Growing Up Racist

My father is a racist man. Like many things, that was my normal when I was growing up. It took awhile for me to understand that the things he said were wrong.

Y**k. B**nga. C**n. N***er. A**o. M***ey. C**ng. C**el. W*g.

I grew up listening to that language and thinking it was normal. Now I just feel sick thinking about it. I’m ashamed. Embarrassed. Guilty.

Mostly I’m sorry. I’m sorry I thought those words were normal. I’m sorry I spoke them aloud. I’m sorry it took so long for me to realize how vile and cruel and disgusting those words are. I’m sorry those words hurt people.

As a child, even though those words were normal to me, there was this little nagging feeling that they were bad words. I couldn’t tell you why I thought they were bad words. They just felt naughty. I can only remember saying those words a couple of times (around home) – each time I felt like I’d sworn although I was never reprimanded for using them.

It took until I was 6- or 7-years-old to understand just how hurtful and bad those words were. I remember a boy in my Year 2 class at school calling my friend Alex one of those words on that list above. My first thought was a realization that I wasn’t the only one to know that word. My second thought was, “Is it actually a bad word?”

The answer came pretty quickly – Alex burst into tears and our teacher punished the other boy quite severely. (Being made to pick up rubbish during lunch and recess for three days straight plus writing a letter of apology to Alex.) It was my confirmation that those words were bad words. It still didn’t explain why Dad used them though.

Dad’s racism and sense of superiority (simply because of his skin colour) bothered me though (and still does). I questioned him about it when I was 10 or 11 – why did he use those words? He just smirked and said, “What else should I call them? Golliwogs?” I’m embarrassed to say I let the matter go. Disagreements or defiance against him usually resulted in being beaten with a leather belt.

These days, whenever he says a racist comment, he’s met with the full force of my sister and I – both of us hate racism. We challenge his beliefs. We try to make him understand that skin colour doesn’t make a person a bad driver, or stupid, or a terrorist. I doubt we’ll ever change him, but we will not sit by and let him sprout hateful comments.

Growing up with a racist father surprisingly didn’t affect who I made friends with as a child and teenager. I think back now and wonder why it didn’t. Why didn’t I become more like him? Did my non-racist mother have more of an influence than I give her credit for? Or maybe it’s because I just didn’t really care what colour skin people have? Perhaps it’s a combination of both? Somewhere along the way, I have learnt to not think like my father. Whatever the reason, I’m grateful for it. I don’t want to be like him.

I don’t judge people based on the shape of their eyes, how dark or light their skin is or what country they were born in. The choices and decisions people make in life are what defines them as people. Race has nothing to do with it.

Wedding Over

It’s over. The wedding of the century has been and gone. Boxing Day was D-Day. Unfortunately, the event was Skyped and I missed out on time with my family to watch Sister-in-law float down the aisle like a marshmallow. (For those interested, the dress didn’t suit her – she’s got a banging body but looked swamped in acres of fabric. However the church was lovely and it was snowing outside.)

As expected, Husband and I are out-of-pocket $4000. Not because one of us went to the wedding, but because my parents-in-law ended up having to take out a loan so they could lend Bro-in-law money to pay for the extravaganza.

My parents-in-law do it tough, financially speaking. The bigger banks refused to lend them the money so they went with a smaller lender who was charging an extortionate interest rate. As soon as Husband and I found out about the loan, we wrote them a cheque so they could pay it out. The in-laws were going to spend nearly double the amount in interest – they just can’t afford it and we weren’t going to stand by and watch them live on noodles and vegemite sandwiches for the next three years. (At this point, I’d like to point out that Bro-in-law was going to pay them back the $4000, but not the interest.)

I don’t expect to see that money ever again. Yes, I know – we could’ve just left it up to the parents-in-law and Bro-in-law to figure out, but if you knew how tightly my parents-in-law have to budget just to get by, then I think you’d understand. We did it for them, not Bro- and Sis-in-law.

