Tuesday 2nd March 2021

Telling My Story. Chapter Twenty Five*. 2020. Pt.3/3. 103/2020.

Telling My Story. Chapter Twenty Five*. 2020. Pt.3/3. 103/2020.

Well over a hundred three years ago ….I thought it was time, seeing I had a blog, to start writing my story. It was on advice from a blogging friend, now published author (her story is here) that I did. Then, for a long time I did not. Because cancer was diagnosed.

Nevertheless, I eventually returned to the story and now I am at...Chapter Twenty Five*. Part Three of Three.

So, in keeping with my ethical approach to all things, I am making the chapters about MY recollections to various changes in life for me, and us, and life as we knew it. I hope I can continue sharing the story without any intentionally negative or hurtful references to others who are in my life as friends and family members.

To read the earlier two parts of this Chapter go here for Part One (January, February, March & April) and here for Part Two (May, June, July & August).

 

WHAT A YEAR! 

Let’s get on with the final part of Telling My Story….2020.

SEPTEMBER.

But first, here’s to the Dads in my life:

Father’s Day Collage

I did not expect to be continuing to be recovering from surgery but yes, that is so. I was treated at home for 3 weeks by a Wound Nurse who took care of checking the wound, changing the VAC machine that helped heal me and then, as I did so well, signed off so I could visit my GP’s Nurse three times a week. Gosh people. Life is good…hey!

I could not drive (again) because of the machine and its attachment to me, so my dear husband (yet again!) drove me to Chris O’Brien Lifehouse for my 6 month head and neck cancer check with my surgeon.

It was the first time my husband had been back with me here since early 2018. Certainly COVID had made some differences in protocol but not to the great ambience we both felt with my head and neck surgeon Jonathan and his surgical assistant, Cate.

Here’s the story of that visit!

It’s always good to see my team. I love them! And the best part of that visit was when Jonathan said “See you in a year!” WHAT? Blown away. I am doing well!!

Mind you they had some fun at my expense with the VAC system I was carrying! Thanks to social media Cate knew about my surgeries. I was advised that my CT scan of chest and neck was fine and to go see my prosthodontist when I could. I did.

 

With My Prosthodontist: I was back in a few days with mouth pain, but with some anti-biotic treatment it went away!

SPRING WEATHER & MEMORIES!

OCTOBER.
What a special month!

October is special because we have a grandson’s birthday and my husband and I celebrate the anniversary of our meeting each October. Just sneaking into October, I was able to say “bye bye” to all wound care. On 6th October I was F R E E. The body, the doctors and  nurses, the VAC system and I had healed me. Hallelujah!

We had a school holiday trip to our son’s place on the outskirts of Sydney to celebrate an early birthday with H and listen to the stories and share much with R, E and M. We loved it.

OUR HOLIDAY!

On 17th October 2020 we celebrated our fiftieth anniversary of meeting. Now, for the first time in over 5 years we planned a short trip to the north western city of Tamworth where we met. We set off on the Monday, venturing into the country roads we remembered so well and with shared driving the trip was most enjoyable.

The next day we went to the top of Oxley Lookout to take in the view of Tamworth and then drove the hour or so to my first school at Barraba. We had morning tea and did a small tour of the spots important to me. They were the house where I lived in 1970 and to the school where I taught.

The town itself was less active and we could understand that. Both of us were worn out too by some of the emotional memories that flooded back.

One was of where I gave birth to our daughter in 1971 and we realised that we had seen and done enough of the memory lane and came back to our most comfy house. Glad to have done this trip.

And back into our retired lives here on the Central Coast of NSW.

PHOTOS, FLOWERS, RIVER & MORE.

OCTOBER into NOVEMBER. 

My improved physical health, fewer restrictions in NSW thanks to good COVID numbers meant I could be out and about more and enjoying what IS retirement now, post my head and neck cancer surgeries and treatments. But first, Beyond Five changed their name to Head and Neck Cancer Australia. Congratulations to them and I remain a very committed volunteer Ambassador into 2021.

 

I was also delighted to have these kind words written about me by Nadia Rosin CEO of Head and Neck Cancer Australia on the occasion of my great outcome at my September visit to my surgeon, Professor Jonathan Clark AM who is the Chair of Head and Neck Cancer Australia.

SNIPPETS & MEMORIES

Time To Renew My Photo Collage for the Blog and On Facebook.

NOVEMBER

  • I remembered my parents’ wedding anniversary: they last celebrated together in 2006 for their Diamond (60th) Wedding Anniversary
  • It got me thinking about “our” up coming Golden (50th) Wedding Anniversary in January 2021.
  • So, then my thinking got me…interested in lots of Etsy, convincing my husband to go along with my plans (he said yes!) and then lots of in-person visits to so-called cheap shops – buying up golden type decorations as there was a bit about for Christmas…
  • And finding places on Etsy which made amazing posters. I am going to save sharing these till the actual anniversary but let me tell you, there are clever people out there and how well they can make items for display for a special occasion
  • My husband and I had fun too ‘getting the info’ we wanted to share: how many places we had lived in, how many cars…and the like.
  • I also started getting more memories out that could prove useful for my version of the day when we celebrate.
  • We settled on a family lunch here because the actual date IS  Saturday 23rd January and we will welcome our two adult kids, their kids and one partner of a grandchild. We will be a lunch party of 13. Our daughter is making the cake (to her dad’s likes) and we will put on a pretty easy cold lunch.
  • Dad lent me the Golden Wedding Anniversary Scrapbook I made for him and Mum for 1996 to read over too. And the 60th one as well.
  • After seeing Dad one time this month, I visited Uberkate Jewels and left my precious Ubercircles chain to have a very small circle added. I have it now and it is very special.
  • Our 2 eldest granddaughters visited for a photo shoot of us for our 50th. What fun we had.
  • I recalled the lovely day a year ago when I met my blogging friends to celebrate my 70th.
  • On my birthday this year, my husband drove us both to see my Dad as he had not done so for a while, and we had a lovely morning tea for me. I brought it but that is fine!

The two of us.

Sometimes something surprising happens when you look outside. This was that! From our glass kitchen splashback one morning.

 

DECEMBER

Could we believe that we might be able to celebrate Christmas “with” COVID still hanging around? Yes, we could.#perhaps not. See below.

Along with:

  • remembering social distancing: 1.5 metres between people
  • limits of numbers at gatherings (mind you, this keeps shifting like the proverbial goal posts!)
  • use of masks where social distancing cannot be practised…except basically no-one but a handful at my local shops are doing this..and that includes me.

However….that said, Australia is grateful to be an island surrounded by sea as is our next-door neighbour New Zealand as it’s because of that, and the closing of our respective countries’ borders early that we have done reasonably well. But even that sounds crass and not empathetic and many people lost their lives in COVID times, with the state of Victoria having the most. I truly send my condolences to all here and around the world where you have been personally affected.

At the time of writing, the first vaccines are being administered in the hardest hit country (to date, my thinking) U.S.A.

It is also the place where the current President whose names rhymes with rump will not accept he lost the November 2020 election to Joe Biden. Mr Biden will be sworn in on 20 January 2021.

FAMILY. 

When I was at Dad’s place on 30 November, I did a walk around the walls where he has many of the family photos and some of them are large collages made by me for him to have memories on his walls. It was interesting for me to re-visit them to regain a renewed sense of gratitude for my life, the lives of those who went before me and to my parents. In fact my very first post for Telling My Story is this one: About Mum (Noreen) and Dad (Andrew).

L:Mum’s parents. Dad & Mum. 1946. R: Dad’s parents.

CHRISTMAS MEMORIES & MORE.

