2014: The Future’s So Bright…

It may be late, but never fear:
My annual goal-setting post is here!
I do this every single year –DCF 1.0
Post my aspirations here –
It always feels beyond compeer
(Not like my rhyming. Dear, oh dear!)
To know my goals and give a cheer
When my actions bring me near
To achieving something I hold dear.
I may even shed a tear.
But don’t you cry, oh reader dear.
My rhyme is done. My goals are clear.

My good friend Tonia has a theme for this year. #BeBravein2014

Being brave is something I always aspire to — sometimes I succeed more than others. But just knowing that out there in the world, there are other people doing their best to be brave is a beautiful thing.

In the spirit of being brave, here are my goals for 2014.

CST

I am really pleased with this novel. It’s the best thing I’ve ever written. The manuscript is with beta readers at the moment, and I’m eagerly anticipating their feedback. My goal is to sell this book in 2014. But, since there are so many elements to that goal that I can’t control, let me be more specific in the actions I will take.

  1. I will edit and make revisions based on beta reader’s feedback.
  2. I will write the query letter of all query letters.
  3. I will query agents with all the tenacity of a puppy chasing a milkbone.
  4. When I (inevitably) have a moment of despair, I will remember Tonia’s theme and I will #BeBravein2014.

Unnamed Novel

I’m 500 words into my first draft with this as-yet-unnamed WIP. I love it already. (Don’t worry, the Honeymoon period will come to an end soon, I’m certain.) I’ve started it at the same time I started CST last year, and so I’m confident that, even if I have major life upsets this year, I can have it finished by 31st Dec , 2014. Specific goals and deadlines? I’m glad you asked.

  1. I will work on the first draft one hour a day, and have the draft finished by 30th June.
  2. I will give it a break, and then do a read-through and first revision.
  3. If necessary, I’ll do another round of revisions.
  4. I will send it to beta readers by 1st of January, 2015. (Even if, like 2013, it means working my fingers off until almost midnight New Year’s Eve!)
  5. When I (inevitably) feel like I’m not up to the task up completing this in time, I will remember Tonia’s theme and #BeBravein2014.

TNT #1

It’s over a year since I’ve looked at this manuscript. In that time, I’ve found my true voice, I’ve learned a LOT about who I am, what I write, and what I want the story’s focus to be. I love this story. It’s a story that spilled out of my heart and soul, bringing with it my joy in fairy tales, and my belief that stories can change the world.

This year, I want to get back to TNT #1.

So while I’m giving my Unnamed Novel time to marinate, I will start rewriting this story. I’m not going to give myself specific deadlines at the moment — it depends on too many other factors — but I’ll revisit and set them when I do my mid-year goal-setting post. Also, I’ll #BeBravein2014. (Are you picking up the common thread here?)

Other Exciting Things

I have a lot of other non-writing related projects happening at the moment, and a lot of my attention will be focused towards those. I’m in the process of starting two separate (and unrelated) businesses — one on my own, and one as part of a partnership. I’m also doing various other bits and pieces of freelance work, and trying to focus on the more visceral, physical work of gardening, home improvement, and learning how to be a country-dweller.

Plus, of course, I have two beautiful boys who take up a vast majority of my time and my heart.

DSCN0796131022 - Max

 

 

 

 

 

 

2014 is going to be a great year. I can feel it in my fingers (and feel it in my toes).

What are your plans/goals for 2014? (Link to a goal-setting post if you’ve got one!)

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Filed under Random Stuff, Writing

A Year in Review: Revisiting 2013

For those of you who’ve been reading my blog for a while now, you may have noticed my lack of goal-checking and goal-setting post at the start of January. There are good reasons for that. Many of them revolve around not having time to write one.

We shall have to remedy that.

