Secrets, Lies & Chat

Saturday, February 04, 2006

A New Beginning - Change

How many of them have I had in my lifetime? My childhood ran the course that most do with change coming from outside influences, not from me, although I guess in some ways I was evolving as I found my own thoughts and feelings.

Once I was married there were changes, yet for a number of years I stayed more or less the same, bringing up a family, running a home, and later going back to the workforce. Once I made that transition from housewife and mother, to working woman, with the other duties still there but with less time to do them in, I began to change. Suddenly I had an income, money to spare, money to enjoy. I spent it wisely and our home started to show the benefits of that extra cash. My children had things they had never had, and perhaps didn’t miss that much, like bought cakes for school, a wider variety of food to eat at home, and new furniture and electrical appliances.

The enjoyment we gained from our new life was wonderful and we were like four kids, not three plus a mother. My husband never really got into the swing of the euphoria like we did, but that didn’t dampen our pleasure. My daughter remembers coming home from school to find something new now and then on her bed and tells me often how excited she was each time, no matter what the gift was. I don’t remember that, but it’s lovely that she does. Where once I made most of the children’s clothes, they now had store bought clothes. That probably was the most significant thing to them along with the VHS player/recorder, new stereo, freezer, air conditioner, wood burner fire etc. Our home was transformed with fresh paint, new carpet, new curtains, outside blinds to keep out the heat, and other items we had gone without for many years. We didn’t miss all those things, as I never was a person who had to keep up with the Jones’, nor was my ex. The only thing that didn’t change was the unhappiness within the walls of our home. But that’s another story.

Gong to work not only brought changes to my home, it brought a lot of changes to me personally. As a Scorpio, I know that I am reportedly ever-changing and, thinking about my life, I see that is just about spot on correct. Whilst there are years of little or no significant change, there are other years of mammoth change, swings totally against what would be considered normal for me. But then I always maintain that there is no such thing as normal, nor is there any such thing as typical. We are all unique, no one is a carbon copy of anyone else. Statistics are just that; a whole pile of numbers thrown into one pot with one number coming out – that’s the typical and normal number.

On re-entering full-time permanent work, I found a whole new world, one that frightened the heck out of me and almost sent me scurrying back to the safety of my small world at home. However that world at home was too small for me. No one was home during the long days, and my mind needed to be occupied and challenged. So my fear was overcome by my desire to change my life, and in changing my life, I changed that of my family as well. The first day I stepped through the door of the office I was to work in for the next five plus years, was most likely the first day of many steps that would ultimately lead me to probably the biggest change and challenge of my life some eight years later – divorce.

I was like a fish out of water in the office, and had to be shown how to put staples into a stapler. I had never seen some of the gear they had in the office. An electric typewriter had me fooled, as I couldn’t work out how to get it to go. Once I found the ‘on’ switch, I kept reaching for the carriage return lever, not realising all I had to do was press another key, or just keep typing, and it would automatically return. What a strange, new world of machines it was.

I began my first day by calling the boss ‘Mr’. I wondered why he looked at me strangely. Everyone else called him by his first name, something that I had never seen before in a workplace. The positions I held from 16 to 20, some 14 years previous, had all been so proper. I was Miss McGrath and everyone else above me was either ‘Mr’ or ‘Mrs’ or ‘Miss’. My workmates I called by first name, of course, as they did me. I found it very difficult to call my boss by his first name and indeed all the other executives that I met in those first weeks. I realised that I had to change because I was being laughed at and must have appeared so old-fashioned and proper. The language in the office was outrageous. Swear words I had never uttered nor been exposed to before, ran loud and free. At first they resounded in my ears, but once again, I realised that I either had to join this new world and be part of it, or I might as well go back home and forget about a new life. I decided to join the throng of this new world and the old ‘if you can’t beat them join them’ phrase, became my motto.

In many ways I remained the same. I was straight down the line on some issues and for many years I never wavered from my convictions. My beliefs and values didn’t change, although my personality did. I learned how to laugh at what I considered nonsense or outright crudeness, and I learned how to swear at the appropriate times, and I learned how to be part of a team. I took the changes that were happening to me at work, home with me. My ex was finding it difficult to reconcile with this new me and fought the changes. My life at home with him became more difficult and I found that very hard to understand. By going to work I was improving our lifestyle, relieving him of some of the stress of the bills, and I was giving our children things they hadn’t been able to have before. They were all in High School by the time I joined the full-time workforce, so I wasn’t abandoning small children who needed a mother, or someone at home, before and after school.