As I write it is mid December with just under 10 days till Christmas Day. This year we are driving to Sydney to enjoy Christmas lunch with our daughter and son and some of our grandchildren. Back in our days living closer we often entertained on Christmas Day and I was pleased to do so. Before I took over the reins for our side of the family Mum and Dad hosted. This is how it works for us. Not doing too much (although I used to..of course) and it really IS about getting together.

UPDATE: Covid…..

If anything was going to change our year, it was “this” quiet and unseen danger.

 

The trouble with COVID19 is that it is:

#invisible

#most places

#highly contagious

#can be asymptomatic

In the time I want to  publish this on Wednesday 23 December, 2020, it could be that life with COVID in Australia, particularly NSW where I live, could have changed what our plans might be…again.

I also got to see some of the family who live in Sydney when I visited my prosthodontist for a sore mouth check on 22 December. My mouth’s skin is sometimes irritated by a tooth of the prosthesis but I can see why more and know, as he said my management inside my mouth is great. Phew.

What I will do, however is UPDATE this post over the days till the end of 2020 if needed.

I do wish you all the very best time ahead. It IS meant to be fun, festive and family and friends time and I hope that works out for you too.

And be kind…..to yourselves first.

Denyse.

To my twitter friends: this was lovely to make. The first circle apparently people I tweet with most and so on to the outer circle. I love my twitter friends.

 

 

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Telling My Story. Chapter Twenty Five*. 2020. Pt.2/3. 51/51. #LifeThisWeek.102/2020.

Telling My Story. Chapter Twenty Five*. 2020. Pt.2/3. 51/51. #LifeThisWeek.102/2020.

Well over a hundred three years ago ….I thought it was time, seeing I had a blog, to start writing my story. It was on advice from a blogging friend, now published author (her story is here) that I did. Then, for a long time I did not. Because cancer was diagnosed.

Nevertheless, I eventually returned to the story and now I am at...Chapter Twenty Five*. Part Two of Three.

So, in keeping with my ethical approach to all things, I am making the chapters about MY recollections to various changes in life for me, and us, and life as we knew it. I hope I can continue sharing the story without any intentionally negative or hurtful references to others who are in my life as friends and family members.

 

*Rightio…how DID I jump from my last chapter..Telling My Story which was Chapter Twenty to here?

No, I did not secretly write the posts and then not publish them.

But I did have a brainwave…do 2020’s chapter while it is fresh in my mind.

So, here I am with the second four months of “THAT” year we won’t forget in a hurry: 2020. Last Wednesday I published the first four months here.

This is the last post of #LifeThisWeek I will publish the final one of Telling My Story 2020 on Wednesday 23rd December.

Then, over time in the first months of 2021 I will write:

Chapter Twenty One (2015),

Chapter Twenty Two (2016- mid May 2017),

Chapter Twenty Three (later in May 2017 – 2018),

Chapter Twenty Four (2019)

In this, the last post for Life This Week, I want to thank each of you who has linked up, read and commented this year. You are very much valued as a part of this community. I am posting again this Wednesday to conclude this series (the Chapter for 2020 I mean!) and will be back on board for:

MONDAY 4 January 2021. 1/51 Word of The Year. Optional Prompt.

 

Part Two of Three. Chapter 25. 2020.

Now, on with the months of May, June, July and August of 2020.

I have to warn you whilst there are no gory photos there may be some details of the ailments I had that are not pleasant to read. Nor, of course, were they pleasant to have!

MAY 2020.

Family.

Our second granddaughter turned 21 in the early days of May. On the same weekend when the Premier of NSW announced, during a COVID update,  that families could visit each other in their houses, S had her ‘lockdown ISO’ party which she shared with us,  around 2 hours away, via facetime. Her Mum, boyfriend and siblings made it a special night and I am told, she got the cake cooked by her mum as was requested! Congratulations, S!

We actually saw her and the family the very next weekend as it was Mother’s Day and my daughter invited us to her house for Morning Tea. That was the first time we had ventured to Sydney since March. It felt strange being on the M1 and it was not too crowded. Delighted of course to see our family. It was lovely.

On the Tuesday afterwards I drove back down again, in a different direction, to see my Dad on the northern beaches. I had not seen him for at least 3 months as we were being very cautious in making contact with such an older person in an independent retirement place. I took all precautions and they had strict protocols for me and paperwork. I admit, I did give Dad a few hugs. He had missed human  contact other than generally on the phone.

 

My Self Care In May.

My emotional health took a bit of a battering as COVID struck with all its limitations, rules, changes and moving of goal posts. I am not great with change but do accept it’s needed and so I offer myself more kindness, easier inner talk and times out (if possible) by myself in the car and to possibly enjoy a coffee. I was delighted to find a takeaway stall on one of my Sunday drives, and then over time, with limitations some of my fave coffee places which had stayed open, could have a small number of people sit for coffee.

I kept up my art and craft practices and set myself small goals and got immersed in fulfilling those. With the Index Card a Day Challenge starting in June I was ready for that. I did some treat cooking for me and for my local GP practice as the doctors and front office staff went through a LOT in terms of dealing with the regulations and patients!

I continued with drives over to the water once COVID regulations about exercise meant you could walk where you went. I did. Sort of. To take photos. Noticing things in nature always helps me and I really needed it because I had health matters to deal with that were significant.

I also acknowledged that it was 3 years on 17 May 2020 since my oral cancer diagnosis. Important to remember, reflect and be grateful.

Health Matters. May, June, July and August.

I will do my best to use short and helpful sentences..and as my husband suggested: dot points.

MAY:

  • I needed to finally, and actually rather urgently see my female G.P. about the bothersome rectal issues. When I saw her, it was “do this, go here, see him” and “YOU have your whole life ahead of you” Get this sorted. She “IS” that kind of doctor and I love her for it but that day I got a bit scared.
  • She sent me to the Colo Rectal Surgeon and to my embarrassment (not his) I was very reluctant to go through with what he suggested first. A colonoscopy. Why? Rectal bleeding and obvious (he saw, not me, I just knew) rectal prolapse.
  • THIS was a condition I had lived with, tried to anyway for well over 2+ years, and I KNEW it was not good. I blamed IBS for my sometimes incontinence and ageing..but as I have found out no, it was the rectum being very lax and ‘falling out’. Sorry to write that.
  • Off home with the news, and the Colonoscopy pack. It was mid COVID restrictions at private hospitals and I opted for mine at the place 5 minutes up the road. No can do. Till June.
  • Waaahh. That is me who does not like to wait.

JUNE:

  • OK, people, with me it was nerves and more that put me off the colonoscopy but I also knew that without doing that nothing would change.
  • Facing up to it, hating the preparation and the aftermath at home, my dear husband took me to the private hospital up the road and left me.
  • The nurses were kind, the prep sure had done its work and….
  • The outcome, as told to me by the surgeon, was no cancer..but a pretty awful rectal prolapse which he strongly suggested needed repair and to come see him very soon.
  • We did, it was very helpful to have my husband there. The surgeon explained how he would perform an abdominal rectopexi. He would go in via my very old hysterectomy scar, pull up the rectum and sew it onto bone low on my spine near the coccyx.
  • Recovery would be in hospital for at least 4 nights and he predicted success. I was ready to trust him.

JULY:

This post tells something of what was to come for me.