First up, let me say that 2013 was the most intense, heart-shattering, life-changing, wing-growing, exciting, devastating, emotional, challenging, rewarding, and intense (did I already say intense?) year of my life. There were days I was so happy I couldn’t even feel the ground beneath my feet because I was flying too high. There were days when I literally cried non-stop for over 24 hours straight. There were days when I felt a zen-like sense of peace and well-being, and days when I was sure I’d ruined not just my own life, but also the lives of my children (and possibly their children).

It was a big year.

Goalpost

But let me start with my writing goals because, after all, that’s what this blog is supposed to be about. (Except when it’s not.)

How did I go with the writing goals I revised in July?

TNT #1

I was aiming to have revised this novel by October, and be ready to query it. This didn’t happen. Largely because in early September, I realised that the manuscript doesn’t just need a simple revision, it needs a complete break-down and rewrite.

This is a good thing and came about because (a) I finally “found” my true voice, and (b) I realised that I have recurring themes in my work, and discovered that those themes are there in TNT #1, but they’re hidden beneath a veneer of self-consciousness. So once I dig them out and make them shine, the whole story will be better for it.

I didn’t make my goal, but I’m darn happy with the revelations I had along the way.

CST

My goal was to finish the first draft, finish revisions, and start querying. I did finish the first draft on schedule — even though it meant writing my way through pneumonia to do it — and I finished my first-round revisions at 10:30pm on New Year’s Eve.

I’m not ready to start querying. Although I feel like I’m close. The manuscript is with beta readers at the moment, and I’m (eagerly) awaiting their feedback.

And feeling ill every time I think about it too much. But, you know, I’m not as bullet-proof as I like to pretend. :)

Novel C

I didn’t start writing or outlining before the end of the year, but I’ve started it in the first couple of weeks of January. So I’m about a month behind schedule on this. But I have worked out what I’m writing. I’ll give you a little hint to whet your appetite (and encourage you to nudge me if I stop writing!).

The story involves Greek mythology, violins, and a female protagonist with delusions of monsters and an acerbic wit.

Outline TNT #2 and #3

Yeah, whatever. Who wrote these goals???

Short Stories

Bum-bum. No more short stories written.

Reading

I don’t know if I read anything in the last few months of the year. It just wasn’t a priority for me.

Other

I think my favourite writing-related part of 2013 was becoming part of a great group of enthusiastic, supportive writers. No matter what else happens in my life, I always have these writers there, supporting and encouraging and generally being awesome. Thanks to my P&Peeps for everything. *mwah!*

And that brings to the non-writing related part of this post.

In about August 2013, I got pneumonia pretty bad. It took over a month to recover. I didn’t end up in hospital — although, really, I probably should have. But I have two children, and going into hospital just wasn’t an option for me. So I spent weeks feeling miserable, struggling to breathe, and still doing the cooking, cleaning, raising the children, blah blah blah. You know how it is. But that put a few things into perspective for me. Things like: What’s really important? And: What do I really want?

Just prior to that, I’d been pulling my hair out over finances. So much of our money was being spent on rent and electricity that no matter how I sliced and diced, cut and shaved, managed and over-managed our budget, there was never enough left over for anything. And sometimes not even enough for the most basic of “extras”. Renting a movie to watch with the kids meant not being able to afford more breakfast cereal. Getting haircuts for the boys meant eating nothing but pasta and rice for a week. 

Between those two things, I came up with a radical and crazy idea.

What if we sold or gave away every single possession we didn’t actually need, jumped out of the “rent this expensive house” game, and lived as simply as we possibly could?

What if we abandoned the life we knew ,and started a new one. A cheaper one. A simpler one. A life more in tune with the world, and with nature, and with the values that are close to my heart?

My husband agreed, and we set about the project.

We bought a dodgy, 30-year-old caravan, and I started renovating it from the inside out. (This is an ongoing project.) We bought a tent for the kitchen, and another one for the chemical toilet. We sold or gave away everything we didn’t need. Everything. It was a much bigger (and more emotional) job than I expected. And then we moved out to the middle of nowhere, and set up in a paddock that belongs to a friend of a friend.

DSCN1565[1]

This is where we live now.