The problems with my ex compounded and grew, and with each change in me, came more anger and more bricks were knocked down from the matrimonial wall. Where we had already drifted apart over the years because of many different reasons, we were now both definitely on different roads. The person I fell in love with at 16 and married at 20, was someone I decided I didn’t want to know about – on our wedding night! The laws of the marriage were laid down that night, all laws for his benefit, none for mine. Being a Scorpio and not realising the potential of that sign, I felt anger and humiliation grow inside me that night, and I think I disliked him intensely from then on. We had three wonderful babies who grew into marvellous adults, and yet I take almost all the credit for that, as they would agree I should. I was their safe, loving shield, and they were my salvation. But as I said that’s another story. Sufficient to say things inside the walls of my home were not what was perceived by those outside the walls.

Work became a place I could go to 5 days a week to escape the solitude and sadness of my marriage. The times I was at home I wrapped around my kids. Fortunately for me my parents owned a house with water frontage and we would escape there as often as possible for weekends. An escape hatch, something I am forever grateful for having. My parents didn’t know the extent of my life or the sadness engulfing it, as I never discussed my personal life with them. I grew up in the ‘you made your bed now lie in it’ era. My mother told me years after my divorce that the children used to tell her things about daddy and she would tell them not to tell her, that it wasn’t right to do that. How the world has changed, or perhaps it’s part of my changes. If my granddaughter came to me with stories like the ones my children told their nana, I would be on my charger instantly and off to try and rectify the situation. No way would I leave things and sweep them under the carpet as my mother did.

Change. Something that people now attend training courses in order that they can manage it. There were no courses for me to attend; I changed and evolved and handled it myself. My beliefs and values changed as well, but not until I moved from being a married woman to a single independent one. By the time I walked out on my marriage, I had been working full-time for 8 years, and had transferred from a local office of my employer, to head office in Sydney. My income was such that I believed I could make it with luck and the help of my two children, who moved out with me. They were both working, so the cost of holding a home together for the three of us wasn’t all mine. I paid all the costs to set us up in a rented home, and paid the rent each week. They supported our new life by assisting with the food bills, electricity, phone etc. We split those bills three ways so the cost to all of us was minimised. This was their first big leap into change as well, and probably went a long way towards making them the independent adults they now are.

My son who remained with his father is still finding life a hard battle. He is a good man, but he has never been able to get his life together like the other two have. I believe the fact he remained in that home after we left had a lot to do with his problems and issues with the world at large. I see hope for him now though, as he has made changes, big ones. He met a lady 11 years older than himself, and they live together. They sold everything they owned almost, with the exception of his van, and headed off to Western Australia, to hopefully a new life. The trip took them 6 days, and is one my son says he will never make again by road.

They found the transition from east to west difficult, although finding somewhere to live wasn’t difficult, and much cheaper than in Sydney. My son’s lady managed, after a few months of knock-backs and frustration, to secure a job, and she supported them while my son went into a tailspin at not being able to find work. With her help he paid for driving lessons, and passed the exams to drive an 85-ton truck. Within a week of that exam, he had scored himself a job. He usually worked underground in tunnels on the east coast, but didn’t want to go underground again after a workmate was killed on the last tunnel site he was working on in Sydney. Hence the truck licence. He now works at an open cut gold mine, some 150 kilometres north of Kalgoorlie in Western Australia. He is flown out to the mine and works 14 days x 11 hours a day, then he is flown back to Geraldton, where he lives, and he spends a week with his lady, when she isn’t at work. Whilst he is still working in the same type of industry, he is above ground, and in control of a huge vehicle, with all the responsibility that brings with it.

Big changes in his life and from all accounts, positive ones. I am very proud of him for facing the challenges of his life and his mind, and overcoming them. His self esteem and pride in himself can only grow in leaps and bounds now that he is once more back earning a living, and especially one that is different to what he normally has done. His beliefs and values have also changed as he has evolved, and if he can sustain the changes and let them grow, he will become a different person and find peace within himself.

