Sunday 22nd May 2022

Telling My Story. Chapter Twelve. 1988-1998. 114/2019.

Telling My Story. Chapter Twelve. 1988-1998. 114/2019.

Denyse’s Memoir: Telling My Story.

In early 2017 I finally decided it was “time to tell my story”. I have been employed  in education for decades and lived in different areas of New South Wales with my family and then went on to marry and become even more familiar with other parts of N.S.W. beyond the Great Dividing Range. There are stories to tell. However, as time goes on, to keep aspects of the writing and photos private details are likely to be fewer.

For first time readers: These images are of me but taken at different times due to my oral cancer diagnosis around the same time I published the first part of my memoir. Nevertheless, I did continue a long time after that….and here is the link to chapters 1-11. I start this chapter in 1988 and ending in 1998. A LONG time, with a lot on but come on along!

1988. Appointed as Deputy Principal (non-teaching) in a Mt Druitt K-6 School.

We drove to the school to check it out before my appointment began the following January.

 

The hard work of Lists One, Two, Three, doing a degree part-time, teaching full-time, leading a K-2 Department AND applying for roles now on Merit Selection paid off. I had an offer to become a DP at a large school where I would be non-teaching. This meant a “load off” after 18 years of teaching, learning and leading but I was to be thrown in somewhat in a deep end in a huge time of change within NSW Department of Education systems and schools.

At home one child was still in primary school and one was in the last years of high school. My husband was well and had some work where he was flexible as he was a home-based tutor and a cabinet maker with his own small workshop. Not only could I feel ‘free’ to keep on with my career challenges but also to have flexibility at home was vital as I was learning a whole new role, school culture and working with a largely traditionally minded staff and senior executive including the principal.

Two things I was glad about: no smoking in school grounds came in that year AND the smokers on the staff (the principal was one) had to go outside the grounds to do so (not, phew, in his office as it would have been the year before) AND there was a great new executive staff who had arrived with me for the K-2 part of the school and we hit it off.

Of course, the year might remind those who can remember that it kicked off in Australia in January as the year of the Bicentenary. 1788-1988. Nothing much in our ‘middle-class’ world then mentioned about the way in which Australia was settled by white  Europeans….nor about the original Australians. There were ferry races on Sydney Harbour and much to celebrate with the green and gold.

One of my new colleagues suggested we begin our Masters of Education via Distance Ed as our Dept of Education was supplying scholarships where our fees would be paid. So, yep, signed up for that too. I appear to LIKE being busy.

I need to add, I loved working in this community which was different to any others of my career to that point and I learned a lot from colleagues, families and the children.

I stayed in that one school for TEN years. There were a few reasons why!

Highlights of My Story: 1988-1998.

Health.

I was 38 when I became a D.P. and had already had signs of being not well in terms of my ‘womens’  health. I’d missed days of work due to pain and more so my GP sent me to a Specialist who on testing determined, if I wanted it, that a hysterectomy would not only alleviate the fibroids and other parts that were challenging my health but would give me a quality of life better than I had now. So, mid my first year, I had the full abdominal surgery as it was done then and needed 8 weeks off school to recover well enough to return to school. Best decision for my on-going health ever. I tapered to menopause pretty naturally over the next decades as the doctor left my ovaries intact.

Tertiary Study.

I won’t lie that doing an M.Ed and working full-time was easy but it was better after the five years of part-time study for the Bachelor of Education AND being a teaching A.P. The learning I did in terms of tertiary writing gave me experience that could be transferred into my work like as I could do submissions and applications for funding well. I learned the lingo and we had success. My M.Ed. assignments were still sent in by mail but I used a Commodore 64 at home. My colleague and I had to attend a Residential School in Wagga at Charles Sturt University for a week and it was paid for by the Dept of Education. Very fortunate and we got to engage in tutes and discussions. The year we graduated we both went with our families and for me, it was my first and only time at a Graduation Ceremony and it was very special. I highly recommend at least one if you do tertiary study. And in terms of technology, it was at this school I became a convert to Apple Mac. It’s stayed! Even though in my other school where I was principal it was all P.C.

