National Osteoporosis Month


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Dear Friends,

When I was approached and asked to write an article/blog Post on Osteoporosis in order to help draw awareness to the condition, at first I was excited to contribute, but then I went away on vacation, and relaxing in Spain with my daughter I began thinking more about it. I asked my daughter, almost rhetorically, what do I have to say about the subject? After all, it doesn’t seem to affect me, and as long as I take the monthly pills I’m ok. Really though? Let’s think about this some more. The first bone I ever broke was in my ankle. I was running through the house trying to get Christmas presents wrapped so that my then eleven year old daughter could take them to teachers at school that morning. Actually, I broke that ankle in 3 places, and due to leave on a sailing trip the next day, this was more than a little inconvenient. I insisted on going sailing anyway. I insisted on a removable cast, a heavy splint. I didn’t want to be completely incapacitated in a plaster cast.

Lesson 1 – listen to your doctors. They honestly know best. It took so much longer to heal starting out in this way. On the other hand; lesson 2 – not being willing to give up or give in to an illness is a good thing. It means you are not going to give up on the things you enjoy in life, but this needs to be tempered with reason, patience, and following the advice of a medical team you trust. I’m not very good at the Patience thing. When it comes to others, I’m very patient. When it comes to me, I am demanding, relentless, and unforgiving. Patience disappears.

I didn’t know all those years ago that I might have Osteoporosis, after all, I had only ever experienced one bone break in my life, and as kids, lots of friends were breaking arms or legs in the pursuit of some sporting goal. Click on the link above to learn more about Osteoporosis. It’s worth the effort.

A wonderful evening with the ladies in Arcos.

A wonderful evening with the ladies in Arcos.

Sipping a full bodied Rioja in our friend’s home in Arcos de la Frontera,  after a 9.6 mile walk around Seville, (you’ve got to love FitBit) rubbing my aching knees, yes the one I had replaced twice in the same year – (revision surgery November 2014,) and the other “good” knee, which, with the knee cap shifting and sending me into shrieks of pain, I realized might be another candidate for replacement in the not too distant future, I began to think about accidents I have had.

In the last 10 years I have fractured my femur, broken three fingers on my left hand which lead to Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, broken a bone in my left foot – a break known as a Jones Fracture, and a few days ago I fell off my bicycle (for the second time in as many months) breaking part of my wrist – the scaphoid bone.

Such a big cast for such a little bone!

Such a big cast for such a little bone!

This most recent break made me realize that I couldn’t, or shouldn’t continue to try to ignore how vulnerable I am to breaking bones as a result of my Osteoporosis.

It was the femur fracture that got my doctor questioning whether I could have Osteoporosis. After all, the femur is the biggest bone in our bodies and supposedly the hardest to break. I was very fortunate. I managed to just do a hairline fracture. The issue was how easily I had managed to fracture this bone. I simply tripped going up a step and landed on my left side. It wasn’t a hard fall. Anyone else might at the most have had a small bruise. I was in a lot of pain, and I couldn’t walk for a long time afterwards, but it was following this fracture that my rheumatologist, (most of you know that I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis 26 years ago) suggested I had a bone density test. I’m glad I did. The test revealed I have severe Osteoporosis. I was forty nine years old at the time. My doctor talked to me about the need to maintain a healthy level of vitamins C and D. Our bodies need vitamin C for healthy bones. Remember your mothers nagging you to drink milk? We need vitamin D in order to absorb vitamin C. Of course you can take supplements, but in my case I didn’t need to. I have a healthy diet, and a healthy exposure to the sun, a natural supplier of vitamin D. Many people are not so fortunate as to live in a climate where the sun shines all the time, and natural foods are plentiful and not outrageously expensive. My doctor and I settled on a drug called Actonel to help me fight my fight against this bone destroying disease.