  • Testing, testing. Bloods needing for the major abdominal surgery coming up.
  • Then to the private hospital in COVID times for booking in. In actual fact, it was a phone pre-op consultation but I needed to attend the hospital some 45 minutes away for ECG and pick up pre-operation info and prep. No not the awful prep. Phew.
  • I admit the nerves did play up a bit but I have dealt with 4 cancer surgeries AND I trusted this doctor and his goal for me and my GP too.
  • On a freezing late July morning my husband drove me – bag packed with nighties, all I needed for entertainment i.e. phone & ipad, and loose pants – because coming home my abdomen would be swollen & tender.
  • I was literally dropped off because of COVID.
  • Interestingly the prep I had to take at home before surgery was a drink of electrolytes and I had to have an all over shower body wash with their particular sterilising skin liquid.
  • The worst part for me …is always the waiting before going into theatre but this time was made worse as my surgeon insisted on a series of enemas. OMG. Not happy, in fact I got teary with the kindly nurse. She understood but the back and forth in a gown to the loo…made little better by being on a bed close to it. Sigh.
  • Anaesthetist was very thorough with his questions and also had to give me a spinal. Not impressed by the anaesthetic nurse who was very stressed about my veins. Shout out to him: not good to show frustration in front of patient who is already nervous.
  • Then I was GONE. Out like the proverbial.
  • Recovery: very aware of the pressure boots keeping my legs active, the fact that I could not feel from my waist down, catheter in and to be honest, felt well because “it’s over”.
  • Hiccup in communication between staff in recovery – it was busy – COVID restrictions were easing for capacity – meant I stayed in recovery about 2 hours longer than needed…grrr. Could have been in my room.
  • Something unexpected as my surgeon told me the morning after: he did the horizontal cut as planned but when opening me up, there was a hernia which would need repairing. It required a vertical cut to access it, from the first cut to my bellybutton. All stitching was internal with tape holding the outside wounds. I literally had an upside down T wound area.
  • Fast forwarding: I had an OK time recovering but not comfortable at all. My eating was hampered by my mouth and whilst I could have anything to eat, I was worried about …diarrheoa. Trust me, it didn’t happen but I needed reassurance and my surgeon was prepared to let me go home a day early even before bowel movement because I was needing home. He was lovely. Still is!
  • Saw him at a check up about a week or so later and he told me I was a star patient. Oh, I needed to hear that.
  • No driving, but that was OK. I was just so relieved that all was well  and miracle of miracles, no incontinence. Yay. Unreal.

AUGUST:

  • But. It was not to continue as a star recovery.
  • Around 2 to 3 weeks post-recovery, and I was still not able to drive, there was some redness appearing on the surface near my bellybutton. Husband took me to GP who advised ‘could be a ‘haematoma’ …we’ll keep an eye on it. I did, with photos. BUT….the area of the upside down T was needing greater cleaning by me. At shower time. Sigh. OK.
  • Whilst I am not great with complications, I also understand they occur. Even with ‘me’ doing everything right. I wrote here about what happened.
  • Then I wrote in detail here of the timeline, the circumstances and why it took me till October 2020 to be fully recovered!

 

What a Four Months That Was! 

But wait, there is MORE.

Daily Life with COVID19.

No, we did not have it..phew and all that. But we had to, like everyone, live around its restrictions and rules, and to be safe. For us, who are pretty conservative and intelligent people in their every day lives, it was fine. Really. You see, due to our health matters and not much income, it was never on our agenda to have overseas holidays, or even interstate ones so, unlike many, being home-bound in some ways did not bother us.

I made it work for me, the person who enjoyed her daily outings, by varying what I did at home and combined with my cooking/baking mojo returning, I found I could enjoy a coffee and treat at home some days. I also re-discovered reading the women’s mags. I did! Some got ditched soon after buying, but I have been reasonably surprised by the quality reading in the Australian Women’s Weekly so I buy that now. We gave up our physical paper delivery ages ago and get the Sydney Morning Herald as a digital subscription. All the local newspapers, which I used to love, are gone to digital land…except for one free community paper each week. I still enjoy something physical to read.

I continue my audible subscription each month and listen to some books in the car, and others at night in bed. I have taken to reading along in some cases with the physical book when accents become too hard for me to fathom which character is who!

My art is always here for me. I have, as many know, a dedicated area near my computer for all things creative. Making designs and mindful mandalas is the g0-to for me when I need to ‘concentrate’ or be mindful on just one thing!

Cooking now has a rhythm for a meals each week and we tend to use our batch-cooked meals a couple of times a week, and eat meals made from scratch on others. My dad is the recipient of some of the frozen home cooked meals.

Head and Neck Cancer Awareness and Support.

In the weirdest year ever…. COVID …to date…all things meeting-wise and catch ups were off the table. Therefore the organisation for which I volunteer had to re-think what it did to get messages and support out there for patients, families, carers and professionals.

The June Patient forum at which I was to speak was cancelled and morphed into an on-line program over many days and weeks. My part, on line as recorded by me here, was to respond to my psychological reactions to and management of having head and neck cancer.

The usual fundraising event for Beyond Five was Soup for the Soul and the physical events were not happening, nor were there any of our local Central Coast meet ups. Nevertheless, we worked on getting messages out there via You Tube, and of course, Zoom Meetings. I was not great at zoom so not that involved but as mentioned last time, my interview was on line about nutrition.

More from COVID Year 2020 for Me To Remember!

Apart from hospital homecomings… THIS was a big day and much needed..our son and his four kids came for lunch. Ahhh that’s better!

Grateful for Family Visits.

Thank you for reading..if you got this far. I am incredibly grateful to my readers and commenters.

Denyse.

Link Up 220

Life This Week. Link Up #220

You can link up something old or new, just come on in.

* Please add just ONE post each week! NOT a link-up series of posts, thank you.

* Feel free to go with the prompt for the week to add your ‘take’ on the prompt. Or not.

* Please do stay to comment on my post as I always reply and it’s a bloggy thing to do!

* Check out what others are up to: Leave a comment on a few posts, because we all love our comments, right!

* Add a link back to this blog in your post somewhere, or on your sidebar or let others know somewhere you are linking up to this blog’s Life This Week.

*Posts deemed by me, the owner of the blog & the link-up, to be unsuitable for my audience will be deleted without notice. These may include promotions, advertorials and any that are overly religious or political or in any way offensive  in nature.

* THANK you for linking up today! Have a great break from now till the New Year. May You Be Well! 
The next link up will be Monday 4th January 2021. Optional Prompt: Word of The Year.

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Telling My Story. Chapter Twenty Five*. 2020. Pt.1/3. 101/2020.

Telling My Story. Chapter Twenty Five*. 2020. Pt. 1/3. 101/2020.

Well over a hundred three years ago ….I thought it was time, seeing I had a blog, to start writing my story. It was on advice from a blogging friend, now published author (her story is here) that I did. Then, for a long time I did not. Because cancer was diagnosed.

Nevertheless, I eventually returned to the story and now I am at...Chapter Twenty Five*. Part One of Three.

So, in keeping with my ethical approach to all things, I am making the chapters about MY recollections to various changes in life for me, and us, and life as we knew it. I hope I can continue sharing the story without any intentionally negative or hurtful references to others who are in my life as friends and family members.

My 7th image for Telling My Story.

 

*Rightio…how DID I jump from my last chapter..Telling My Story which was Chapter Twenty to here?

No, I did not secretly write the posts and then not publish them.

But I did have a brainwave…do 2020’s chapter while it is fresh in my mind.

So, here I am with the first four months of “THAT” year we won’t forget in a hurry: 2020.

Posts to date are here.

Next Monday for the last post of #LifeThisWeek I will publish the next part & then probably the final one on Wednesday 23rd December.

Then, over time in the first months of 2021 I will write:

Chapter Twenty One (2015),

Chapter Twenty Two (2016- mid May 2017),

Chapter Twenty Three (later in May 2017 – 2018),

Chapter Twenty Four (2019)

JANUARY 2020.

On the gratitude path. I chose ‘gratitude’ as my word of the year. I love the idea and have a small bracelet I wear, glancing at it most days where is said ‘gratitude’ on one side, and ‘for life’ on another. I do follow through with what I say and writing this now in mid December I can tell you some days it was harder to find and feel gratitude but I managed it.