The worst thing is that apparently Sis-in-law has a lot of spare time on her hands now that she’s on honeymoon on a beach somewhere expensive and tropical. She’s spent a lot of time on FaceBook talking about how her and Bro-in-law now need to upgrade their house to a four-bedroom, two-bathroom place and also upgrade their car to a family-sized SUV.

Yep – family. I honestly don’t know if she’s pregnant again or just hoping to be. The amount of times she’s said the word “family” followed by a winky face over the past few days is making me think about turning off all forms of technology and becoming a hermit.

The only good thing about the money situation is that I married a tight-arse – Husband will be nagging them to start paying back the money they owe us as soon as they get back to Australia. I know Bro-in-law will want to pay it back. Whether Sis-in-law will let him is another matter entirely. I’m going to enjoy watching her squirm uncomfortably each time Husband mentions it though.

Suspended

This evening has been interesting. We got a phone call from Bro-in-law (Husband’s brother) who admitted that nearly two weeks ago he was suspended from work without pay, and before now he hadn’t told anyone except his fiancé. He was calling to ask for the phone number of Husband’s friend who is a lawyer specialising in workplace disputes and obviously Husband questioned him on why he needed a lawyer.

I should mention that BIL never mentioned that he’d been suspended when Husband told him last week that we wouldn’t make it to their wedding in Switzerland this Christmas. (BIL was disappointed but understanding. His fiancé was less understanding, more angry – she let us know how she felt in a rather angry email the next day!)

Since BIL is a contract FIFO (fly-in-fly-out) worker for a mining company, he only gets paid for the work he does. So if he doesn’t work, he doesn’t get paid. If he doesn’t get paid he gets further behind in saving up for the Swiss wedding extravaganza.

The reason for his suspension – he was randomly selected for an alcohol breath test. And he tested positive. Along with four others. All of whom were tested one after the other. All of whom insisted they hadn’t had anything to drink. They all asked for a second breath test and were denied. They all asked for a blood test and were denied. They were all marched off-site and flown home.

Just for the record, I believe BIL. He does like a drink, but he’d never be drunk going into shift. Because he likes his work, he respects his boss and he’s so desperate for money ( to pay for the Swiss wedding) that he’d never jeopardize his job and income.

Normally a positive test to alcohol or any illicit drugs results in an instant dismissal, but because of the sites handling of the situation, there is going to be an investigation. I don’t know what will happen. But if BIL gets fired, then how the hell is he supposed to pay for the Swiss wedding of the century.

I have a feeling it may involve The Bank of PW and Husband.

Wedding of the Century – The Final Decision

It’s official. I don’t think I’ve written it in my blog, although I know I’ve mentioned it on Twitter.

Husband has decided not to go to the Wedding of the Century.

I know it’s selfish, but I’m so relieved. Our plans to start a family will happen sooner than later (once I get the go-ahead from an obstetrician, obviously).

My parents-in-law popped over last week and since we haven’t told brother-in-law yet, we told them that we’re still considering our options when they asked if we were going to Switzerland or not. Father-in-law immediately said, “Do what you want to do and what’s best for you.” My mother-in-law was less easy-going. “He’s your brother – of course you have to go!”

So no guilt there.

Then my parents-in-law had an argument. Father-in-law thinks BIL and SIL are being stupid for spending so much money. Mother-in-law says that it’s a wedding and of course it’s going to be expensive, etc. Father-in-law rolled his eyes at her.

I love my Father-in-law.

And I think Mother-in-law still hates me a little bit for eloping. (Although in my defence, Husband and I had a big party when we came home all wedded and bedded.) And with no daughters of her own, she’s never going to get to go to a wedding of her children now.

As I said above, I’m relieved we aren’t going. And it’s not just for the baby reason. This wedding has never felt “right” to me. Maybe it’s because BIL and SIL plan on spending at least $55,000 on one day. And that money isn’t coming out of their savings account. They are going into debt for this wedding – massive debt. They have had to sell their car to help pay for some of the wedding deposits and may need to re-mortgage their house (if they can). They’re relying on a personal loan from the bank to allow them to pay the remainder of the wedding and fund part of their honeymoon. The rest of their honeymoon will be paid (they hope) by their wedding guests in lieu of a gift. Yes – they are expecting everyone to fly to Switzerland on their own dime AND contribute to an outrageously expensive honeymoon (New York for New Years Eve).