Lesson 3 – denial is counter-productive. Being as unforgiving as I have always been, I refused to acknowledge the incapacitating nature of Osteoporosis. I was determined that a silly little disease like this would not stop me from living life to the full. I continued to push myself physically. I refused to listen to pain and what it might be telling me about my body and my needs. I refused to consider self nurture to be a gift I deserved and needed to practice. Then I fell. I was helping a young family get off a plane in Puerto Vallarta, and I tripped carrying their luggage. Three of my fingers bent backwards and broke. The family grabbed their luggage and rushed on to enjoy their vacation. I ended up in the emergency room of a hospital where my hand was set incorrectly, as a result of which I sustained permanent damage, and developed chronic regional pain syndrome. My life was in turmoil. I couldn’t endure the pain. I had regular nerve blocks to try to contain the pain, but one of the best treatments was Mindfulness Meditation. I took mindfulness classes at Stanford Hospital.

Losing much of the use of my left hand proved a catalyst for depression. I needed help for the depression, and I realized pretty quickly that I needed help coming to terms with having Osteoporosis. Some studies point to depression as being a risk factor in developing Osteoporosis. Other studies look at how having Osteoporosis can lead to depression. Our minds and our bodies are not separate entities. Please take the time to read about our mind-body connection.

Arcos at Night

Arcos at Night

I mentioned earlier in this post that I had a total knee replacement last year and that it didn’t go so well. I’d like to take the time to talk some more about that, and to give you some pointers on how to find the right medical team to work with. Watch this space. I need a few days without writing as it is hard with just one hand. I’ll return in a few days.

Undertaking Research


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Dear friends, I was delighted to wake up this morning in my hospital bed to see that a short piece I wrote on writing research has been published in the Brevity Blog. If you like this piece, please repost it, retweet it, or do anything you can in the name of literary citizenship to help me enhance my on-line presence. I hope you enjoy this short essay.
Thanks for reading and sharing this.

Undertaking Research.

Challenges, Writing and Otherwise.


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Hello again,

To all of you who keep nudging me and asking “when are you going to write another blog post, I want to say thanks for the encouragement! The reality is that when I’m working on an essay, or part of my memoir, I’m entirely focused on that, and blog posts disappear.

It’s that time of year again when we hunker down and enjoy the change in season. Autumn leads us into reflection, well certainly some of us. In Big Sur we still have super warm sunny days, but we also have days like today when the fog rolls in and bathes us in an invisible cloak. The trees and the landscape are truly “shrouded” in the sort of fog that feels like one of those ultra-light down jackets, you know the ones, they fold up and fit into a tiny bag and barely seem to exist, but when you open it up and put the jacket on you are snuggled into a warmth you can hardly believe possible. yellow sunrise Looking out of my window this morning, the fog hides my view of the south coast but I feel warm and held in a weightless, barely perceptible, gift from mother nature. It is hard to believe on days like this that the cliffs and cresting waves were ever visible from my window. I know they will return.

A foggy sunrise

A foggy sunrise

The Writing Life.

As far as writing goes, I am most productive on days like this. I am not tempted to swim outdoors. I cannot resist a swim on a sunny day when procrastination rules! I do a lot of my writing in my head. I know it sounds odd, but I can go about my daily activities thinking writing. I might not put pen to paper for several days, but when I do, it all pours out. All of the thoughts and internal edits I’ve been making for days, sometimes weeks, manifest in an essay or a segment from the memoir I’ve been working on.

The problem with writing a memoir is that it is so personal it can also be extremely painful at times. There are days when I can write without sadness. There are days when I just cry. There are days when I stand back and wonder at the life I’ve had so far, days when I cannot believe I have emerged into the woman I am today, a woman I am beginning to actually like, and sometimes admire. I know I’ve worked through a lot of the highly charged, emotional issues in my memoir, and I can say I’ve come to terms with a lot, but that doesn’t stop me, the memoirist, the writer, from feeling all over again. My friend, Allison Williams, a superb writer, pushes me to go deeper with everything I write. Allison advises me not to just hint at a challenging aspect of my life in my memoir, but to dig deeper and explore the stories on the page with continuing depth. I’m trying to do just that.

Shaping a memoir feels like an almost insurmountable challenge. I’ve written chapters and just when I think I’ve got them in the right sequence in the book, I review them, and lacking confidence in my last decision, the reshuffle begins all over again, and so does the whole question of how to transition from one chapter to the next. Recently, I’ve been looking at memoirs written by writers I admire in an attempt to see how they resolve the structural issue. (Thank you Dinty Moore.) I’m moving towards constructing my memoir as a series of stand alone essays. My thoughts are that if I put the narrative together in this way, I can still keep a loosely chronological movement driving the book by making definite transitions from one essay to another. The reader can pick up the memoir, read one essay, and have a complete “story” to enjoy and think about without being held in an artificial suspense which requires needing to read on to find out what happens next. Of course what happens next is very important, and if I can skillfully transition from one story to the next I hope the reader will want to read on. Enough of that. I need to get back to work pretty soon.