It was a massive adjustment. Suddenly, weather plays a massive part in what we can and can’t do on a daily basis. We have to schedule time to move the cows off the road every time we go somewhere. Snakes are a major threat, as are paralysis ticks and venomous spiders. We can’t race off to the shop on a moment’s notice — it’s at least 20 minutes each way to the closest not-all-that-convenient convenience store. We have to go outside in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. I hand wash the clothes, carry water to the kitchen and shower, and I even planted a vegie garden.

It was a massive adjustment.

And in the middle of this adjustment, on October 31st — our 9th wedding anniversary — my husband and I reached a point where we realised that, no matter how much we wished it was different, and no matter what we tried, our marriage was over.

Amidst tears and feelings of guilt and grief and pride-killing failure, we made the decision to separate.

For the good of our children.

For the good of ourselves.

Suddenly, in a change that felt like it happened overnight, I wasn’t a stay-at-home Mum and writer living in the suburbs with a husband who supported us financially. I was a single mother living in a trailer in the middle of nowhere. With no income, and no easy answers.

It was tough.

It was tough saying the words “single mother”. 

It was tough falling asleep at night, listening to the wind buffeting the trees outside, and telling myself that everything would be fine, and I could do this — I could do this on my own. I could face this new challenge, this new life, and I could do it with all the strength in my soul and my arms and my heart. It was tough cuddling my son when he asked when Daddy was coming home.

It’s been almost three months.

And I can do it.

DSCN1566[1]I don’t hate my ex-. Far from it. In fact, we get along better now than we have at any other point during the last six years.  We both love our sons intensely, and want the best for them. And I’ve learned that I can grow vegies. I can make new friends, and be a good parent, and put up a tent, and build furniture, and train a dog, and start a business, and make our money stretch just that little bit further, and I can do it on my own.

With the support of my friends and family.

Now, I stand outside at night, with the stars lighting up the sky, and the damp earth under my feet, and I feel loved and blessed and happy.

I feel like myself. 

I am myself.

And the future’s so bright, I’ve gotta wear shades.

How was your 2013?

 

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Filed under Life With Kids, Opinion, Random Stuff, Writing

Rules for Dating My Son? No Thanks.

Let’s just get this out of the way first: Yes, I’ve been noticeably absent for several months. No, my absence wasn’t planned. Yes, I’m fine. I’ll probably explain in another post. But for right now, I have something else I’d like to talk about. 

If you spend any time on the vast stretches of the internet, especially social media, you’ve probably seen images like these popping up all over the place over the last however-many months:

Rules for dating my daughter

Rules for dating my son

I’ve seen people share these on Facebook and Twitter, touting them as being the Next Big Thing in parenting. As though any of this is actually positive.

Frankly, I think it’s awful. And not funny at all.

You know what’s funny? The way my son sings: “Shot through the heart, and you’re too late! You give gloves… A bad name.

That’s funny.

But publicly dictating controlling and sexist “rules” for your child’s emergence into adulthood? Not funny.

I have a number of issues with these memes, but let me stick to the main one . Also, since I have sons, I shall refer to that particular meme. I’m sure there’s someone else out there with girls who is, at this very moment, taking offence to the Rules for Dating my Daughter. (Solidarity, sibling-of-either-gender!)

My sons are currently 6 and (almost) 3. They are not even close to dating age. Nevertheless, I take exception to this meme for the inferences it makes about them, and about me.

It assumes that (a) my son isn’t capable of making his own decisions or standing up for himself, (b) because he’s a man, he will be unable to resist a woman who dresses “like a stripper” and sends sexts, regardless of any of her other traits — good or bad — and (c) I’m responsible for him and his happiness for the rest of his life.

Well, colour me silly (which is a shade of fuschia), but I’d like to think that by the time my boys start dating, I will have raised sons who are independent, intelligent, and discerning.

And I have zero desire to still be raising them when they’re in their twenties and thirties. Or forties. Or whatever age these “protective” parents think is the right age to release their beloved offspring into the wild.