I know I have no right to judge people on how they spend their own money (or the banks money in this situation) but spending so much at once on something that isn’t an asset goes against my entire belief system. (Yes, I’m a strange person.)

And I also resent the fact that my BIL, who I actually really adore, is working himself into the ground taking on extra shifts, extra work, selling his car and possessions in order to give SIL her dream wedding! (Whilst she’s doing nothing to save money – she’s still getting her fake tans, hair extensions, acrylic nails, and so on maintained.)

Don’t get me wrong, I understand that the wedding is important to her, but it just feels like the wedding is more important to her than her relationship to BIL who she’s barely seen in months (he’s a FIFO worker who’s taking on extra work) because he HAS to work because he HAS to pay for her wedding. That really bothers me. I wouldn’t have a problem with the amount of money they’re spending on the wedding if they could afford it. But they’re barely scraping by and may still have to borrow money from us to pay for the final wedding bills if the bank won’t lend them any more money.

Anyway, now Husband has made his decision, we have to break the news to BIL and SIL. That won’t be fun. Any advice on how to break the news to them?

The Moment I Finally Felt Like A Grown-Up

I’m almost 30. I’ve got a tertiary qualification and used to worked full-time. I’ve moved out of home, bought and sold a house, and bought another. I’ve fallen in love and gotten married. I’ve written a will. I own a car and a few shares. But I never felt like a grown-up. Not really. I think because I’ve always been the youngest child in my family, and one of the youngest grandchildren, I’d fallen into the “They all think I’m young so I must be young,” mentality. I’m not sure.

But I can pinpoint the exact moment I felt like an adult. A grown-up. Someone mature and responsible and capable.

It was when one of my Husband’s grandparents died. About a year after we were married, Grandpa became quite ill. Cancer. Inoperable. Months to live.

We spent as much time as we could with Grandpa. But the inevitable came. His health went downhill rapidly. He was admitted to Palliative Care at the local hospital.

Husband and I visited as often as we could – at least three or four times a week. But one day we walked in and he was asleep. Grandma was weeping in the corner.

“He’s just so confused today,” she told us. The nurses had increased his morphine. Again. We sat. We watched him breathing in and out with so much effort I was frightened he’d die right then and there. But he struggled on. He woke up briefly and said a few words to us, then fell asleep again. Grandma started crying again and Husband took her out of the room for a bit of fresh air. For the first time, I was alone with Grandpa. Alone with a man who was clearly days, if not hours, from death.

I sat at a chair by his bedside. Every time he’d exhale, there would be agonizing seconds of nothing and I would pray that he took another breath in. He eventually would with this huge horrible gasp. I never knew how much effort went into breathing before then. I was alone with him for about 15 minutes, listening to his death rattle. I wish I’d have chatted to him, about something or nothing. I had a feeling he could still hear. We’d left his hearing aids in. But instead, I just stared at his chest and thought, “Is this what makes me a grown-up? Sitting here watching someone die?”

That afternoon, we rang the whole family. They all joined us at the hospital. Grandpa died that night, with his wife and children in the room. The grandchildren and partners, including me, were down the hall, in a sitting room where we could make tea, sit on sofas and stare at walls. Husband’s mum and dad came into the room a few minutes later and told us. Everyone cried except me. Maybe that makes me a cold unfeeling person. But I was too busy trying to comfort Husband, holding him close to me and saying nothing. There’s really nothing to say in situations like this, is there?