This week is very special. Two of my friends, Kim and Sherilyn, have joined me for a writing retreat at our home in Big Sur. We all went to Antioch University, Los Angeles, for our MFAs in Creative Writing. Kim lives in Kauai, and Sherilyn lives in LA. We usually work together remotely. We are all so excited to be together in the flesh! We are spread out right now in different parts of the house writing away. We kicked off our time together last night with a home-made curry, and some wonderful wine. Tonight we will eat together again and talk writing.

The challenging body.

Driving Home Another reason this week is so special for me is that it is the last week in a while that I will be able to come to Big Sur. Lately I’ve been spending half the week every week here. I’ve fallen in love with Big Sur all over again.
Many of you know that I had a knee replacement last year. It was challenging as things didn’t go well, and I had to go back into hospital for a manipulation under anesthesia, which is basically a surgery to break up scar tissue and get the range of motion in the knee back. I’ve struggled all year with pain, and my knee has never felt right. After some research I found a surgeon who specializes in knee and hip replacements. He is amazing. I had a C.T. scan and a series of x-rays, and the doctor was able to show me what went wrong with my knee replacement. Unfortunately though, I have to have the surgery done all over again. On November 18th I’m having revision surgery. This means the surgeon will remove the “new” knee that was put in last year, and replace it with another set of components. It can be a complicated surgery. The doctor needs to get all the cement out of the knee.
While I am anxious about going through all of that pain again, and having an even longer rehabilitation than I had originally, I am excited at the prospect of ultimately returning to a pain-free, active life.

An exciting part of this whole new experience is that I intend to be awake for the surgery and watch it on a big screen in the operating room. The doctor warned me about the noise when they get their surgical chainsaw things out and hack away. He said being wide awake can be stressful, and if I feel stressed the anesthesiologist can give me something to sedate me. I hope I will be able to stay awake for at least some, if not all of the surgery, but if I need a nap, I’ll take a nap.
I’ll keep you posted about how this whole new wide-awake knee surgery goes. Imagine, I get to see inside my body!

Time to move on. Please watch this space. I plan to write more about the aging, not as stable as I’d like it to be – body. I have Rheumatoid Arthritis, and Osteoporosis among other things. I’ve tried to live my life in denial of the related challenges I face on a day-to-day basis. One of my writer friends suggested that I write about my life with this complicated body. I think the time has come. I am such a positive person normally, but there are days when my body doesn’t work and I struggle to stay positive.

Until the next time – thanks for reading and sharing your comments.

Audio recording – Forever and Ever


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Recently, during my time at the Keyon Review Writer’s Workshop, I did a reading of a short piece I wrote during my week at Kenyon. All of us students read from work we had created during that week. This is my first experiment posting a reading to my blog. Please excuse the crude editing. I will work at fading in and out soon. I just wanted to get this up here asap.

I hope you enjoy this short essay. It is 465 words. It is just over 4 minutes long.

Dear Daughter


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Dear Daughter,
I listened to a recording of you sing last night. You sang a song to the moon. You were alone on a stage six thousand miles away, and I was at home, in the home in which you grew up. The symphony gathered like wood nymphs congregating in the forest, creeping through the long, tall grass until they found you; you, an angel with gossamer wings. That’s how I saw you in my mothering mind’s eye.

You stood alone on that stage, and I could see you, feel your joy to be there. I felt your excitement, your anticipation, your giddiness, your sense and seriousness of what you were about to do. You were about to gift an audience the most beautiful sound they would ever hear.
You sang so beautifully, your heavenly voice scaling earth to sky, the richness of your low tones, the soaring clarity and thrill of your high notes brought your mother into ecstasy, and I broke down and cried. My chest heaved with a swollen heart, and I understood yet again in my life what it means to burst with pride.

I am proud of you, the daughter whom I admire.

Alexandra Cowell. Photo courtesy of Scott MacDonald Photography.