The Weather.

From October 2019 most of Australia was already in Bushfire Season. So much of the Eastern side, where we live, was as they say, tinder-dry and ready to start a bush fire. Over the time from then well into January 2020, we (Australians) lived with the actual or almost threat of fire taking property nearby or being affected in some ways. The temperatures outside were high. It was very unpleasant to go outside due to smoke which had arrived thanks to the winds also bringing black, fire-damaged leaves.

We did not see clear skies for many weeks. Fortunately, the amazing work of rural fire services, and of those who live in the communities affected went OK for those of us locally. Other places, including rural & coastal South Coast NSW and parts of Victoria did not with massive evacuations of crowds of holiday makers needing to get safely out of there. Some went literally into the water, others stayed to fight fires and some, in long carparks on single lane highways made their way home. It was awful.

Late January. No blue skies to be seen.

Family.

We have 3 January birthdays in the family. All male from my father who turned 96 on the 11th to our son and his nephew our grandson on the same days later in the month. We did not catch up to celebrate but as is usual sent greetings. I know I would have visited Dad sometime that month for sure. We had a grandson start high school, and other grandchildren go back to school or work as applicable.

Dad is 96. OLD…he agrees

Health.

It was time for my annual eye examination and that occurred pretty early at the local OPSM where the ‘on the ball’ optometrist picked up changes that were likely cataract-based and that his recommendation was to see my opthalmologist I see annually as well. This visit to Castle Hill, where we used to see her, also took me in Castle Towers shops some 5 years after my last visit, and like any stranger in town, I was gobsmacked at the changes, many made because of the light rail. Met my daughter and two granddaughters for lunch before the opthalmologist.

Well. That was a bit of news. Yes, I needed the surgery for cataract removal. Both eyes. Yes my husband was right, health stuff happens more after turning 70…And, yes, she would kindly bulk bill us but we would need to come to Parramatta Day Surgery. Check. Booked. Early March 2020.

Finances.

Without going into details, finances are always tricky in January for us and it is not related to spending from Christmas nor birthdays…it’s CARS! When we sold the house in Sydney in January 2015, we immediately bought new vehicles…the other ones were literally falling apart…and so, that means now annually the cost of CTP insurances x 2. Still, we are safe in our two vehicles and we are both independent having two.

Love my Nissan XTrail

And as always when January draws to a close this happens:

1. We celebrate our Wedding Anniversary. 49 years in 2020.
2. Australia Day happens.
3. Teachers and Kids in the family return to school & one grandson started high school.

The end of January is ALWAYS like this and I often feel it should be me too! Old habits and all that.

FEBRUARY 2020. 

This of course, made 2020 different!

After the awfulness of the fires and the altered ways in which families were forced to find housing, let alone anything they owned, there was on the news something about a virus from China called then CoronaVirus. There were half-hearted jokes relating the beer brand and to be honest, not much attention was paid other than..”oh, that seems pretty awful”…and “hope it stays away from us”. Of course, we hoped that.

The Weather Changed.

After the drought…comes the flooding. Of course. Massive rain fronts and more saved some of the land and its inhabitants from the awful threat of the fires. Still, it did not help the many, many animal casualties and deaths. So much was lost. There is a lot of bush regeneration happening. And we saw blue skies again, eventually, after the rain.

Birthdays.

A most important person has his birthday this month and he is my husband. He does not go all out to celebrate so I do that for us both! He did not do anything at all for his 70th last year so this year, we had a small family get together and his wish for a chiming clock came true.

 

Head and Neck Cancer Support Group Meeting.

2020 is my third year of being part of this group of head and neck cancer patients, their carers and sometime guest speakers. I attend in a dual capacity. I am a patient and the Ambassador for Beyond Five. More about ‘that role’ further on in my memoir.

It’s always good to gather with this crew. We are located here on the Central Coast and our commonality is having a head and neck cancer or being a carer/family member. It’s an open type of meeting and all sure are welcome. We usually share our stories and health updates and at times we have a guest speaker as we did at the first meeting for year in February.

Self-Care Rules. 

My routine for self-care has been mentioned in my regular posts via the Life This Week link up, and I note here what continued into 2020.

Most days I dress with purpose and go somewhere for a coffee. I do this too after I have been to the meetings in Erina, often taking time to drive around the Terrigal area as we now live much further up the coast. I was glad I did this on that February afternoon, and stopped for a coffee and cake at Long Jetty because none of us knew what was coming.

Getting Confident Again.

The persona that was Denyse some years back…way back into say the early 2000s to around 2013…loved to get out and about. To go to the theatre, the movies, meet up with friends. Have lunch, have a coffee. Getting together with friends and family was really important to me. BUT, over time, in this memoir of mine you will see the start of how my mood and other issues affected me. It started here. There will be more to come about the not-great-years-for-me of 2015, into 2016 and the early parts of 2017 in 2021. However, this is me recounting 2020 and I became more inclined to say YES to ideas like this…instead of usually NO, thank you.

Tickets to a Show and Driving to Newcastle and Back – Evening Time.

I have found that with my declining confidence what I needed to do was to challenge myself. In fact, that IS the essence of the theory called Exposure Therapy which I reluctantly took on board in 2016. More about that in posts here and here. Yes, some of it was related to potential IBS and some to ‘I cannot eat outside the home’ because of my mouth’s limitations but more than anything I HAD to give things a go.

I did.

I drove to Newcastle, about 45 minutes away, late afternoon in February, found a secure park in the street near the Civic Theatre (I already knew the place from 2019 attendance at Newcastle Writers Festival) and wandered over, then inside to be part of the audience for Chat 10 Looks 3 with Annabel Crabb and Leigh Sales. It was great. I talked to people next to me. I found the car safely in the night time streets, and drove home the coast road way in the rain. So pleased with myself too!

 

Head & Neck Cancer News.

I had an excellent visit to my prosthodontist in February and he declared all was well with my upper prosthesis and that was it. See you in May he said. Sure thing said I. Neither of us know of course..what was to come! OK..we know it was COVID but let’s  not get ahead of ourselves.

Ambassador Role.

As a patient of Chris O’Brien Lifehouse and of Professor Jonathan Clark AM, Head and Neck Surgeon, it is always a privilege to ‘give back’ in a way to help others. I was invited to be part of a new video series that would be made at “my hospital” as I call it, and I would be interviewed about nutrition following head and neck cancer diagnosis and surgeries. I was initially reluctant but when encouraged by the CEO of then Beyond Five, I said yes. It meant a day at Chris O’Brien, and lots of waiting around for film segments to be completed. However, I got to meet some special people, including two other head and neck patients, and dietitians too. My interview went well after an initial  false start. It can now be found here.

MARCH. 2020. A huge month!

The very next week I was back at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse for my then 6 month check up with my surgeon. I took the chance to do quite a tour of the place as I was not in a rush. In fact, it was the first time, in a formal setting, I saw pamphlets about COVID 19 and restrictions of entry into the hospital and of course, that made sense. Those signs had not been there the WEEK before. Things were moving faster. There were sanitisers at the door as well.

My visit was awesome. See you in 6 months! I got to say good bye to Deb who was leaving the art program I had supported, and I drove home. I did not know I would be back in 6 months but under far stricter protocols….that needs to wait till part 3/3.!

Remember the Confidence Growth?

I was invited to be the guest speaker at a fund raiser for head and neck cancer, hosted by young doctors in training on the Central Coast. One doctor, Caity, knew of me from my Beyond Five story and she too had a story there. Her father, only in his 40s, had died from a head and neck cancer. Knowing the importance of awareness raising and the importance of sharing the messages via the Beyond Five site, there was an evening function – a charity ball they called it- on a delightful, balmy evening at Avoca Beach. I was happy to share my story and to help share my information at my little table where I was talking to various attendees about head and neck cancer.