Family Matters.

I can barely remember specifics but those late 1980s and early 1990s were huge ones for our children. Without writing too much as I have to be careful of personal matters and privacy. One went off to high school, one did the H.S.C. and got into University. She wasn’t sure what she wanted to do, but elected teaching after a B.A. and has indeed used her degree. The younger one found school a challenge as he neared the senior years, and whist very gifted, school did not work for him, so he left and started manual labour jobs (which he loved) at the end of Year 11. Our daughter worked through Uni, still lived at home but by 21 moved out to make a home with her then boyfriend of some years. And some years later, became engaged. And, planned a wedding. Yes. Before Uni finished. Hosted our daughter’s wedding. It was a great day and evening in 1994.

Homes and Houses.

Somewhere in the mid 1990s when banks were bending over backwards to lend people money for houses we got caught up in the ‘hype’. We were earning well and living in a house that was in need (we thought then) of more space, even though it was only us two and our son. We had already added a pool, a second storey, and converted the garage but…instead of doing more there (and over-capitalising as they say) we bit that bullet of trust and all things future centred and sold the original home …..to build in a totally new area of north western Sydney. Now me wishes past me had not done this.

But we did. Full-on. BUILT a one-0ff three level mansion in an exclusive suburb and moved in early 1994. What a beautiful house it was (still is!). In fact it looked great as the Bride-to-Be left it. However, this house really was not quite a home. Hard to explain but looking back, we over-stepped the mark financially and in terms of what we needed as a house. But wait, there’s more….

Fast forwarding somewhat we did not stay long in the ‘house we built’ as my husband who had since begun a business as a cabinet-maker was somewhat burdened by the nature of the building industry and its demands…of the builders he worked with and eventually ill-health took a terrible toll and he had to close the business and to repay debts, we had to sell the house. Sigh.

Our first home, somewhat changed but still how we left it in 1993 when we sold.

We built this home & my husband did all the internal fitouts. Alas, we sold within 4 years.

Becoming Grandparents. 

Life with two children (ours) was interesting as they are almost a generation apart. So, while one was still at high school – the other was married, a graduate of University and ready to become a mother. Life is rarely predictable of course. In fact, I would hasten to add, 1996 was for me, one of my worst years to live through until “this happened”. Our little Christmas gift of a beautiful baby granddaughter was balm on the sores of a year of not-great news for my husband’s health and business, a car accident for me where I was rear-ended, a broken bone finally discovered a few months too late in my left foot after a slip in a shop….and deciding that the role of principal at the school where I had been relieving principal was not one I wanted.

Christmas “Baby” grandchild…then and still! 22 years later.

Life’s Ups and Downs.

We knew we were in financial straits and the only way out was to sell the house we upgraded to in 1994 and we were, in some ways, grateful this was an answer. However, it was a decision I did not find I could manage easily and growing resentment and sadness about the how and what was also added to when my husband required major surgery again. I was never great when this was on – worrier me. Before this, we had liquidated the business and for anyone who has done that it means you pay off and out anyone you owe money to. Whilst I was not an active partner in the business I was there as a signatory and we had a lot of money called in. Selling the house and returning cars and vehicles on lease, repaying those we owed for short loan terms (family) meant, over the course that we were left with substantially less money to even consider purchasing another house.

Health Matters. 

Health is paramount of course and the years above, particularly towards the end of this era took a toll mentally and physically on me. I needed a time-out from work and funnily enough, my daughter had the offer to return to school for full-time teaching when her baby was 6 weeks old and I put my hand up because I was able to work part-time for a while. This respite from school matters helped me recover, even though it is very tiring caring for a baby I had amazing memories. My husband, ever the one to re-emerge from challenges, went back to teaching. It was a big ask but he found work in various schools casually, then permanently and our life settled enough for us to consider starting again. In a new house, in a new suburb. Always together in the good and not so good times, I needed to get on board with enthusiasm. I didn’t like where we were going but I did understand it was where we could afford. Life hey!

Moving On. 