Alexandra Cowell.
Photo courtesy of Scott MacDonald Photography.

You stand alone so often, not just on the opera stage, but on the stage of struggling life. You are not one of those people who land on their feet, effortless into your desires. You work, you fight, you lose, you win, you thrive, and sometimes it must feel like you just survive.

You are the most amazing young woman I know.

You inspire me with your curiosity about life and people and what makes this world both good and bad. You have such a level head and an innate sense of fairness. You teach me so much about patience and acceptance, about struggle and reward, and also about fun.
The first time that I saw you lying on my stomach, your wrinkled face turning toward the light, I knew I loved you more than I could love any living soul. I joked that you looked like Winston Churchill, then you snuggled to my breast, no longer alone in the womb but with me in your new world. You blossomed into your beauty, and I still stare mesmerized by your truffle eyes, your sallow skin and your long dark hair.
You were always an advocate of your own special style. You wore baskets on your head and pretended they were hats. You shuffled around like little girls do in my grown up adult shoes. Today you still love hats, sweeping, statement hats, and shoes an architect designs.

When you slipped on a wet leaf one winter, your heel escaping beneath you, your devastating injury robbed you of your career as a flutist, but you picked yourself up, and gradually one foot in front of the other you found your way back into music, to an instrument you dug deep inside to find. You didn’t give up.

As a little girl you stood back, alone, even at nursery school. You surveyed the landscape of your dreams, and only when you felt safe in your own perception of trust did you launch forth, gracing the children and adults around you with your spirit.
You fell in love with a boy when you were four, and found yourself torn between two loves when you were four and a half. By six years old you had knocked a young suitor out with a golf club, and he still loved you.

Today the “boys” that please me are the ones who cherish your love, and also know how to make you laugh. When you throw back your head in abandon your laughter warms my heart.
You stand today on the precipice of your longing. Those gossamer wings once again ready to take flight. I watch. I want to be there to catch you if you fall, to mend your delicate heart, to punish all who hurt you, but I cannot. For you are a woman on top of the world, and I stand beneath you, in awe and adoration of the person you have become.
Fly my darling, fly.
Your adoring mother.

Dear Teddy


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Tuesday – Continuing with the Epistolary experiment

Belinda, aged 1,  takes Teddy for a walk .

Belinda, aged 1, takes Teddy for a walk .

Dear Teddy,
We are both getting old. I celebrated 56 years of my life last week, and I celebrated 55 and a half years of your life same day. I am told Santa Claus brought you down the slim chimney of my parent’s first house on my first Christmas Eve. I don’t remember meeting you back then, but once you arrived we were never to be parted. They placed you in my cot.
Belinda and her new friend, Teddy

Belinda and her new friend, Teddy

We have shared many secrets over the years. I have cried, my nose tucked on top of your nose. Perhaps it was my tears that softened your straw filling and soaked it into disintegration. I’m sorry if that was the case. I hope you haven’t minded my amateur repairs. I think the new flashy bandage the doctor gave me for my hand is a better fix for your nose, than the bulky ace bandage that smothered your face almost beyond recognition. The skin tone of the Coban better fits your faded once-upon-a-time golden fluff. I got my hair coloured yesterday. I’m not bald like you, just white – snow white underneath the painted on blonde. There is no cure for your baldness, and even if there was, I like you the way you are. I don’t mind being reminded of my aging when I look at you and watch you fade. I dare not let my hair go white though, as to do so would remind my dearest love that he is aging too. I think it is an American thing, or maybe just California dreaming that buries age in dye. Twenty-five years ago my dad suggested I box you up and send you to the teddy bear hospital to get you fixed. I thought about it for a while and came to the conclusion a month ago that I simply could not do that. Again it’s about loving you the way you are. It’s also about fear – fear of change, fear that you will not look the same or smell the same. You host a thousand scents; of infancy, childhood, the first perfume I bought when I was a teen, the dried in sweat of the first time I made love and sobbed with you afterwards, him gone, you and me alone in the bed and I, asking you, wondering if I had given away my virginity too young. You spoke to me back then, reassuring me every time I tipped you forward to hear the gentle growl from inside your tummy. I don’t remember when your voice box fell silent. I still tip you now sometimes hoping you will speak again. Belinda and teddy at 6
You carry the dust of continents in your round, still soft belly. I wonder what the airline staff thought all those years when I fastened the seat belts around you. My heart almost broke the first time I traveled without you. But I came home to your worn out hands, your creaking arms tired from my childhood handling. It must have been the oils from my skin that wore away your leather clad paws, hands and feet. I did an awful job stitching black felt around your worn out hands – your now black-gloved forearms.
Teddy today