Little did any of us know, on this first weekend in March, that this would be the end of events such as these, thanks no thanks COVID. Feel really fortunate this went ahead and they raised some thousands of dollars. I remain in touch with Caity and colleagues too.

It was a big boost for my confidence. I used to speak off the cuff as a principal many times, and once I had that mic in my hand it was fine. I did have to find something suitable to wear and I did…and to drive myself from one end of the coast to the other. I did.

Eating remains an issue. But I am OK with that.

What I couldn’t do…was actually eat anything there. I did not pay to attend. I could drink water and that was it. You see, despite my normal appearance eating anything other than some cake with coffee, eating anywhere other than home is problematic.

And Now…Cataract Surgeries. Yes, x two in 3 days!

As a couple we had a rhythm for driving together to Sydney for my cancer treatments initially and then I became Ms Independent and as kids say “I can do it myself.” But not for this.

Monday 9 March 2020.

My dear husband drove us to Parramatta for my midday arrival at the Day Surgery. We were booked to stay just down the road at a new to us Meriton apartment. Fortunately he could access the room, and bring up our food supplies and clothes. Meanwhile I had a LONG wait as many people were there for similar types of eye surgeries. On this day it was my right eye. There were some COVID type precautions including questions about where I had been. No restrictions on other people being with waiting patients.

It is a LONG wait with weird stuff in your eyes but eventually I was ushered in to the next room, given a shower cap, no change of clothes, and onto a trolley. Saw the anaesthetist and his nurse. All checked out OK. His wife is my opthalmologist. I don’t know what he gave me but I have no memory of seeing her or the surgery but waking up, cover over my eye and for some reason I took a lot of selfies. Husband collected me, back into the apartment. Rested up and finally ate something and slept until the next morning when we needed to go back to the Day Surgery for check and drops. Then off home! Yay. Thank goodness for sunglasses (as recommended) because EVERYTHING was bright.

Wednesday 11 March 2020.

Despite having a successful outcome on Monday, for this day trip I was anxious. Maybe my mind is remembering what surgeries are about. Nevertheless with a confidence boost chat to my GP and a wee bit of valium on board, we went. This time the only place my husband could ‘hang out’ was at Westfield Parramatta as I was going home the same day. On arrival, only 2 days post the first surgery, the protocol was already ramped up thanks to COVID. More questions on arrival and a temperature check. Settled down to wait “after the drops in the eyes” and then BOOM..OK, what is that? Oh. A Fire Alarm and no it’s not a practice. Evacuate the building.

Down some 3 flights of stairs, in single file, I admit I started to remember what 9/11 people had done only SO much worse. Outside on the street, we were guided away from the building and waited. The firies came. In an engine and we waited. I was pre-op and whilst the anaesthetists was already there, his wife, my surgeon, arrived just as we were all coming onto the driveway near the Ferry Terminal. So, all we could do was wait. Eventually, thanks to my phone I texted my husband from a concrete set of steps where I sat and we waited. Probably about 45 minutes. Then, all clear. A faulty something or other and we traipsed up the stairs again. Lift was out for a time. The wait was not too bad and I was called in, and this time, saw my surgeon and even “saw some of the coloured lights” as she was inserting the lens. Wow I said. She said “no talking”. So I didn’t. No silly selfies, husband got me and off back up the M1 we went. The next day checks were at rooms closer to our house.

Updates on my eyes. As of December 2020. I see very well for distance and no longer need glasses for driving. Yay. I use a much weaker script in glasses for reading. At the shops I use a $2 plastic pair with 2 vision. I have had a recent check and despite some issues that annoyed me as I already have itchy eyes at times my opthalmologist says all is looking good and these should last me 10 to 15 years. Grateful too that she bulkbilled for these surgeries.

COVID19  GETS SERIOUS. 

On the weekend after my two surgeries above, there were a number of changes to how we here in Australia, and in our state, would now lead our lives. The Prime Minister, used Sunday 15th March to announce a raft of new rules on how we would live and interact day to day and why. He was often flanked with the then Federal Health Person,  and in our state, Premier with her Health head honco, Minister for Health and Police.

It began very seriously from Monday 16 March.

I am using some calendar reminders here!

  • I know that I needed to have both food supplies in for us and I admit it, toilet paper was a high priority.
  • I think I went, as carefully as I could, probably wearing a mask and gloves – whatever we had here at the time – to local supermarkets
  • I could not always get what I sought nor what we wanted
  • I remember feelings of insecurity in me that I may not be able to cook all the meals – for us and the freezer – to have on hand.
  • I know I felt the weight of responsibility

Meanwhile my husband was negotiating seeing his GP and going through medication changes and it was not easy. In fact, it was tough. Even though he could talk to the GP on the phone, some things are far better managed in person.

Our eldest granddaughter has come to stay indefinitely with her other grandparents who also live on the Coast as she has an autoimmune condition so did not want to be at her Mum’s. Mum is a teacher and going to school at that point each day was a risk that she, and her youngest had to take. It got a bit worrying. She popped up to see us…and for a much needed hug…just because she needed to as did we to see her.

Of course, we know now that schools did an amazing job of being flexible and eventually on-line learning worked..hard as it was…and teachers need congratulating along with their leaders.

So we did OK really I guess. I found it hard initially that my practice of going out each day for a coffee was curtailed but I found alternative solutions at home with a strong coffee and my ISObaking  took off!!

Dear Miss Five. 

Our youngest granddaughter, born five years ago at almost the end of March spent her fifth birthday….having her broken arm re-set. It was one of those small accidents but when it’s a little person it is always hard. Staying with her Dad, along with her siblings, when it happened, she was driven to the local public hospital where, as our son said, they could not have been kinder. Her Mum met up with them there. They stabilised her arm, she came back to her Dad’s to open the presents from us and share a facetime even though it was pretty hard…and then next morning, her actual birthday, she went back in to find the nurses had remembered her birthday and she was treated very well indeed. She was fine, and is fine. And as her Dad told her, you just wanted to be the same as me when I was four. True!

April 2020.

We became accustomed to daily updates on COVID numbers of cases in our state and country. NSW was not doing well. Sadly it was where older people lived such as in Nursing Homes that things went downhill rapidly. Each day seemed to bring worse news and added restrictions. Already we knew there would be no Royal Easter Show. Definitely no-one going anywhere on the roads except for essential reasons: work, medical or supermarket.

I find change hard but did my best with this one because we had to do the right thing. Even going for a casual drive to nowhere..or the beach was BANNED and police could pull you up to ask where you were going.

I did immerse myself in busy stuff for my mind, like blogging, art, craft and cooking. I had my cooking/baking mojo back. In general too I was able to source ingredients and do my best to cook for us to have a meal stash in the freezer. Toilet paper was OK. We celebrated Miss 8’s birthday via facetime. I was able to attend some ancillary medical appointments in person. That was a relief…my feet needed it.

Eventually too, my hairdresser was back in a very limited way when they got the OK to do so and my usual 4 weekly hair cut had blown out to 8 weeks but I lasted and I was very relieved to have my back to normal look.

And then on a Friday at the end of the month…oh, there were no ANZAC days services or ceremonies anywhere either…I got slight sore throat and a mild temperature so rang the COVID hotline and my GP and both said, report to local COVID test centre. It was in local hospital grounds 5 minutes away. Not much of a wait. Test was OK. Mask on from the get go….and back home to self isolate. I got my test Friday afternoon and result in wee hours of Sunday morning.

COVID COLLAGE.

And that is that.

2020. Part One of Three.

Denyse.

Did you read it all? Wow. Thank you.

Joining here with Leanne and friends for what I guess will be the last Lovin Life Linky in 2020.