It is not my job to choose my son’s girlfriend, wife, job, hobbies, financial plan, or living arrangements.

It is my job to teach my son responsibility and self-respect, and prepare him to make his own well-informed decisions.

(And to be there to support and comfort him when he inevitably makes a few bad ones.)

But if I absolutely, positively must create a list of rules for dating my son, it looks something like this:

  1. Have fun.
  2. Be safe.
  3. Respect each other.

What are your thoughts on these “Rules for Dating” memes?

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When the Death of a Baby is Just a Symptom

Car Seats

There was a news story on the radio this morning about an 11-month old baby who died.

“The infant’s body was found strapped into the car seat of his father’s car, outside a child-care centre in Perth. The discovery was made after the father went to collect his son, and was told by staff at the centre that he hadn’t dropped the baby off that morning.”

The reporter went on to say that the infant’s death was being ruled a “tragic accident”. But I wasn’t really listening.

I wasn’t even there.

I was in that child-care centre with that father.

And my heart was breaking.

I’m there when he rushes in after work. He’s pressed for time, as always, because the day’s work ran longer than expected. I see his forced smile and his tired eyes when he greets the staff. He’s thinking about the next thing he needs to do, always the next thing, pick up the baby, get home for dinner,  put the little one to bed, so much to do, so much to do.

I’m there when the staff double-checks their records and says, “No, you definitely didn’t drop him off this morning. Maybe he’s with your wife?”

I feel the father’s confusion and fear. I want to lash out with him, to demand answers.  Where is my baby? I did drop him off! I remember strapping him into his car seat and…

And he was in a rush.

And he was stressed.

And he was driving on auto-pilot, his mind already on the work he had to do that day.

I feel the moment when it hits.

I feel it like a spider-bites and extreme heights and all-consuming darkness.

I remember strapping him into his car seat…

In my mind, I’m there. I’m there when the father turns and runs — runs! — out to the parking lot. He sees his car, parked just where he left it. And he stops.

Because he can’t do it.

He can’t walk a single step closer. The dread…

I feel the dread like a barrier of pain.

We both know what he’ll see when he looks into his car.

I remember strapping him into his car seat…

…but I don’t remember getting him out.

In my mind, I’m there. I see him take one step. And then another. Because the dread has hold of him now. It’s got him through the heart, and that hook is barbed. Oh, is it barbed. It draws him closer, closer, closer.

The tears run down his face. He doesn’t know. And if he did, he wouldn’t care.

Because he can see his little boy now. His little angel. So peacefully resting in a sleep that will last for an eternity.

In my mind, I’m there. I’m there that morning. That fateful morning, It’s so early, and the baby is asleep, and we have to wake him up and make him eat and get him dressed and put him in the car and there’s no time for cuddles and games and time. Not today. Maybe tomorrow. Or on the weekend. Yes, definitely the weekend. But today, we have to get to work, to pay the bills, to run the errands, to do, do, do, do, do, so hurry up now, hurry up, we’ve got to get you to child-care, and I need to get to work, and pay the bills, and run the errands, and do, do, do, do, do.

And as I watch the father stare through the window at the body of his beautiful baby, I know he’s reliving that morning, too.

And I know that he would be willing to do anything, give up anything, sacrifice anything, for just one more smile. One more cuddle. One more day. One single opportunity to do things slower, and be present in the moment, and do whatever it takes to not end up here. Here. Standing in the hot sun. Staring at the single greatest “tragic accident” of his life, and knowing that nothing, nothing, will ever erase the pain he feels right now.

He will be standing here for the rest of his life.

I love this man.

I love him because he’s me. And he’s you. And he’s every single one of us. Every person in this world trying to do it right, better, best, perfect for our families and careers and dreams and hopes and futures and everything we’re told we can have if we just work hard enough.

But that is a lie.