Teddy today

You were such a sport in the olden days. You played sick so well lined up in my imaginary hospital; home-made beds for you and walky-talky doll, long-legged-Polly Anna doll, stuffed dog, and the occasional pretty doll that mum brought home from business trips. You outlived them all.
You were a good student too, sitting to attention on the classroom bed with the above cast of characters, my home-made school books tucked into your lap. You learned so much, and I did too.
Belinda and Doggie

Belinda and Doggie

I sat you up on my grown-up bed today, tucked up against a pillow. You were wrapped in the cotton blanket – the first blanket, from my almost 29 year old daughter’s ancient crib. As your cover fell away and revealed you, it revealed me too. I laughed. I too have worn frilly white socks that cover my legs from toe to thigh. Like you, I wore those socks to cover and support the frailty of aging. I went to the people hospital and got a new knee some months ago, not much fun. Don’t you think those frilly socks give such great support? And as for hands, again like you, one of mine barely works anymore. They couldn’t fully mend it at the people fixing place.
I look into your brown glass eyes, and they reflect a past, the present and a future too. They speak to me in loving calm of joy and pain, love – lost and found, lessons learned, lessons failed, hopes and dreams and trust, but most of all you speak to me of the gift of acceptance.
Thank you Teddy. All my love xxx

Dear Rattlesnake


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This week I am experimenting with the epistolary form. I intend to write a letter a day and post it here.

Dear Rattlesnake,
You are not the first rattlesnake I’ve met. A few of your kind held me hostage one summer in my home in big Sur. One gave birth, live birth – I’m impressed, right outside my door. That mother took to the shade of the barn door a few steps from my front door, and when I tried to leave she came out and hissed. Funny how your hiss sounds just like a spray of water escaping from a hose. I waited inside the house, hoping she would leave but she was joined by 2 other snakes. They formed a triangle in front of my door, a warning triangle, almost as stern a warning as the characteristic shape of your head. “Get a bucket of ice water and throw it on top of the snakes,” one friend said. “They don’t like cold water. They’ll curl up and you’ll be safe and then you can leave,” he said. But I would still have had to come back, and who knows how many more would have joined the reptile army? So I stayed inside instead and read a book.

The Rattlesnake in my garden.

The Rattlesnake in my garden.

Get a burlap sack, make it damp, and throw it in your direction, the man from vector control suggested last month, when I asked him how to usher you along your way. “And what good will that do?” I asked my expert. I’m told the dark, warm, sun-steamed sack would have seduced you into leaving your natural habitat beneath the brush, or even have tempted you out of the burrow you followed the no-longer-gopher into a few Fridays ago. “And then?” I asked the expert, who later mailed me photos of your kind, who knows why, and first-aid instructions in case you might bite. Thank you, by the way, for not retaliating when I accidentally dropped those daisy heads right on top of your head. My intention was to dead-head the flowers in my garden, not you. Not then at least.

“When he crawls into the sack, pick it up and take the rattler away.” The snake man said. “Where to?” I asked.” I don’t know. Just somewhere else.” He said. “Like my neighbor’s garden?” I jest. And so, not willing to trap and remove you in a sack, or even grab a spade – the wise man’s next suggestion, and chop off your head, you are still with us, a guest among my flowers.

When I startled you with daisies you raised your head, and your little tongue danced in and out testing the air for prey or danger. I backed away. Slowly. I went to fetch my camera. When you curled up and settled down again, camouflaged in the wood chips, I looked for you and snapped a shot and posted you on Facebook. Some people “liked” you. I saw your cushiony imprint under the lavender just now. At night I spray my sheets with lavender scent and snuggle down, a little like you, and I long for the peace of undisturbed sleep.