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21/51.#LifeThisWeek. Telling My Story. Chapter Fifteen. 2003. 42/2020.

21/51.#LifeThisWeek. Telling My Story. Chapter Fifteen. 2003. 42/2020.

 

Background…from Telling My Story: Chapter Fourteen published in February 2020.

The story behind Telling My Story is this: I began in May 2017 and then was diagnosed with cancer. I had a lengthy break and returned to the plan to keep on documenting my life, one blog post at a time. Here is the link to the page where they all are now. I also shared this as My Woman of Courage story here.

Where was I?

OK. I know. I was a K-6  school principal.

It was in September 2002 when I could not return to my school.

I was sad, ashamed and very tired as there were different outcomes for me personally and us financially.

But I also had some good things happening in my personal life. I will get to them too.

Life is LIKE that!

Cancer. Leaving My Role as a Principal.

Doctors, Psychologists, WorkCover, Staff Welfare, Dept of Education, Psychiatrists…..

When the school principal is told by her G.P. “you are not to return to that school, nor to be in that role again”, it felt both comforting and helpful.

I had been a patient of my G.P. for decades and she had been doctor to our growing family including my husband and me so knew what else had probably impacted my life as well as school and its responsibilities.

But even before that…the night before, I was left to try to tell my acting boss – who was known then as a District Superintendent, that I would not be going into school the next day…and for sometime after that but he did not understand.

Eventually I must have made inroads into his understanding, after seeing my G.P. who immediately saw this as a work overload matter making me both depressed and anxious. The employer had not taken steps to see me better supported in my school. I told that story in the last chapter.

 

Days into Weeks into Months.

What started as ‘sick leave’ did become workers compensation leave over the next month as I took myself to appointments and interviews.

I had to share my story (see the recent two chapters here & here) and my employer’s representative agreed that yes, there was a case for me to be compensated under Work Cover. In other words, I was paid via that scheme and did not lose sick leave.

But….

I could not and would not attend a school.

It was suggested at meetings that I could transition back to schools but did nothing to improve my mental wellbeing. In fact they made me even more anxious. Then I was offered, later in the year, the chance to ‘work in district office.’ Noooo. I felt such shame and was so anxious about seeing any of my colleagues that I could not envisage any kind of “return to work.”

And…it did not let up.

My mental illness, as it was defined later by a treating psychiatrist, was a reactionary one based on my personality and my role in the school.

It would, over time, resolve but there was medical agreement with my G.P., the employer’s rep and that of work cover, that I could return to “a school” for some days a week but never in the role of a school executive.

In 2003 all that felt like for me was:

F A I L U R E.

 

How I Was Affected By Schools.

Before I continue.

I lived about (then) 40 minutes from the school. I love schools! It had been my life…as a kid and then becoming a teacher and of course, having our children and grandchildren attend schools.

But, I was so scared, worried, ashamed and threatened by “schools” I could not even drive on the road (Windsor Road) that would have been my way to my school without feeling ill.

I was a proud (still am) Grandma but my first foray into the grounds of the school where our daughter was a teacher and our granddaughter in an Infants’ class made me highly alert.

I still felt I was the principal within that school, watching children running everywhere and wanting to tell them to stop. It was not fun. At all.

But, I was also not a victim….and I refuse to play that role any time.

I did know though that I was ill from the stress of my role in a school and so I took the chance to get the help of professionals and did a lot of work for myself. This involved seeing a friend each week for a coffee and over time, driving on the road that went to my school…and one holiday time, I went back and drove around the perimeter. I was sad and it felt wrong that I had to leave it as I did but I also know my health was paramount.

3 amazing grandkids who love me unconditionally and their presence in my lives helped me in this awful time.

 

Giving Up The Role For the Greater Good. 

Despite the urging of my bosses, the meetings with the work cover people and my professionals who agreed I would choose to do what I had to, I could not return to school. Or any school.

What then?

To ensure the school was able to progress into 2003 from my day of departure in September 2002 I relinquished my role.

It could then be advertised for a replacement principal. I was visited at home sometime after that by my then school office assistant who had brought me any personal items from my office and some cards and I recall getting flowers.

I was a sad but relieved person that not everyone ‘hated me’ there.

Photos remind me of my literal ups and downs re weight. Far right, 2003,I was ‘looking good’ but feeling awful inside.

 

But, How Will We Survive Financially?

At this stage of our lives as a couple, we had a mortgage on the house, my husband was in part-time work and I brought in a good salary as a school principal. Work cover continued to pay that but over time, as I stood my ground about not returning to the Department of Education  because of my health things got tricky for us financially.

 

Don’t Give Up Your Superannuation People!

I married my husband (teacher in NSW Dept of Education) in 1971 and in 1972, as I returned to work after maternity leave we made a short-term financial decision that would (still does!) affect us negatively. Back then as both of us was paying into the then BEST ever Super Fund “I” could opt out and save us some much needed dollars. We spoke to my accountant father about this who, it seems, saw this as a win….and over time, agrees “NOT right”.

The reason is this. None of us knew then that  by 1980 my husband’s health would deteriorate to the point that he was medically retired and was placed on a pension from the Super Fund. I was working then and continued to do so, but still had no super. At all.

It was in around 1985 again, my father who advised I try to get back into superannuation. Made sense but nope, I could not.

Once opted out, I was not allowed in….but wait “we have a new fund and you can join that”.

I did. The new fund was different but I did pay into it. I had a sizeable lump sum there in 2003 when I was making up my mind how to access it. Aged 52.

 

Getting Paid Out. Not Easy. At All.

By the beginning of 2003 and into the first few months, I was being harrassed strongly encouraged by my employer and work cover to ‘get back to work’.

Let me tell you now, it was worse in some ways than how I had to leave my job.

Phone calls, meetings…doctors’ appointments, psychological testing…so, with the agreement of my G.P. I decided to “medically retire”.

Um. No. There is no such thing now.

The new and subsequent super funds that took the money from  NSW Dept of Education teaching staff only ever paid out a lump sum IF you were declared NOT FIT TO WORK and you have to RESIGN first.

No pension…and YOU need to prove you are not fit for work.

  1. For someone like me, a dedicated and loyal employee from 27.1.1970 to HAVE to resign was C for crazy but we were P for poor when my salary was being slowly stopped
  2. I filled out the form. It was awful. I also added, though, that I wanted “approval to teach”. I did not want any issues in case I wanted to ever have a day as a casual teacher. I would be pleased I did.
  3. It was accepted. Leave paid out.
  4. I was now free of the dreaded work cover requirements
  5. Got all the forms from the State Super People and completed them…along with the documentation from my G.P. and others.
  6. Attended one of the most stressful appointments ever with a psychologist from State Super and was obliged to complete a 500 question survey to assess my mental health and ability to work.
  7. Found out my application to access my funds  was “Rejected” after that horrid experience.
  8. You are still fit to work according to our rules.
  9. “Dejected” and now time, finally, for me to get some legal help.
  10. My union, N.S.W. Teachers Federation, were wonderful once I got to outline to a welfare officer what had happened.
  11. She arranged a meeting (free) with their lawyers and they heard the rejection story and saw the documentation from the State Super Board.
  12. The lawyer took my information, along with the State Super letters and my reports and so on and sent off the missives that….eventually allowed me to:
  13. Access all of the funds as a lump sum
  14. And retain my right to return to part-time teaching work if I chose.

We paid off this house….

 

Relieved. Getting Better. Breaking My Ankle. Retirement Means This. 

From paying out the mortgage there was a big sigh of relief.