No matter how hard we work, we can never erase the mistakes we make, the experiences we miss, the time we waste in pursuing a financial dream that is not even ours.

The death of this child is tragic. But it’s just a symptom. It’s a symptom of the way we live. Or the way we’re so busy trying to do and have everything, we completely overlook the most important things in our lives in favour of more, more, more.

This is not an isolated incident. These types of infant deaths are becoming more common. Last year, 25 infants died when their parents forgot they were still in the car — and that’s just in the US. (I’d look for worldwide figures, but I just can’t bear to read yet another story of a parent’s worst nightmare come to life.)

I have lived this man’s horror today. I’ve been there with him in spirit. I’ve felt the stomach-dropping, gut-churning, finger-tingling terror of realisation.

I’ve cried for him.

I’ve cried for all of us.

And I’ve hugged my children tight, then played silly games with them — even though I had other, “more important”, things to do.

I encourage you to do the same.

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The Thin Rainbow Line

Boys and DollsMy boys love cars and trucks. They dig in the dirt. They run around the house having sword fights and defeating zombie invasions. They like both pirates and ninjas. They also have a play kitchen, with a tea set and play food. They have fluffy toys and dolls and play at looking after babies. Last year, Big Brother spent weeks and weeks building The Ultimate Dollhouse out of shoe boxes, and then decorating it with matchstick furniture, frilly curtains, and artwork on the walls.

Both boys like trying on make-up and wearing my high heels. They also like making fart-noises at the dinner table.

Big Brother’s favourite colour has always been pink. He likes frills and sparkles and fairies. He likes having his nails painted. His ideal Treat Day is shoe shopping and a hair cut.

Or it was.

Because now he’s at school, everything’s changed.

His favourite colour isn’t pink anymore. Because “pink is a girl’s colour”.

He doesn’t like some of the music we used to listen to. Because “it’s girl’s music”.

He doesn’t want to hear stories about fairies and unicorns. Because they’re “girl stuff”.

He fights himself over his choice of clothes and activities. I can see it in his eyes and I can feel the tension in his body and the pain in his heart. And I can’t make it better.

I can tell him that boys can do whatever they want to do.

I can tell him that there’s no such thing as “boy stuff” and “girl stuff”.

But then he goes to school, and he argues with his friends, and he comes home feeling even worse than he did to start with.

“Mummy,” he said last month. “We were having a wedding in the sandpit today — not a real one, just a pretend one — and Schoolboy said that boys have to marry girls, and boys aren’t allowed to marry boys. And I said he was lying. And he said he wasn’t. But he was lying, wasn’t he?”

Because he’s six. And there’s no shades of gray when you’re six.

It’s not the legal concept of marriage he’s talking about. It’s the wedding that happens at the end of every fairy tale, the wedding that means Love. With a capital L. So I said, “Well, most of the time boys fall in love with girls, and girls fall in love with boys. But sometimes boys  fall in love with boys, and girls fall in love with girls. The important thing isn’t if they’re boys or girls. The important thing is the Love.”

“But Schoolboy’s parents said boys can’t marry boys.”

And then I’m stuck. Because I don’t want to tell my son that his friend’s parents are wrong. Or… anything else that will undoubtedly make its way back through the classroom to the parents in question. So instead I say, “Maybe his parents just don’t know any boys who love boys.”

And then he’s distracted by asking me about the boys I know who love boys, and the conversation trails off into me telling him stories of working in exciting places. Like retail stores.

And I don’t mind having those conversations. I expect to have many, many more conversations about love and sexuality over the coming years. Those conversations don’t make my heart ache.

My heartache is about gender roles.

It’s about my little boy feeling suddenly uncomfortable telling his friends he does ballet.

It’s about my little boy feeling ashamed for doing what he loves and being who he is.

It’s about my little boy coming to me a couple of days ago and saying, “Mummy, can I tell you something funny? Can you imagine (giggle) a boy wearing lipstick!”

And me not even realising why that’s supposed to be funny, and answering, “Yes.” And then waiting for the funny part.