You were not what I expected, when I left my home in London and moved to California. Snakes like you do not slither-slide side after side along the underground tracks among the rats. I was not prepared for your diamond back, the risk of your venom. We had talked of earthquakes, my American fiancé and I. We had planned for shaking buildings, gathered emergency supplies of food and water. We planned for sun and warmth, even temperatures topping one hundred. We planned for fire and flood. We did not buy a snake kit. I did not expect to have to worry more than most about the risk of an attack from your kind. I did not know before I got here what poison already existed in my body. I do not get the warning rush of adrenaline a sighting of you should cause. I did not expect to have a kidney and an adrenal gland removed. I did not expect that tumor.

Evening garden

Evening garden

I travel cautiously in my garden now, even announce my presence. I stamp my feet, call out “snake, I’m coming.” My intention is not to surprise you, but to give us both fair warning. We need to share this place, this space. We need to share the beauty.
When you are sleeping tucked beneath the daisies, I watch you from a distance. I look for the beauty in the skin you shed, in your reinvention-resurrection. Like you I feel the warmth of summer sun, and when I’ve had enough of scorching skin, I too search for the shade, a place where I can hide, a place where I can shed a skin, can camouflage, where I too can adjust and change.

Light and Shadows


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My husband, Ken, and I spent last Christmas in Wales with our daughter and my best friend and her family. We loved every minute of our time with our “chosen family.”

Two days after Christmas Ken and I set off on our drive back to London. Ken was to head home and I was to stay on for another four weeks in the U.K with my daughter and some dear friends. We decided to take a few days and play tourist, stopping at Bath for a couple of nights, and at random villages throughout the Cotswolds. That’s when we discovered “the village of light and shadows.” Of course that is not the name of the village. It would not be fair of me to name it. Suffice to say the village was beautiful. It was a picture postcard English scene. I would discover the small shop/café/post office the next day, the only “industry” to grace this village since the closure of the silk mills in the 1800s. The recorded history of this gorgeous place goes back to at least AD 855, when the village was granted a monastery. The Doomsday Book records much of the early history.

We arrived at our hotel just as the sun was setting. A golden light warmed the yellow Cotswold stone. Terraced houses lined the steep and hilly streets like sentries on duty. Long shadows sheltered doorways. Detached cottages and farm houses occupied fields a stone’s throw away. The meadows heaved rich blue-green grass, and the water caressed the stones in the brook. The only sounds to break the silence were the babbled conversations of the brook, and the last evensong of the birds nesting back down in the trees. Image

Ken was careful not to knock his head against the low exposed black-stained wooden beams in the doorways of the string of 17th century cottages that together made up our hotel. Snuggled up on the sofa in front of the inglenook fireplace, waiting to be called for dinner. I fed the fire periodically, throwing on splintering dry aged logs, warming myself to the bones during this, the harshest winter in the UK in 30 years. Flipping through the stack of magazines on the antique mahogany coffee table, I stumbled upon the Parish Magazine. That’s when I began to contemplate bullying, a subject that would cause me to look deeply into my own life over the months to come.

The Magazine was filled with reports. Some told of the financial health of the village church, and the other small churches in surrounding hamlets that combined to form this parish. Other reports told of social activities. I read about the tree lighting ceremony just before Christmas. The Christmas tree was beautiful. I could see it from the window on the hallway in front of my bedroom door. It was unusual in that it sat atop the church spire and was dressed entirely in bright blue lights, lights that shone an eerie beam over the graveyard behind the church. I read about the Women’s Institute, the WI, an institution worn deep into British life, and made famous by the film, Calendar Girls, all over the world. It was heart-warming to see how many charitable activities the community engaged in. There were food drives for the hungry, collections for Cancer research, and the usual requests for used clothes and coats for winter warmth.

Admiring this tiny community I moved on to read the village school report. I don’t remember much about it, only the part about parental attendance at the annual parent-teacher evening. This is the opportunity for parents to meet with their children’s teachers to discuss the progress and needs of each individual child. It is an evening some children look forward to. An evening when paintings and projects are on display, and assignments with their letter grades are laid open on each child’s desk. This is a time when the truth is told, and some children dread their parents returning home with the inevitable chastisement, questioning and the occasional accusations of laziness.