Selling the lovely house, moving into a rental house (with no real air-con in the midst of summer) was almost cruel but we did it. I must say my husband’s courage, as he recovered from surgery and putting up with me (moody much?) is to be commended. I went back to full-time work as the non-teaching D.P. until, surprise….in early 1998 the school’s student population had dropped and after a long time out of the classroom, I would be back there for Day One 1998. I took this as a challenge and it sure did get me familiar with kids, class organisation and programming but it was short-lived and I was non-teaching again. With the ups and downs of student numbers, I felt I needed to take a look at my career path. I was in my late 40s and maybe I needed to move on. But to where?

I was appointed for the second half of 1998 to a new-to-me school as their Relieving Principal. It was a baptism of fire…as are many new roles but in this case, I had some good people to work with, even though I had a lot to learn. I was given a lovely farewell from my school of almost 10 years AND there I was. On the cusp of ‘where do I go’ in 1999.

But first.

A New House.

With employment for us both, and a reasonable deposit for 1998, we found a house/land package in North Western Sydney and chose our add-ons and hoped we could include a pool one day. We were back to a single storey, 4 bedroom house, 2 bathrooms (our son was still at home) but it was not quite the house we had left. Never mind, I had to get over that. We made some adjustments to the basic house and moved in at the end of Winter 1998.

What’s Next?

Oh gosh. 1999 proved to be big! But I will leave it here. The next chapter will be about the end of 1998 and into 1999.

Next Chapter: My first (and as it turned out only) role as a substantive principal and how health matters more than wealth.

Denyse.

Joining each Wednesday with Sue and Leanne here for Mid Life Share the Love Linky.

For the first time, I have linked here too: GoodRandomFun

On Thursdays I link here for Lovin Life with Leanne and friends and on Fridays, it’s Open Slather here with Alicia.

Copyright © 2019 denysewhelan.com.au – All rights reserved.

 

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Learning To Deal With Uncertainty Via Cancer. 2018.28.

Learning to Deal With Uncertainty Via Cancer . 2018.28.

In the past four years I have been on such a long and hard learning experience.

Perhaps I am short-changing that time frame.

Possibly it has been since 2003 when I had to resign, for medical reasons, from my substantive role as a K-6 Principal.

However, in May 2004  I was deemed well enough to return to teaching duties only and that was fine by me because I actually missed schools!

In my working life in N.S.W. public schools from 1970 until 2010 I liked the certainty:

  • of the school day,
  • the rhythm of schools
  • and the fact that my work life was timetabled
  • and I could work knowing I had familiarity and knowledge.

I now modify the above by adding: no school day was ever the same and of course there were many uncertain times and experiences but they were all familiar and I understood them well.

In the years following my retirement from teaching in 2010 up to 2014 I decided that helping families learn more about transitioning to school would be good and set up a solo education consultancy. There was some certainty in this once I found a group of early childhood centres who were not only interested in my work, but would pay me a fee too. Win!

In 2013 I was fortunate to meet then Prime Minister Julia Gillard who thanked me for my work in education.

What changed for me and how did I HAVE to learn to deal with uncertainty?

Three major triggers during 2014 and into 2015.

  1. Deciding to sell our Sydney home of over 18 years, pay off the mortgage and other debts and move to rent a place on the Central Coast.
  2. Resign or down-grading my employment status in education: teaching at Uni, having my business and remaining as an observer for (then) NSW Teachers’ Institute.
  3. Leaving the families of our adult children and their children with whom we have loved and connected from 1996 to the present including daily child-care before they started school.

I have written about them before, but the memories of those times appear in my ‘on this day’ in Facebook and in ‘time hop’ so I see and recall them usually with a sickening thud to my gut. But then because it is NOW in 2018 and I am learning much more about how to manage uncertainty I am able to counter it!

Sign Above Where I Blog. B.Be Brave O.Optimistic L.Learning & Loving. D. Determined Denyse.

Where were we?

The rational and thinking brain does not  know why because it was logical back in 2014 and KNEW the decisions we were making to commence what felt like a proper retirement for us both were right. We needed to have no more debt. We wanted to live away from Sydney. We had been told my our family that childcare was no longer required.