But it wasn’t funny.

It wasn’t funny when I had to explain that boys are allowed to wear lipstick if they like it, and girls don’t have to.

I don’t like this sudden shift. I don’t like seeing my child having a great time playing with a toy, and then see him suddenly stop, put it down, and mutter that it’s a girl’s toy. I don’t like sending him out into the world and watching him struggle.

I don’t like it at all.

I wish I could wrap him up in love and paint his toenails bright rainbow colours and give him a ribbon for his hair and pink ballet shoes for his feet, and then let him run through the mud and build a city full of dinosaurs with lasers on their heads to fight the horde of brain-eating zombies about to attack.

I wish I could protect him from the gender-bias of the world. But I can’t. Not completely.

So I do what I can.

But I feel like I’m swimming against the tide.

No.

I feel like I’m using an umbrella to protect him from a tsunami, while walking on a tightrope above shark-infested lava.

But, you know what?

I’m going to keep walking that line, holding my umbrella in front of us, until my boys are strong enough to walk it on their own.

Because no matter how hard it is, my boys are worth it.

Worth It

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The Stories in my Mind

Photo by Lisa Monster.

Photo by Lisa Monster.

I’m sitting at a Fish & Chip place, waiting for my order to be ready. My husband and sons are in the car waiting for me. I won’t be long. A few minutes at most. And they’ve got stories to read and games to play.

I’m playing my own game. I’m playing “Make up the story of the other customers”.

There’s the tired looking woman in the tired-looking long dress. Her hair and make-up are perfect. In my mind, I imagine her coming home from a long day at work and realising she’s got nothing to cook for dinner. But she’s already changed into something comfortable, so she doesn’t want to go to the supermarket. Instead, she pops down the road to the local Fish-O, and figures she won’t see anyone she knows.

Then there’s the muscled, tattooed guy with orange hair and an impressively orange van dyke. He’s got a little girl with him — she can’t be more than 2 1/2 years old — and she stares up at him adoringly. “Daddy, what’s that? Daddy, can I have juice? Daddy, can you lift me up?” And he, in his tough guy jeans and wife-beater, smiles back at her and answers her every question. She’s wearing purple leggings, an embroidered white shirt that’s on backwards, and a pair of slippers. And in my mind, I imagine Mum saying goodbye to her little girl. “Mummy will be home tomorrow. Have a good night with Daddy. I love you, chicken.”

As they all leave, another group of customers arrive. Three boys. Let’s say… 13 years old. Maybe 14, but that would be a stretch. The one in the lead is tall and lanky and has a cocky grin that I want to wipe off his face the moment I see it. He’s wearing a stained singlet that’s too small, and a pair of grubby shorts that are too big — not in that “I’m so cool and gangsta” way. More in the “I don’t have clothes that fit me” way. His socks are orange. His volleys are lime green. He needs a haircut.

With him are two other boys. One is taller than him, the other shorter. One is more muscular than him, the other isn’t. These two are wearing clothes that both fit them and look like they’ve recently been washed. I see designer name brands on one boy’s jeans. They both have good shoes. And they’re walking their scooters.

They have to, because Boy 1 is on foot. And they stay beside or behind him at all times.

“Hey,” says Boy 1. “Go buy us some food.” And then he throws himself languorously into one chair, puts his feet on a second, and wait for his bidding to be done.

And it is. Of course. The other boys order and pay, and then return to Boy 1′s side.

There are no more chairs. So they stand, uncomplaining, while their friend occupies two.

Outside, another group of boys walks by. Without moving his body, Boy 1 raises his voice and shouts to them. “Hey! Fags! What are you faggots doing?”

Every adult in the place turns to look at this boy.

He either doesn’t notice or doesn’t care.

“I said,” Boy 1 shouts even louder. “What are you faggots doing?”