I was fortunate when I was married, though I didn’t think so at the time, to be the one who had to balance the budget, pay the bills, and keep us out of debt. There were many times when my purse was empty and there was no money until my ex received his next fortnight’s pay. As we had a mortgage, that was the first priority to be kept aside for the end of each month. The remainder had to meet the cost of living with never anything left over. Our only time in each year that there was money to spare, was when he received his income tax reimbursement. That money was well spent on things that we went without but felt we needed. Those years of battling the budget made it easy for me to move to a lifestyle where I not only had to balance the budget, but I also had to be the breadwinner, or the biggest shareholder in that commitment. The belt was pulled in tight and yet the happiness we had found in our new rented home, far outweighed the ‘hardships’ of our new life. I battled all the usual negative feelings for a time and the fear of reprisal from my ex. Each time a car came into the cul de sac where we lived, I was afraid he had found me. As time went on, the fear abated, and I found a new life.

During the next two and a half years I proceeded with my divorce, bought a block of land further out where I could afford it, and my eldest son and I secured a mortgage and had our home built. Once again, change. I learned many things from this experience, all adding to the changes in me as a person. Once the three of us moved into our new home, life became even harder as the mortgage was costing both of us big-time, with interest rates at 17%. Two weeks of my salary was the mortgage payment of a month, and it was even harder for my son, who earned less. However, the three of us split the other bills and we all coped and enjoyed our lovely new home.

After three years of travel daily to the city to work from our new home, three hours a day driving, I had come to the end of the rope and couldn’t cope with it anymore. I was a victim of road rage, more than once, had a bad accident that wrote off my vehicle (not my fault) and was totally worn out from the long days and stress of driving in peak hour traffic. I decided to toss in my job and work closer to home. I also decided to have some time at home before I looked for work, and my superannuation payout enabled me to do that.

Finding another full-time job was not as easy as I anticipated. I realised that I should have found a job before I left the one I was in. Never just accepting things as they appeared, I joined a number of temporary staff agencies hoping to improve my chances of making an income, and was soon out on the road working for many different employers. Change again. This change didn’t suit me as I was never a gypsy type of person. But I did find the type of workplace that I liked best of all – government departments. I started taking on more and more temporary work in government departments, and eventually went for an interview and landed one not all that far from home. As the trip to and from work was across country, not with the flow, it was ideal.

I was a temp there for 2.5 years before the position was finally advertised, and I applied and was successful. Finally, all the years of never being able to take time off with the exception of public holidays and weekends, never being able to lie down and be sick, were over. I had sick leave and I had recreational leave, and, if I chose to work longer hours, I could take a day off a month using that extra time accrued. The world was once more a wonderful carefree place, with money going into my bank every fortnight no matter if I was at work or not. The relief that came into my life was marvellous.

By this time interest rates had dropped to a point where the repayments on our loan had reduced somewhat. My son and I agreed that we would never pay only what we had to pay. We always paid much more, keeping it up near that 17% level, although reducing the repayments enough so as to relieve some of the pressure from us and to give us a small amount of extra money to enjoy. Once I left my full-time job in the city, I also lost the salary I was on and the extra benefits. It took me 10 years to get back to that level of salary and to go past it. If I were still in that job today, I no doubt would be earning a much higher salary than I do where I am. However, money isn’t all that matters. I am happy with my job; the stress is minimal and is mainly what I put on myself. My workday consists of autonomy, something I find very important, as I’m a self-achiever, and I don’t need to be watched or motivated.

In the position I held n the city I was under a lot of stress, mostly from other people. Corporate Australia is a much harder taskmaster than the government, and people in corporations, at that time anyhow, treated their staff exactly as they wished to, and spoke to them exactly as they wished to. That’s why I liked government departments because it was very evident to me, coming from a large corporation, that the people who worked in those departments, in the main anyhow, had respect for others no matter how much lower down the pecking order they may be.

The change in work direction came along with many other changes, and was a result of some of those changes in my attitude to life and my priorities. As I keep moving along in life I’m finding change is easy. I’m no longer afraid of it, in fact I instigate change because I can see outside the circle and instinctively know what I need to do to go on to the next stage. I am a far different person to that young girl, who thought she knew it all, and wanted nothing more out of life than to marry the guy she thought she was in love with, and be with him forever. Nothing is forever unless you don’t embrace change and are happy with your life the way it pans out. I see things I would like to change; others accept what they see as being all there is. Some of them are happy and probably lucky and most likely unable to accept change, or live with it. Some accept their lives with bitterness and despair. I accept nothing as being all there is. I know there is more and will continue to search for whatever it is that’s out there for me to find. Perhaps in that way I am a gypsy of life.

Today is all we have for the moment, and the moment should be as good as we can make it.

© vena mcgrath 2006