Memories stirred in me of my childhood, and how I could never be quite good enough for my parents. I can still hear my mother’s voice: Belinda, why can’t you be like Sarah? Or any other number of children about whom my mother had overheard the teacher regale their achievements to adoring parents. I was a “daydreamer.” I was a creative child with a wild, seemingly untamable imagination. Creative children who did not conform to the workbook and rote style learning of the 1960’s did not win many gold stars to be pasted on the classroom achievement chart. Image

A statement in this annual report brought me to a pause in my reading. It read something like this: Parent-teacher evening was a great success last month. We had the best turn out ever. All but one set of parents attended.

My heart went out to the one set of parents. Shame? Guilt? What was the intention of this statement? Who knows why these parents didn’t attend? I could imagine the gossiping adults overheard by children as they read this and hazarded guesses at just who, exactly, the absentees were. I could imagine the playground conversations as some of the more precocious kids would inevitably relish in the fact, that it wasn’t their parents who dared to miss parent-teacher evening. I could imagine the anger felt by the child or children of the missing parents. The embarrassment. Surely there was another way to let the readership know just how successful the school event had been. How about “we were delighted at the best turnout ever for our annual parent-teacher evening.” How about leaving it at that? Was it really necessary to spell out the specifics of the turnout? I think not. I truly felt that to have thrown one set of parents into the spotlight of non-attendance was an act of bullying.

Childhood is a time during which bullying has its roots. Most schools these days, have anti-bullying policies. Educators are aware that at some point in a child’s development he/she desires to be in control of another child. Children jostle for position. It’s about hierarchy. Someone ranks higher than the child – a parent, teacher, or sibling. A child feels the need to assert him/herself, and being in control of another child, asserting ones will over another, is often the means to express this. Children experiment with power. We see it in the games they play. It is as clear as day in peer leadership, such as classroom/school, captain and prefect systems. Reading the statement in the school report made me feel that the people who should be guarding against the act of bullying were actively engaging in the practice. In my opinion, teachers and head teachers should be leading the way by example. I didn’t get the sense that the author of this school report had any interest in understanding why the family in question had not attended. Set against the background of a report that boasted the achievements of school, children and parents, this highlighting of one set of parents seemed cruel to me. I can only hope that this family were either unaware of this depiction of their actions, or knew how to deal with the fallout.

At some point in our lives, most of us are the victims of bullying, be it as children or as adults. We are also often the perpetrators. If we are honest with ourselves we can surely find instances when we were the bullies. No matter how significant or insignificant the act, we were there. I look back on my school days, and I will admit to have been to some degree at some time, a bully. In my situation it was in my role as a class leader. I feel sorry for the pain I might have caused.

Some children are able to articulate their experiences of bullying and seek help. Others are not.

I attended a reading by a famous author a few years ago. The book he read from was about his childhood growing up on an Indian Reservation. He talked about his experiences being bullied. When it came to question time from the audience, a twelve-year-old boy with Asperger’s Syndrome stood up. He told the audience about his experience with Asperger’s Syndrome, and about how he was being bullied at school.  He asked the author for advice on how to handle being bullied. You can probably imagine there wasn’t a dry eye in the place. The author left the podium and went to the boy. He turned his back on the audience as if trying to find a private space, and sat down on some steps with the child. His advice to the boy in summary, was to find a friend, or make a friend of an adult he trusted. The author suggested making friends with a teacher, telling the teacher he needed a friend, and he encouraged the little boy to tell the teacher about the bullying. He suggested he ask the teacher for advice on how to cope with his situation. It was sensible advice delivered in a caring and sensitive way. Looking back on it, I wish that the teachers in the village school last Christmas could have heard this little boy talk about bullying. I wished the author of the magazine article understood the subtleties of bullying and his/her participation in the act.

It is not only in childhood that we can experience bullying. Some of you reading this will identify with your own adult experiences of being bullied. Bullying takes so many forms. We see it in situations of many kinds of discrimination. We experience it at work, and many people experience bullying at home, in their private lives, in the most intimate of relationships.

If you are being bullied, consider carefully what you can do about it. The advice from the author I mentioned earlier can be applied to your situation. You might substitute friend, trusted family member, or therapist, if you are lucky enough to have one, instead of teacher. Find someone and talk about it. Strategize on how to manage your bully.