The other boys keep walking. And that’s what prompts Boy 1 to move. He leaps from his chairs like he’s been electrocuted, and bolts for the door. His minions — sorry, friends — follow him. I strain my ears, but hear only muffled conversation. And then the second group of boys leaves, and Boy 1 brings his followers back to the Fish-O. As a parting shot he yells, “Hey, JT! You forgot your eye-liner!”

No response.

“And you’re lookin’ a bit fat!”

No response.

“Fags!”

There is silence in the store. The boys pick up their order — or, rather, Boy 1 picks up the order and decrees that they shall eat it while sitting in the parking lot — and they’re gone. And everyone breathes a sigh of relief.

While I make up stories about Boy 1 in my head. Where does he live? Why is he dressed like that? What power does he have over his friends? Where are his parents?

And what is with the language?

Look, I have to be honest. It’s not the worst thing that could be said. I mean, I’ve been called a fag before. Which is crazy, because I thought that kind of random hate-talk died out in the 80′s.

Also, I’m a woman. (Although that seems somehow less relevant.)

But I get their confusion. I mean, I’m almost 6’2″ tall. I’ve got broad shoulders — I have friends who call me an Amazon and others who refer to me as The Viking Chick — and I wear my hair short. At the time, my husband and I were walking home, hand in hand. So I can understand how someone would see the two of us

holding hands

at night

from behind

and instead of seeing a couple in love, they’d see two men (one with incredibly well-developed child-bearing hips) who should obviously be verbally abused for their “crime” — whatever that may be.

At the time, I shrugged and wrote it off as just a few guys who’d escaped from the 80s in their trusty DeLorean, and would no doubt be going home soon.

Well.

Listening to the young men at the Fish & Chip shop today, I have to face the fact that either I was wrong, or there are an awful lot of DeLoreans cruising around out there.

I return to the present when my number is called. I collect my order and return to the car and my family is waiting, and all I can think is that I do not want my boys to ever talk like that. Ever. Even — no, especially — if they don’t know why those words are so hateful, and how their very usage creates and reinforces a culture where hatred and violence against homosexuals is normalised.

With those thoughts running through my mind, I’m almost surprised when my son speaks to me.

“Mummy, did you see those children?”

I hesitate and then say yes. But it takes me a moment to realise who he’s talking about.

It takes me a moment to equate the word “child” with Boy 1.

“Were those children playing a game?” he asks.

I mutter an affirmative and I drive away.

Quietly.

Because in my mind, I’m watching my boys grow up into kind, brave, noble men. Men who won’t need to follow weak leaders, because they’ll know their own mind and follow their own inner compass. Men who won’t use hate-speak, because they’ll know the value of a human soul. Men who will love and hurt and cry and cheer and fight for what is right and never, ever, ever let the world drag them down.

And I will do whatever it takes to make that story come true.

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Nightmares and Other Spooky Stuff

Man in Black Hat

I was eight the first time I dreamed of The Man in the Black Hat.

He haunted my dreams for months.

I would lie awake at night, dreading the moment I fell asleep and I’d be thrust once more into his nightmare world. But eventually, sleep would come. And then it would begin.

I had been playing with the neighbourhood children when we saw him coming. He was further up the street, just coming out of one of the houses, on his way to the next. The Man in the Black Hat.

The Man in the Black Hat was a monster. A serial killer. He was feared across the entire country, and the police couldn’t do anything to stop him. He dressed all in black. Shiny, black shoes. Black trousers. A black shirt and tie. And a long, formal, black jacket. And on his head, a hat. A strange, tall black hat that sat atop his black hair and made him look even taller than he already was.

And he was tall. Tall and thin and terrifying.

He travelled from place to place, starting at the top of the street and slowly working his way from house to house. And when he entered a house, he killed everyone inside. No preamble. No talking. Just death, delivered swiftly at the end of a blade. Men, women, children, pets… Everyone died when he came to a neighbourhood.

And he was in ours.

We ran inside and found my parents. “Mum! Dad! The Man in the Black Hat is here!”

But they didn’t believe us.