The thing is, I found out in many hard ways that I had created a situation (or actually more than one) where my inner soul and feelings were in conflict with my brain choices. I spent all of 2015 trying to make sense of it and until a psychologist told me: Denyse, feelings take a lot longer to catch up with decisions and change, I felt I was doing it all wrong!

And in some ways I was.

I was ignorant of so much. I finally accepted the sadness and grief that enveloped me for that year. I actually thought things would improve for me when we moved house at the end of 2015 but it was short-lived. My brain was now on super alert setting and affected my decisions and my life. I tried medications (no, none helped) and meditation (a little bit helped) and walking and art too.

But it was not until I started learning more about the Buddhist way of living in the now, as it is all the certainty we know from teachers Pema Chodron, Jack Kornfield, Tara Brach, and Anne Lamott  more that I clicked:

OH. I cannot control anything really.

At all. I can control my responses.

A big gap was closing in my learning. My husband had been doing his level best to enlighten me but I was not ready. Or, I was obstinate and wanted proof!

So for all of 2016 I continued to ‘try’ to accept things but then I would revert to the default in my brain and work on all the ways “I” could control life. This did not make a happy Denyse even though I felt I needed to look like I had things under control. Ha! My Irritable Bowel Syndrome told me in its very special way “no you do not!”.

Into 2017 we (my brain and my feelings) went… and matters worsened. And I hated how reclusive I became. I rejected ideas of trying exposure therapy because ….no control!  It was a to and fro between head and heart (with the gut in the chorus) until matters changed dramatically.

Late March – early April 2017.

I HAD to follow through with using graded exposure therapy to get my awfully sore gums and teeth sorted. I did.

It felt a bit better and when my new local GP met me and suggested a small dose of an evening anti-depressant from the ‘old school’ which would help ‘firm up’ my IBS issues, I trusted him and gave things a go.

THEN. May 2017.

I had a biopsy, I thought something serious was wrong in my mouth post teeth/bridge extraction and I was right. Squamous Cell Carcinoma in my upper gums and away I went on the cancer journey.

WHAT DOES HAVING CANCER HAVE TO DO WITH UNCERTAINTY?

Everything for me. I had to change so much in terms of my ill-founded beliefs that I could control my life.

Nope. That was a BIG lesson.

What I did learn, and have  learned every.single.day. since May 2017 is that I need to trust those who care for me and provide their services as they know more about this cancer of mine than I ever will.

This does not mean I surrender because no-one does that without thinking. What I learned about myself is that I can get through some very tough times (I did and have) because I can let time pass, let my body heal in its way and take the advice of those who are experts in the field where I am not.

Of course I ask questions! In fact, I sent off about 20 before my huge initial surgery in July 2017 but I had a much greater sense of security in having met the Professor and Associate Professor, the Prosthodontist and the Practice Manager. No-one seemed to mind my questions and it was clear to me, that by asking I was helping myself be better prepared for not only cancer surgery but for the relative uncertainty in the life ahead.

On Thursday last…waiting for the next part of the treatment. Selfies rule, right?

And now, into almost the fourth month of 2018 I am now driving myself to the prosthodontist appointments in Westmead and managing my physical and emotional health whilst doing so…and in between visits and surgeries I am doing the best I can to stay well and do as is required for my continued health.

I am letting uncertainty into my life as a gift for what it teaches me:

patience

courage

confidence

trust

I have said, more than a few times, that this cancer diagnosis (and subsequent surgeries and treatments) has helped me get back a Denyse I really like being and a person who is more out-going (as I used to be many years ago) and one who is more loving and giving to others.

What lesson(s) in life have you learned about yourself?

Do you have any issues with surrendering control?

Tell me more in the comments if you are prepared to share!

Denyse.

Joining with three generous and sharing bloggers who host link ups:

Kylie Purtell here for the I Blog On Tuesdays link up.

Sue L and Leanne L  here who host the Midlife Share the Love Linky Party on Wednesdays.

Leanne who is the sweetest hostess here on Thursdays for Lovin’ Life.

 

 

 

 

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