real life

This was her childhood. This was her version of normal.

Stacey
Stacey

I am ten.

I am in my unwashed, unironed school uniform and quietly eating my breakfast at the old wooden table in our government rental home.

My sister is four and is in the middle of the lounge room playing with her dolls and watching cartoons. My brother is thirteen and is in the kitchen, making himself a Vegemite sandwich to take to school.

I see him look in the fridge for an apple or a mandarin to put in his plastic bag for recess- but there is rarely any fresh fruit in the house these days and today is no exception- he closes the fridge with nothing.

When we hear our mother waking up, that first daily dose of anger coming from her room, a silent flash of hostility sweeps through us. We act quickly. My brother hisses at my sister to be quiet and turn the TV down. I have a brief awkward moment of eye contact with my brother as I try to quickly finish my cereal before she comes out of her room, as I know I won’t want to be in such a central point of her path and risk being a target.

It is always the yelling.
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Her door slams open and she storms out in an old fleece jumper and the denim shorts she wore yesterday. Her hair is messy and her eyes are piercing pale blue and full of hatred.

We see her stalk down the hallway and into the toilet. My little sister has gone still and is sitting in silence on the edge of the lounge with her dolls still on the floor, head down. My brother is already gone – retreated into his bedroom at the back of the house, door closed.

My room is right next to where my mother is and I am too scared to risk crossing her path so I begin to walk to the back room to hide and save myself from what happens next.

Then, the yelling. It is always yelling, slamming, swearing. Anger, resentment, hatred. My mother storms out of the bathroom and into the living area. Something is thrown across the room and dolls are kicked into the wall.

“Why the f*ck is this f*cking house so messy! No one ever does the f*cking dishes, I am so sick of this sh*thole. F*cking little sh*ts!”

Her tone gets angrier and she enters the kitchen and pushes the stack of dirty dishes around in the sink, not looking for anything, simply making noise to reinforce her resentment. She kicks the bin over, slams a cupboard open and shut, punches the wall. She slams a mug down from the cupboard and pulls the fridge open, then bangs it shut again.

I realise with familiar horror that my sister is getting teary, and so am I. I hate crying but I cry all the time. I clench my fists and rub the skin around my eyes firmly before the tears can come out. It hurts because the skin there is always so sensitive from the rubbing from the previous day – always red and sore. The physical pain temporarily deflects the emotional pain.

Out the window in the front of the house I see my brother on his bike, riding away to school. He has a good escape plan set up. His bike is always parked under his bedroom window, so in the morning he climbs out of his window and rides away; escaping confrontation, our home and our mother’s abuse.

Mistreatment and abuse of children
I hear my sister’s sobs as she picks up her dolls.
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I hear my sister’s sobs as she fearfully picks up her dolls which were kicked a few moments ago.

She puts them under her blanket on the lounge as my mother turns to her and tells her to shut up and stop crying, little sh*thead, she is always crying all the time so just shut up.

My sister cries even more and begins to get her whole body and face under the blanket with her dolls, trying to console herself.

I realise with a flood of dread that I left my schoolbag on the table, next to my homework sheets.

I feel the tears burn my eyes as my mother picks it up and throws it across the room with aggression, and flicks my homework on the ground after she scrunches it up in the corner in her rage. She sees me in the corner crying and tells me to f*ck off and get lost, her eyes burning with fury at my mere existence.

After a few more minutes of swearing, slamming, yelling, she retreats into her room, slamming her battered door behind her. I hear her stomp her feet and punch the door several times before there is the familiar creak of her bed as she gets back in. I know that if I wait a few minutes I will soon hear the familiar sound of scissors clipping against a bowl, then her bong, followed by her hacking cough, more swearing and bubbling of the bong.

It is a bad morning. Every morning is a bad morning. We don’t know any better though so we deal with it. I quietly pick up my homework and smooth it out, but it is a bit ripped. I decide not to risk hanging around another few minutes to make myself lunch – I will go without today, my best friend might share her Jatz if I am lucky.

As I walk out the front door my sister peeks her head out from her blanket and says a timid “bye” to me. Her eyes look sad and sore like mine. I half-smile awkwardly at her and tell her to “just try and be quiet today” and I leave the house for another day. I kiss my cat goodbye as he suns himself on the front steps, and think for the thousandth time how wonderful life would be if I was born as someone, or something else.

