Playing By My Rules
It is early evening after dinner, and I stare into the kitchen sink. I gently draw patterns with the bubbles that remain from the washing up. I herd them into the centre of the sink and I turn the tap on and let the water trickle slowly, washing some of the bubbles down the plughole. I admire my clean basin and sigh. Memories come flooding back, overwhelming me from my past.
I didn’t always enjoy the peace that comes from a sink of bubbles. There was a time when my life was controlled by rules. Not mine, but someone else’s. He had rules about these kinds of bubbles. The sink had to be immaculate. Not a single bubble could remain. If I forgot or became distracted, which was often the case, I would wear the consequences of those bubbles for days or weeks. So, on nights when I remembered, I would stand at the sink with cold running water gently herding the bubbles into the plughole. I knew that though it was possibly the stupidest, most pointless rule in the universe; it was a rule no less.
It’s not that I don’t respect rules. I appreciate and recognise that some are implicit, like manners handed down through families over generations, such as the ones my mother imparted to us:
‘Don’t speak with your mouth full’; ‘Give up your seat on a bus to someone older, pregnant or someone who may need it more.’ She taught us, ‘Do unto others as you would have done to you’; ‘Don’t disrespect your elders’; ‘No elbows on the table….’. Through these rules I learned how to be part of civilised society.
Rules have their place in the world – imagine the chaos if we didn’t have rules about how to walk on the left hand side to ensure the flow of pedestrian traffic, how to stand respectfully in a queue and not push in and how to merge into traffic one car at a time.
But then, inexplicably you encounter a rule that makes no sense.
When I first met him as an enamoured teenager, I couldn’t see beyond his long hair and rock star looks. He was four years older and he had chosen me out of all the girls in the small town in which we lived.
One day I was waiting patiently for him at his home like the lovelorn girlfriend I was. His parents invited me in and let me wait in his bedroom. Next to his bed I found a neatly stacked tower of black and red fruit pastilles. Perhaps he doesn’t like them, I reasoned. And so I helped myself to a few.
Little did I know I had broken one of his golden rules: you never touch his lollies. When he came home and saw what I had done, he exploded in rage.
Jan Daniels was born in the late ’50s in England but has called Australia home for five decades. She has a deep love for the natural beauty of the country, especially of her spiritual homeland, Anglesea. Raising her three children there as a sole parent gave her a solid foundation to rebuild her life. Jan is fascinated by people, conversations, the human spirit, the seasons of life, artistic talent and reality TV. Her greatest joy comes from beauty and colour, family and belonging, the lure of cliff tops and an angry sea, the will to win and her beloved Hawthorn football club. She has long worked in community organisations and is currently business manager of several social enterprises. Now working on her memoir, Jan is looking forward to retirement and a simpler life.
I had trembled and hung my head, suitably chastened. I didn’t understand – they were only lollies. He had obviously never learnt the rule about sharing.
Despite this, I went on to marry him and from then on I learnt a new set of rules, ones I had never heard of nor been taught. Sometimes, without my knowledge, the rules changed but I wouldn’t be given notice of the alteration. I would wear the consequences later.
The consequences could also change. One day a simple back hander across the face, another day a beating, and some days a strange silence and an awful sense of foreboding. Some rules were so ridiculous that I took evil pleasure in breaking them despite the consequences.
He was obsessive about food routines. Every Sunday he demanded a full English roast. But no undercooked vegetables or meat. The potatoes had to be crunchy and God help me if there were lumps in the gravy. Every Saturday he demanded a full stew pot with vegies cooked with OXO cubes. It was revolting but he loved it.
Eventually, I got tired of his rules.
And one day, many years later, I grabbed my children while he was at work and escaped with nothing but a suitcase and a few possessions.
It took time, but in my freedom and in my own space, I created my own gentler rules and routines: no TV in the morning for the kids till everyone was dressed and ready for school. Dinner had to be eaten at the table. And when the theme song for Neighbours came to a close it was bedtime.
There were times when I allowed the children to break the rules as a treat. On these special occasions they were allowed to eat fish and chips in front of the TV, or spend the weekend in pyjamas lounging around free from household chores. Some days, as a special break from the rules, there would be no school – just a lazy day spent together. What joy I got from making – and breaking – my own precious rules.
And so it comes to be that thirty-five years later I still feel the pleasure of consciously leaving those bubbles in the sink. I smile and run my fingers through them as I make patterns in the foam. They remind me that in this house, there are no consequences to breaking the rules. They stay there, causing no harm to anyone, until I choose to let them go.
Joanne Fedler Media blog joins the global women’s campaign, the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, which starts from the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (25th November) up to Human Rights Day (10th December). We would love you to share these stories on social media (using the hashtags: #OrangeUrWorld #OrangeTheWorld #HearMeToo #EndVAW), with your girlfriends, mothers, daughters, friends and sisters.
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Things Without a Name
(10th Year Anniversary Edition)
by Joanne Fedler
At 34, Faith has given up on love. Her cleavage is disappointing, her best friend is clinically depressed and her younger sister is getting breast implants as an engagement present. She used to think about falling in love, but that was a long time ago. Having heard one too many love-gone-wrong stories from the other side of her desk, Faith is worn thin by her work as a legal counsellor in a women’s crisis centre. Then one night, an odd twist of fate brings her to a suburban veterinary clinic where she wrings out years of unshed tears. It is a night that will slowly change the way she sees herself and begin the unearthing of long-buried family secrets so she can forgive herself for something she doesn’t remember, but that has shaped her into the woman she is today. Faith will finally understand what she has always needed to know: that before you can save others, you have to save yourself.
Come and Join the Midlife Memoir Breakthrough
A Five-Day Live Event in Sydney with Joanne Fedler
In this hands-on, intimate workshop (an eclectic mix of teaching, instruction, writing exercises, meditations, ritual, sharing and other joyful activities), I will teach you how to take the material of your life – the moments that counted, no matter how shattering or modest – and weave them into a memoir that makes sense of it all.