We tried and tried, but they told us to stop making up stories. We begged them to call the police, but they wouldn’t. They just kept doing what they were doing, and told us to go outside and play. So outside we went.

And The Man in the Black Hat was just coming out of the house next door.

We fled back into the house, and down into the basement. Maybe we could hide. Maybe he wouldn’t find us.

I squeezed myself into a small cupboard and pulled the door closed behind me. I could just see a sliver of the room through the crack between the doors. And I held my breath, and I waited.

I didn’t have to wait for long.

Footsteps on the stairs.

Slow. Measured. There was no rush.

And The Man in the Black Hat came into view, his tall top hat, the most terrifying thing I’d ever seen. He had a blade in his hand. It was coated in the blood of my parents.

He went out of sight, then. Searing the basement. One by one, I heard him kill my friends. Some of them screamed. Some of them begged. All of them died.

Then he killed my siblings.

Silence.

Footsteps.

Was he leaving?

The door of my hiding place opened.

The Man in the Black Hat smiled at me, bloody knife in hand. And then he grabbed me by the hair and pulled me towards him.

At the moment the blade touched my throat…

..I woke up. Drenched in sweat. Sobbing and cowering and barely able to breathe. The shadow on my curtain looked like a face, and I hid under the blankets.

Eventually, dawn came.

But the dream wasn’t done.

The Man in the Black Hat came to me three or four times a week for months. Every time, it was the same. I’d listen to my friends being murdered in front of me, and then he’d come for me. I cried myself to sleep most nights.

I was eight years old.

And then, a turning point. I told my brother about The Man in the Black Hat. And he looked at me, all earnestness, and he said, “Haven’t you heard of The Man in the White Hat?”

“No,” I said. Naive. Hopeful.

“The Man in the White Hat dresses all in white,” my little brother said. “He has a tall, white hat. And he’s hunting down The Man in the Black Hat.”

And then he went back to playing with his Transformers.

That night, The Man in the Black Hat came for me, just like always.

I saw him coming. I told my parents. They didn’t believe me. I hid in a cupboard in the basement. I heard my friends killed. I heard my siblings killed. The door of my hiding place opened. The Man in the Black Hat smiled at me, bloody knife in hand. And then he grabbed me by the hair and pulled me towards him.

And a voice came from the top of the stairs. “Let go of that girl!”

It was The Man in the White Hat. He wore shiny, white shoes. White trousers. A white shirt and tie. And a long, formal, white jacket. And on his head, a tall white hat that sat atop his blonde hair. In his hand, he carried a white cane.

He came down the stairs. The Man in the Black Hat let go of me, and turned to face him.

Then The Man in the White Hat drew a sword from his cane, and chopped off The Man in the Black Hat’s head. Then he winked at me.

I woke up.

And I never dreamed of The Man in the Black Hat again.

He was dead. But he wasn’t gone.

To this day, he lurks in the back of my head. He’s the prototype for every nightmare monster, every evil character in every story I tell, and the bearer of every moment of panic or fear. He whispers to me sometimes.

“You can’t do this.”

“You’re going to die one day.”

“Everybody hates you.”

“I will make the worst thing you can imagine come true.”

But he’s locked in the prison of my mind, and every now and then, The Man in the White Hat shows up and puts him in his place.

I don’t talk about him. I rarely think about him.

And I’m not afraid of him anymore.

Or, I wasn’t.

Until today.

“Mummy,” six-year-old Big Brother said. “I had a strange vision of a man.”

“Mmmm?”

“He was tall and skinny and really scary. And he was wearing black. A black shirt and a funny, long black jacket. And a really strange hat. I think he’s a bad guy.”

I froze. The bad guys in movies always wear black. It’s just a coincidence.

Right?

But what if it isn’t. “What type of hat?” I asked.

He frowned. Remembering.

“A tall, scary black one.”

My blood ran cold.

This story is entirely true. Have you had something spooky happen to you?

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Filed under Life With Kids, Random Stuff