It was late, we were all told to go home. We’d convene again in the morning. Mother-in-law put her arms around my still crying Husband and began to walk him out to our car. My darling father-in-law who I adore held my hand tightly and said to me, “I know Husband will be okay because you’re there to look after him. And we couldn’t have picked a better person ourselves. He’s very lucky to have you.” That’s when I started crying. Thankfully Husband didn’t see. I wanted to be strong for him. I did not want him to feel he had to comfort me.

Among all the family and friends, two of the bartenders at Grandpa’s local RSL came to his funeral. As did two of the palliative care nurses from the hospital, the regular Silver Chain nurse, Grandpa’s GP and the lady at the local newsagent to whom Grandpa always announced “I have the winning lotto ticket!” every Monday morning. None of these people knew Grandpa well, but he’d clearly wormed his way into their hearts, like he did mine. I only knew him a little while – a few years out of the 76 he’d lived – but he was an incredible man. He built dollhouses out of scrap wood and furnished them with tiny intricate wooden furniture he made from off-cuts. He sold 17 fully-furnished houses on e-bay and made quite a lot of money. His 18th house remains unfinished and unfurnished, shut away in a bedroom of the house he and Grandma shared for nearly 40 years. It was a replica of the tiny two-up, two-down house he’d grown up in near the village of  Twyford, Berkshire.

It’s his birthday today. He’d have been 80. So happy birthday Grandpa. I’m baking a cake for you today – it’s your favourite. We miss you. xxxx

Sunday Bloody Sunday

Husband and I had a rather heated discussion this morning. It wasn’t really an argument – there were no sides, no one did anything wrong, but it was an emotionally charged morning to say the least.

I’ve decided not to go to bro-in-law’s wedding in Switzerland this Christmas. Husband knew I was leaning towards that decision. The problem is, he doesn’t know what he wants to do.

He told me he feels obliged to go because he’d be the only family member there. But that doesn’t really want to go. He doesn’t want to spend that much money on a solo trip. He wants to travel, but not by himself to Europe and not at Christmas when prices are insane.

And then, with a tinge of hostility in his voice, he said this: “If it weren’t for the wedding and the cost involved, we’d already be trying to get pregnant.”

And there it is. He voiced exactly what I’ve been thinking for months. Pregnancy.

It’s been a topic of conversation all year and we’re already taking steps towards it because to be honest, I think we both want a baby already. But I’ve been putting off the blood tests I need to get done because I know that if we get the go-ahead from a medical point-of-view, it won’t really be a go-ahead. Because we’re waiting. Waiting for someone else to get married. Waiting to increase our savings again once we’ve (or Husband at least has) spent a large chunk flying to one of the most expensive places to spend Christmas to take part in a wedding we have had so much trouble being enthusiastic about.

To be honest, I’m hating this. I hate the fact that our future is being delayed. And as horrible as it sounds, I hate that we can’t be selfish and do what we want.

Poor Husband is caught in the middle. Torn between me and his brother. He wants to travel, but doesn’t want to spend upwards of $6000 to spend Christmas away from me and his parents in order to attend his brothers wedding. Yet he feels obliged to attend the wedding because his parents can’t afford to go.

We also know that we may be asked to help pay for the bloody wedding of the century. I know we can say no, but if we say no then the family members who can least afford it (parents and grandparents) will pay and we just can’t let them do that. That is not an option.

My gut feeling says that Husband will go to the wedding. Which means we won’t start trying to get pregnant for probably another year because (a) Husband won’t leave me for weeks on end whilst pregnant and (b) we won’t have a nice big chunk of cash sitting in our savings account for if the worst happens (Husband’s work contract gets terminated). We’ll need to re-save all our pennies and we think that will take at least six months post Swiss wedding.

This whole situation feels like one giant mess. And so came the discussion this morning. The one where Husband got frustrated with everyone including himself and where I cried out of sheer guilt for making Husband choose between me (and our future) and his brother.

And although I’ve made up my mind, Husband still has no idea what to do.

Bridezilla on Steroids

So, I’ve previously written about the Wedding of the Century that’s taking place in Switzerland later this year (if you missed it, go here to have a squiz) and since that post, things have taken a rather interesting turn!

