of women like you.   Where if she feels hurt or scared her voice will be heard, and women will rally to her cause.  It is not enough to wish my unborn child happiness, I want to wish for her strength of all the women in this room… all the women that have proceeded her and forged a path for her.   This is my wish for her.  This is my wish for all your daughters.  Thank you Zonta for all you do for women, thank you women for all you do for my soul.

This speech is dedicated my Mum (my universe), my Aunty Jenny, my soft and beautiful (and crazy in a wonderful fruity flavour way) Grandma, my smart and savvy and awesomely outspoken sisters Trina and Sheridan aka Bean and Bear Bum respectively, my cousin Lindsey who I adored since birth – if you loved yourself as much as I loved you no harm could ever come of you … and my magical sister from another mister Richelle Spence.
To my fabulous high school friends who were my teenage world: Melissa Seibold, Katrina Dore, Leanne Murphy, Sharon Weston and Stephanie Newman, and the best thing that happened to me in my University universe, Helen Horne.
I ride on the shoulders of some pretty sexy giants….  Here’s to my force of nature friends that feed my stomach, cracked lips, and soul: Kelly Gurski, Tracie Pecic, Shannon Cooper, Jan Williams, Shell Jarrett, Karen Fuller, Rachael Teirnan, Kim Dods, Sally Brouwer, Jodie Murray, Lene Kristensen, Amanda Barker, Marnie Grey, Nik Zaini, Kim Gasson and Fiona Hayes.

I have a very special mention to some mid-wives, and miracle worker women that everyday I give a silent thanks to: Jacinta Rashford, Lauren Williams, Natalie Millgate and Dr Sharon Ward. 

And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.  Revelation 12:1

For the mums and marvellous women that are my tribe and tribute, that train me with me until I am in a better mood… and I would happily go to war with - as long as there is coffee… Julie Gardner, Jo Johnson, Kate Hart (what a  heart), Jodie Chambers, Baby Jo Statham, Meredith Halling, Cherie Cleary, Leticia Casey, Samara Mays, Sam Bird, Mandy Cuskelly, Claire Farquhar, Annette Graham, Mon Powell, Tracey Caruana, Judy Sengleman, Chris Shanahan, Sheridan Dyne, Sara Thorne, Sarah Grein, Simone Brownlie, Christine King, Karen Stevenson, Jo Bassett,  Hayley Pullen, and Sharon Wood.

Let death or pain not be the catalyst to celebrate and love you… let me cherish you now.

POST SCRIPT MARCH 2014:   On July 2014 Lucy Mary Florence McQuaid was born.   Her name is a collection of Grandmas and Great Grandmas names... Grand, beautiful ladies.   I never believed in proof of God prior to having children.  Now I could never doubt.  How did I get so lucky that he (or she) thought that I should have a chance at being a Mummy?  

Surely God must be a woman?

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