I can add a little advice to that of our famous author.

I have a bully. When I say “have” I mean that she exists, and attempts to assert her cruelty on me. However, while my bully exists she cannot touch me anymore. I have developed strategies to eliminate the pain she tries to inflict on me.

In my case my bully is a family member. Those of you who have been reading excerpts from the book I’m writing about my relationship with my mother, will have come across my bully already. For those of you who have not, I can tell you that this woman has worked systematically to wreck my relationship with my mother. She has succeeded. My mother, as many of you know, had a serious stroke in 2011. I looked after her in Ireland for six months. During that time I did not see my daughter, and I only saw my husband for six days.

Strategy number one – use humor as a way to reduce your bully’s power. With that in mind, I chose to substitute a new name for the real name of my bully. I call her “Root,” as in root of all evil.

Strategy number two – examine your bully. Look at her life as closely as you can. Ask yourself where her need to bully comes from. Once you understand that, you can begin to get a sense of perspective on her, and how to manage her. For example, my bully had an insecure childhood. She came from a very large family where she jostled for place. In her mind she probably had to compete for her mother’s love, and knowing as much as I do about her childhood, this was probably true. Going beyond her childhood, I can tell you that Root married young. Her first husband was abusive both mentally and physically. I remember my mother attempting to rescue Root on a number of occasions. It is not always the case but childhood and adult abusive relationships can lead the abused into becoming an abuser, subtle or otherwise. So now, knowing even this much, while not excusing Root’s behavior, I can feel pity for her.

Strategy number three – once you have looked as deeply into your bully’s life as you can, ask yourself what she has to gain from bullying you? I can tell you that typically, and certainly in Root’s case, a bully derives her sense of self-worth from putting people down. A bully needs to make her victim appear bad in order to make herself seem valuable in the eyes of others. Root has made a career over the last few years out of blackening my name to my mother and other family members. Root has systematically taken everything good I did for my mother and lied her way into making all of my loving actions seem bad. Root is clever in this way.

Look for the areas in which your bully seems clever, and look for her weaknesses. Root is not that well-educated. Her understanding of people is extremely limited. She has had problems at work as well as with the family. She is to be pitied. She clearly has a warped sense of her own self-worth. You might find that your bully has both intrinsic and extrinsic things to gain from bullying you. These could be emotional gains, and even monetary gains. Do your homework –  forewarned is forearmed.

Strategy number four – reduce your bully in size. Seeing your bully as a pitiful individual will help this. Consider your bully’s physical attributes as you shrink her. I have reduced Root gradually from being mentally monstrous in size, down to this withered little splintered stick creature, bent over and hobbling. She has an accent and voice that my mother once said could grate granite. This mental image allows me to pick up Root and chuck her into a dark desk drawer, or even on the fire whenever she rears her ugly head. This mental picture allows me to feel sorry for root, something I know she’d hate.

Strategy number five – last but not least talk to the people you trust about your bully. Ask for their support. They might be able to help you with practical ways to deal with your bully. They might be able to intervene with your bully and get her to see the error of her ways. I have tremendous support in dealing with my bully. We can’t make her go away, but other people who know her well, trust me and reassure me. They know her and her potential for bullying and deception.

In my case, the result of Root’s bullying has a greater impact on my mother than on me. Root has silently bullied my mother, depriving her through her deception, of me, her only daughter, of my love and company in my mother’s sick old age.

If the potential exists for your bully to extract financial gain, or to hurt someone other than you, put measures into place to protect third parties as much as possible. Although my bully has caused permanent damage in my life, your bully doesn’t have to be allowed to cause permanent damage in yours. Seek help.

I have come to terms with the fact that my bully has made it so that I will never see my mother again alive. I can tell you that my bully has done her worst, and will never be able to inflict pain on me again.

My situation is extreme in some ways. The situation at the village school seems to be naïve and in the early stages of bullying. Catch it early. I would have loved to have been able to point out my observations to the author of the annual report, but I couldn’t.

In fairness, I must tell you that in reading further, and researching this school and the staff, the school appears to be an excellent school, with good teachers. The children appear happy and enthusiastic about learning. So please, village school, be careful, and Practice what you preach. Defend and protect those vulnerable children and families. Be a source of good, not bad.


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