Bro-in-law and his wife-to-be popped over for dinner on Easter Sunday. Partly because it was Easter, mainly because they wanted advice from someone with a university degree in common sense (ie: Husband).

It turns out they think the wedding is costing them a bit more than they’d expected…..

Husband and I are straight-forward people. So we made a list. We extracted every single little piece of information out of them.

What is the church hire costing? What is the reception costing? Does that include a drinks package? What about flowers? What will the suit hire cost? What has been paid for? What hasn’t been paid for? How much have you got in your bank account? How much can you save between now and then? Are you getting financial help from the parentals?

That took a long time. Wife-to-be was very, VERY reluctant to admit how much some things are costing. And, having been married myself, I knew to ask about things such as music (string quartet for the ceremony, live band for the reception), if the bridesmaids are paying for their own dress/shoes/hair/make-up (they aren’t) and the wedding rings (platinum, of course, with a row of small diamonds for the bride).

The cost for the wedding (remember – this is Switzerland at Christmas and wife-to-be is having a reception at a chateau) is a measly $55,000. This does not include the honeymoon in the Maldives (another $12,000) or things such as boarding their dog at a kennel while they’re away, the mortgage repayments they’ll need to make whilst they’re away (for 8 weeks) or other bills that will come in during that time.

So including all these things (such as pesky mortgage repayments which they hadn’t thought of), ideally they need about $75,000 to cover all their costs.

Have I mentioned that Bro-in-law has a fairly standard job – pays well, but not great. His wife-to-be works in retail three afternoons a week. This wedding (and the other expenses) will cost them nearly an entire years salary.

This came as a shock to Bro-in-law. Wife-to-be had told him how much certain things had cost but neither of them had added anything up.

They have already paid deposits for a lot of things and already bought the wedding dress. They do have some savings. They are getting a little bit of financial help from wife-to-be’s parents. But they’re still short about $38,000.

However, they have a mortgage and two car loans. They do not earn a six-figure salary. I think they may actually be financially fucked.

Their only other option is to get a bank loan. A rather large, unsecured bank loan. I got out my laptop and Husband and I put their numbers into the online banking calculators. They’ll be lucky if a bank will lend them half what they need at an extortionate interest rate of 14%.

At the end of the meal (and after quite a few glasses of wine), I tentatively asked them, “What will you do if the worst happens and the banks won’t lend you the money?”

Wife-to-be said, “Well you guys are rich, you’ll lend us the money, right?”

Things You Should Never Ask Someone Who’s Just Given Birth

I become….some kind of relation to a new baby yesterday. Husband’s mum’s cousin (who’s the same age as Husband) had a baby yesterday with her boyfriend. She and Husband were quite close growing up so she asked if we’d like to come for a visit in the afternoon. Of course we jumped at the chance.

So there we were, sitting in this little hospital room with the brand new mum, brand new grandma, brand new great-grandma, Husband’s parents, ourselves and a couple of friends of the new mum. It was a tad crowded. (Although the brand new dad had ducked home for a quick nap and a shower before coming back in the evening so I managed to nab a chair.)

It was nice to see the baby, but whilst the baby was passed from Mum, to Grandma to Great-Grandma to my own mother-in-law and back again (C’mon guys, let me have a cuddle, just a little one – I won’t drop it I promise!) there were some really, uh, interesting questions being asked of the new mum. These included:

Did you have it “naturally” or the easy way? And here was me thinking there was no easy way. There’s a rather large baby and it’s coming out one of two ways. Neither exactly seem like a walk in the park.

Did you need painkillers? Does it matter?

So did it hurt? What the fuck do you think, Sherlock?

How many stitches do you have? Really? THAT’S what you’re asking?

Was there lots of blood? What are you, a vampire?

Why do you look so tired? Oh, no reason – just 32 hours of contractions followed by pushing out something with a head the size of a rockmelon.

Can I bring my girlfriends mum in to see you in hospital? She loves babies. Uh, how about no.