There was also a relatively good amount of money from leave entitlements and by June we decided to “splurge” on a Far North Queensland holiday for 2. We even got a car to drive us to the airport. That was cool. But I must say, for my poor husband whose spine is very damaged from surgeries and more, the flight in economy for over 3 hours was not a good one at all. I was OK but he was not. We picked up the hire car and I drove via the Captain Cook Highway on that most beautiful trip: from Cairns to Port Douglass. Disappointingly though the apartment was accessed by a series of flights of stairs and by the time we got inside, my husband admitted “I cannot fly back like that”. My pain is too much. I agreed. So, the luxury of a return trip by business class meant comfort but took a huge amount of money to obtain so the holiday’s effect was negated! His health was worsening from the load of high school teaching which he took on after the business was liquidated in 1996 so, retirement was his plan too.

We were OK financially without a mortgage but by the time I had a few months at home I sought an art class (it was great) and became a volunteer with the Smith Family. It was around November after I had been answering the phones for them for people requesting Christmas Hampers that I had an accident. At home.

It was a rainy afternoon, I parked on the sloping driveway and as I got out of the car, one foot slipped, and the rest of me came with it, twisting my right ankle badly. I tried to call to my husband – from the letterbox…on the driveway and he did not hear, so I crawled up and made it inside.

Not wanting to over-dramatise it..but I should have actually…I waited for my husband to have a cuppa and we drove to the local medical centre.

Rooky error. I literally had to hop from the car with my good foot as the very sore foot could not weight bear. Oh. The G.P. agreed that X-rays were needed and they had that facility there. After the X-ray showed broken bones, it was “off to local private hospital” because this needs specialist attention.

Long story short: back slab applied, in-hospital stay, saw preferred orthopaedic specialist, “we will operate tomorrow and pin the fibula and tibia”. He did. I came home needing a wheelchair around the house as I couldn’t use crutches (hands needed surgeries for carpal tunnel etc) and I was stuck. The best part was shortly before Christmas at a check up I got a fibreglass cast and then could shower and even get in our pool but getting out was too hard.

Oh, and about that fibula of mine…I did get the screws out sometime in 2004 and in 2017…guess where that fibula went….HERE: The upside down U shape. My fibula cut into 3 with abutments added.

New Jaw is seen here

This sure was a year, 2003.

We did have a lot on our plate between us. But we also had a great family supporting us with care and love and three grandchildren to bring joy. The next year 2004 would prove to be significant too but with some great stories that helped re-build me in many ways.

Grandkids helping me, newly without plaster, to stand up!

Just after my cast came off, a celebration for my Dad’s 80th birthday.

Let’s see what Chapter Sixteen will bring!

Thank you for reading my story started over 3 years ago.

I do print the blog pages out and have them in a folder for future readers.

What were you doing in 2003?

It seems not that long ago, but of course it is 17 years ago!

Denyse.

 

Link Up #190.

Life This Week. Link Up #190.

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8/51 #LifeThisWeek. Telling My Story. Chapter Fourteen. 2001-2002. 16/2020.

Dear Bloggers: I have made some changes to the link-up rules based on some recent experiences. For most of my regular linkers, this is not an issue but as I am getting some newer people come on board, I have added some rules. Thank you. Denyse Whelan.

8/51 #LifeThisWeek. Telling My Story. Chapter Fourteen. 2001-2002.  16/2020.

The story behind Telling My Story is this: I began in May 2017 and then was diagnosed with cancer. I had a lengthy break and returned to the plan to keep on documenting my life, one blog post at a time. Here is the link to the page where they all are now. This too, like the post 2 weeks ago has been a mix of what I wrote back in 2018 over 4 weeks about the challenges and more of being a principal from 1998 – 2003. Today’s post has much of the second two years in it, and the next one, in a few weeks, will outline how challenging (read: hard and stressful) it was to leave the role I had loved. I also shared this as My Woman of Courage story here.

Onward: New Decade and Century. 2001.

This year started in a wonderful way. After one of the hottest, awful January days in Sydney in 2001 this young man became our 3rd grandchild and our first grandson. I wrote something about his birth here and this is a recent photo of US.

My year as a grandmother was very full-on and combined with my role as a principal somewhat precariously – only because I wanted to do both well. Sometime into 2001 I took leave every Wednesday to do a “grandma-daycare” at our place for this young man and his older sister because “I” felt like I needed to help with this kind of care as I had with granddaughter number one. I was trying “not to let school” into my life on those days but it was inevitable with phone calls and catching up the next day with the assistant principal that I acknowledged I could not do both well. Lucky for me my family understood and as already explained they had a great family day care setting to go to.

We were living at Glenwood. My husband was reasonably well but still faced health challenges after his second neck surgery to fuse his spine. He was now working in a high school full-time. Our adult son was living at home. Life was BUSY and my life was full-on. I do recall some minor socialisation happened for me when I might meet a friend for coffee. My educational leadership role was, for a conscientious and practical person like me, all consuming. Very hard to switch off.

We did try, when we could to attend events at school or pre-school for our grandchildren. I recall, taking a day’s half long service leave to attend this young one’s first Athletics Carnival.

My Day as a Principal Started and Ended Like This. Mostly.

I attempted to have a relaxed morning at home, eating my breakfast along with reading the front page of the paper before setting off for school. It was about 30-40 minutes drive and I had a ‘cut off’ point where I could ‘leave home’ behind and the reverse happened on my way home! I was usually the 2nd to arrive at school and generally the last to leave. I did try to leave before the cleaners locked up at 5.30 as much as I could.

I admit I did not self-care well. Sometimes because of the day itself I would not have eaten anything until on my way home. That is the way to ill-health so I took myself in hand, and with the office staff, we had lunch before the school lunch times and that ensured I “ate” better.

I cannot recall specifics of this year at the school as I guess one change lead to another. I do know I dealt with some major difficulties in terms of one parent who berated and threatened me because (I found out later) he hated women and teachers. He was going through a difficult separation from his teacher wife. Sadly my office and the school became the butt of his anger and I had to get an order for him not to enter school grounds. These things are not great for anyone.

As the only non-teaching executive staff member I often had to do much alone in terms of policy making and decisions based on the current school’s needs and demands. This does not mean I was not a team player! However, I was conscious of the fact that teaching executive had dual roles. Therefore I made fewer meeting times and hoped that would suffice for my care of their needs. It did not always play out that way and by the time I got to 2002 the challenges I faced to lead the school well increased.

What Was Different in 2002 School Year?

It was my fourth year as principal. There were many changes within the education system, via the NSW government policies of the day, and in schools themselves. Families may move on due to work changes, sometimes those families are not replaced by new ones so a school population can begin heading downwards.

School staff (teacher and executive staff) may need to take leave for reasons of: family needs, maternity and long service leave as well as sick leave.

The other change heralding 2002 was the need to upgrades of maintenance (big cost jobs) to the school as it was one that was first occupied in the 1940s. Back in 2002 it was up to the principal to make the contacts with contracted companies to get in suppliers who could quote for major works. Then the principal, with enough funds in the school account, could give a project a green light.

I was trained to teach but there I was, like all principals still, being a site manager and a financial manager as well as HR manager. Sigh.

Systemic Changes.

More and more, I noted, as did my principal colleagues that schools were being expected (rightly too) to ensure that Codes of Conduct for staff were not only understood and agreed upon by them but if behavioural issues arose, then the principal would be the first person to begin making an action plan when the code was violated.

There always had been the mandatory notification to the Department back then called Family and Community Services where if a child was deemed by a mandatory reporter (all school staff are) to be ‘at risk’ then a first notification was to be made by telephone. This saw me, often waiting for a person to answer, locked into a phone call because of issues which may look trivial on the outside but may be clues to more.

One such event could be repeatedly coming to school with no food. Other times it could be the child letting her/his teacher know that a parent may be unwell or even violent and it was never our role to investigate but we did need to reassure the child, then make the reports. Over the years I have sat in with a child in my role as a support person (if the child requested that from me) and it is heart-aching to be witness.