This was my childhood; this was my version of normal. It was never physical abuse- we were never hit, molested or injured, but the verbal abuse came consistently and was harsh and damaging.

It doesn't have to be physical to be abuse.
It doesn’t have to be physical to be abuse.
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I am 26 now and still hostile with my brother and sister; our closeness is strained because we never grew up seeing each other be loved or valued. We force ourselves to connect and sometimes it is nice, sometimes it just hurts too much. It is easier to live our lives apart.

I don’t know why we were born into such a hateful family, maybe because some greater force out there knew we would be strong enough to handle it. That’s what I like to tell myself, anyway.

Despite our upbringing, my brother was regularly winning awards for topping his class in exams and sports, and I thrived in most of my subjects and finished high school with a UAI of 90. Socially we are all very introverted, but have a circle of close, genuine friends.

My mother was addicted to various drugs for years and only got worse as we got older and became more independent. She had a baby with another addict friend when I was completing my HSC, which she adopted out – the poor baby was addicted to heroin and born with Asperger’s syndrome. He is now being raised by two loving parents who live on a farm and shower him with the love he deserves. I have never met him.

My mother is now in her fifties and although not a hardcore drug addict anymore (that I know of), she still occasionally smokes marijuana. She has no house, no assets, not many friends, and lives in a small rental house which is under my name, as she has been blacklisted from years of damaging private rentals and housing commission properties. On a more emotional level, she is a sad woman and her loneliness and regret shows in everything she does.

She has been desperately reaching out to me and my siblings for the past few years and although bridges have been made, they are small and tender and difficult to build. It is clear that she regrets the choices she made in her life and she carries a lot of guilt, yet still shows signs of her short temper and often plays mind-games and makes us feel very guilty for not loving her.

She cries very easily and in my opinion has a form of depression, yet refuses to seek or accept any offers of help. She lives week to week on a Centrelink pension and finds joy in little things, like playing bowls and going to the beach, yet she is deeply damaged just like her children. She had an open adoption and regularly sees her other autistic son every few months, my sister used to go along to the visits but couldn’t handle the emotions involved and so she stopped going.

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My sister moved to the other side of the city and rarely speaks to any of us. She is a troubled teenager who is dealing with things in her own way. My brother is a hardworking, successful tradesman and speaks to my mother occasionally, but it is a strained relationship. I moved interstate for four years a month after high school and then moved back when I had my daughter. I see my mother only at family dinners when we all go out to celebrate someone’s birthday every so often. Every meeting makes me anxious and withdrawn, but I try to get better each time.

I have a daughter who is four years old. I love her and not a day goes by that I don’t show her how much I care about her. It makes me sick to think of anyone treating her the way we were treated, especially by her own mother. I wish I knew how to comfort my sister better back then – I wish my brother had taken on that same role with me too.

We never knew love in our family. This post has been difficult to write, and probably confronting to read, but I want people to know that this is the story that so many kids are going through everyday – neglected, abused and hated. In your average suburb, on your average street.

I wish someone had helped us as kids. We didn’t know any better, we couldn’t save ourselves, didn’t understand we needed saving. What did our neighbours think? Didn’t they hear the yelling, the hatred, the drug gatherings? Didn’t they hear us crying, see us hiding, watch us trying to run away?

What about the parents of our friends who saw the way we lived and who heard the abuse? Why didn’t anyone think we needed help? Why didn’t our mother choose to love us instead of her drugs? I am not blaming anyone though, no. In this case, I am teaching myself to let go of my blame and resentment, trying to move on properly.

I just want people to notice, to care. This isn’t about reporting someone who has different parenting choices to you. This is about noticing abuse and caring enough to make it stop. Don’t turn a blind eye on our most valuable members of society- our children.

Help the kids find their happy childhood, help the mother break her addiction and find out how to love her kids as they deserve, if even possible. I realise that there is a whole other aspect to be discussed when it comes to the effectiveness of our systems in place to protect our kids. But for the time being, please, do what you can.

Stacey is a 26 year old single mum of a 4-year-old princess. She works part time in finance and study education, with a goal of branching into social work. She loves tea, chocolate and her treadmill in equal proportions.

If you are concerned about the welfare of a child you can get advice from The Child Abuse Prevention hotline on: 1800 688 009 or visit http://www.childabuseprevention.com.au/ or call The Child Abuse Report Line on: 131 478.

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