Are you breastfeeding yet? Is that any of your business?

Can I come back to visit tomorrow? Unless you’ve been ASKED to come back tomorrow or you’re a grandparent of the new baby, then for the love of god let the poor girl rest!!!

Shall we stay for dinner? It’s a hospital room, not someone’s home. And besides, it’s 2pm.

Is it still stinging when you pee? That gem came from my mother-in-law. 

My advice – take your cues from the brand new mother and father. If they ask you to come visit them in hospital, then visit them. But don’t plan on staying for five hours. If the mother looks tired, then perhaps take your leave so she can have a nap. If she volunteers information, then great, if not then don’t ask questions to the details she’s probably trying to forget. And the most important thing – DON’T HOG THE BABY! I want a cuddle too. ;p

Were you asked any inappropriate questions after giving birth? 

Round and Round and Round We Go…

My brother-in-law (Husband’s brother) is getting married overseas this year.

His parents have already decided they can’t afford to go. They’ve been cash-strapped their whole life and will be heading into retirement soon with very little superannuation and nearly no savings. They’re trying to channel every last cent into “retirement proofing” their house – rainwater tank, solar panels to generate electricity, learning how to grown fruit, vegetables and herbs – all to make their life easier (and cheaper) when they retire.

Personally I think they’re doing the smart thing.

So it turns out that BIL will only have us – me and Husband – at his wedding to his “princess”. No other family can afford to go.

Let me just mention that they’re getting married in Switzerland. At Christmas. Where even a 3-star Best Western on the very outskirts of town will cost about $450 a night.

So this “holiday” could potentially set us back $10,000 – including flights, accommodation, car hire (necessary to get around that time of year!), meals, suit hire for the wedding, plus a gift (which has been hinted at rather heavily from the bride).

$10,000 is a lot of money. But we can afford it. Thankfully Husband has a good job which pays a good salary.

But the real question is – do we even want to go?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure Switzerland is lovely. One day I’d love to go skiing there. However, what Husband and I actually want is to have a baby. We had planned to start trying later this year. Baby’s are expensive little things. I hadn’t realised until I started pricing up things last week (a pram costs HOW MUCH?!) We had also planned on doing some maintenance/improvements to our house. Things like renovating the 1970’s bathroom, installing air-conditioning, removing the lovely floral tiles from the kitchen and turning the sand pit in the back garden into, well, a garden.

The problem is we can’t afford to go to Switzerland, do the improvements to the house AND have a baby.

So conversations have been flowing like this:

“So if we have a baby, we can’t go to Switzerland.”

“But if we don’t go to Switzerland then BIL will never forgive us – we’ll be his only family there.”

“But if we go we can’t start trying for a baby before then – I can’t fly when pregnant due to health reasons.”

“If we go, we can’t afford to install air-conditioning or rip out the avocado bathroom suite.”

“If we don’t go to Switzerland then we’ll need to tell BIL soon. And we’ll have to give him a reason – but we can’t tell him we don’t want to go because we want a baby – he’ll tell the whole family and there’ll be an inquiry into our sex life.”

“But I suppose we’re only young and we can always delay having our first baby a couple of years.”

“If we delay our first and if we want three or four babies then unless we have them in very close succession, we could be nearly 40 by the time we have our third. Risks of downs syndrome and other health issues increase.”

“And we can’t tell people we’re trying for a baby – we don’t want to deal with the pressure.”

“But if we don’t go to Switzerland then we’ll have to tell BIL why.”

And on and on it goes. At the end of the day, someone is going to get hurt. Either we shelve our desire to start having babies or we break BIL’s heart. Part of me really resents this situation – BIL has put a lot of pressure on us (unwittingly) to go. And he knows we can afford it.

In our ideal world we’d be able to renovate bits of the house, install air-conditioning, do one last child-free cheap holiday to Thailand and then try for a baby.

But family has a way of throwing the best laid plans into chaos.

As I said, someone will have their feelings hurt. And as selfish as it sounds, I’m scared it may be me.