Our system, the N.S.W. Department of Education, was updating its role in terms of staff compliance and behaviour. This was nothing new and in fact teachers have had annual reviews in a conversation form for decades. Since I left teaching, this has become a joint venture between the schools and the overseeing body of school governance.

Returning to my principal days.

IF there was a reported incident told to me by a student, parent or staff member where a staff member’s behaviour (spoken, actions or in written form) was not within the Code of Conduct (signed off annually as part of mandatory training) then the principal had to act upon it.

I dealt with the Officers from the Conduct Unit first who listened to what had been reported to me and then I was given advice that it could be managed at school level (guess by whom?) or it could be escalated, with the staff member’s knowledge to a higher authority.

I had to do this on one occasion and the fallout for me came later. The temporary staff member who brought along a permanent staff member as a support person as the complaint was told to her from my account given to me was aghast at the inference.

In fact, there was nothing I had done wrong at all….but remember way back “your role will be to bring this school into the next century” comment by MY boss…this matter was a prime example of how staff thought they could still behave but it was not compliant with the Code of Conduct.

Executive Members of Staff  Were All On Leave.

Not at all related to the above in were two instances where my school staff allocation of experienced executive became diminished’. Apart from me, there were 3 other executive staff at the school by 2002: 2 Assistant Principals and 1 Executive Teacher. They all taught classes too.

The executive teacher was to have a baby and so went on maternity leave, the other, an assistant principal took extended long service leave both for the remainder of 2002 from early in the year.

But wait, there was one more. Yes, this one person who was an assistant principal ‘broke me’ in so many subtle then obvious ways.

And whilst I cannot say much, the continued leave based on medical certificates over and over did cause alarm for the parents of that class as it did me because the year had started well. As it was expected of him by me, this Assistant Principal would perform other executive duties (as do all teaching executive) this person refused and did not return after many months.

Oh, yes, one day there was a return, after hours to access my office and computer telling the only person on site, the cleaner, that “I” had given him permission. Following that, he was disciplined and placed in a different school.

How Did That Affect Me?

In some ways it was a relief but in many more, as we geared up for the mid-year reports, parent-teacher interviews and then Education  Week along with concerts and fund raisers, it was the beginning of my end.

Sadly I did not see it for some time.

I kept on working even harder.

Yes. I was doing the roles of the appointed executive who were on leave.

I know that I did have three teachers put their hands up to do the relieving roles but without the experience and knowledge beyond their classroom teaching, I was giving more and more of myself to duties that were not mine.

I was even writing reports for a class teacher with little experience. I will say now that I know I was over-doing things but I could see no way out. I was under pressure to perform well for the school’s sake and also to answer to my ‘bosses.’

My lovely boss actually retired at the end of Term One (sadly) and he was replaced by someone I knew well but was nothing like the people-person my old boss was.

 

Schools have a culture of their own.

I can now walk into a school and get a feeling of how things are. In my school, as Winter took hold I know that my mood was also one of worry and concern. That was for the school and its staffing into the next year.

When school populations decrease in the NSW public system, the principal will be asked to nominate a teacher to leave. In the majority of cases, teachers are very comfortable in their current school and rarely does anyone volunteer. So then it becomes a matter of ‘asking’ and ‘hoping’.

The staff were getting the idea that with the school’s drop in population, which occurred when the Special Needs unit was disbanded and there was a reduction of families moving to the area, that “I” had something to do with the reduction.

I was told this by telephone on the night (4th September 2002) I heard staff were arranging a delegation to my office the next day. They were going to tell me it was my manner with parents that was the cause.

This may have had one essence of truth after I was threatened by a violent father who I had to get removed from the grounds, but generally I had a supportive P&C and was a principal who was active and even did playground duty. But people like someone to blame. Of course, and that was me.

The Night Which Wounded My Career.

Before I go on, I was feeling emotions of overwhelm from the role. I remember with clarity coming back from yet another principals’ meeting where they was MORE that we needed to take responsibility for. I wondered how I could possibly manage more.

In the meantime, I became probably hyper vigilant after another meeting about my responsibilities for Work Health and Safety.

The school was OLD in many parts and I knew that there was much that did not comply, so I contacted my properties’ manager (the centralised one, not a personal one!) and for a fee, he came out and condemned or ok-ed parts I was concerned about. One such area was deemed so risky I had to tape it off before demolition and in doing so, incurred the wrath of the teachers who had been there forever. I could not take a trick.

I stood for what was right because that is who I am. I knew I needed to have a timeout but it happened to be an official one to attend a meeting for a day and then a personal one to accompany my husband to a vital medical appointment.

Schools: I love them. But I Could Not Return To Mine.

Two days away from school…..then I was rung the night before I was to return. Wednesday 4th September. One of my relieving Executive who I always thought was both compassionate and brave to rang to tell me that some staff were getting a delegation ready along with a Teachers Federation Organiser to meet with me to discuss their issues.

Initially I listened with interest and then with surprise/shock at what was apparently my fault: declining numbers, meaning one of them would be asked to transfer. Once I had talked (and been upset a bit) with her, I had successive phone calls from the remaining two relieving executive and it was then I said “I will be speaking to…(my boss) in the morning and will not be returning to school until I have”. They implored me not to but I had the sense not to act upon a threat like this.

I broke.

I broke down. I was ill. I couldn’t contact my boss: left a message that I would be going to my GP in the morning.

That would be the start of pretty horrible days but also some days of relief and release. Yet, nothing ever has helped me get over the fact that I loved being a principal but one day I never went back.

There was so much shame in me for that and it has almost all faded now some 17 years later. Lifeline: 13 11 14

It’s been hard to learn THIS….

Thank you for reading. At least I hope you did.

Denyse.

 

Next Chapter Will Be About The Outcome for Me Personally and Us Financially.

Life This Week #177

Link Up #177. Life This Week.

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6/51 #LifeThisWeek. Telling My Story. Chapter Thirteen. 1999-2000.11/2020.

6/51 #LifeThisWeek. Telling My Story. Chapter Thirteen. 1999-2000.11/2020.

The story behind Telling My Story is this: I began in May 2017 and then was diagnosed with cancer. I had a lengthy break and returned to the plan to keep on documenting my life, one blog post at a time. Here is the link to the page where they all are now. It’s been a while since my last one. This one, I admit, is not a brand new one. In fact I wrote back in 2018 over 4 weeks about the challenges and more of being a principal from 1998 – 2003. This post has much of the first two years in it, and the next one, which I will post for Life This Week 8/51 will conclude that part of my professional education leadership life. 

1998.

I really enjoyed being a K-6 School Principal. I had waited till my late 40s to decide to ‘take the plunge’ and actively seek a principal’s role in a K-6 school in Sydney’s west. Having been a relieving Principal in a school where I had been a Deputy Principal I knew that I did not want to apply for that role as I had been at that school for almost 10 years. This was a much longer period than I usually stayed in one school and family reasons were part of this but I knew that to lead that school was fraught with trying to placate factions and being in conflict ethically with the old-fashioned and out-moded forms of discipline.

My Primary School. Attended 1960-61 is where I decided I wanted to be a teacher.

In the lead up to the end of the 1990s I was asked to relieve as a Principal is a larger school within the Western Sydney environment I knew well. This school already had a leadership team including Deputy Principals but it was the wish of the out-going (Long Service Leave first!) Principal that someone from out of the school be appointed. That was me.

What a baptism of fire this was!

Whilst I knew the general area, I was not knowledgable at all about the make-up of the student population – which was well into the 600s. I was to lead that school for Terms 3 and 4 when a principal would be appointed. There were special needs classes, there were children of high needs (intellectual and behavioural) in mainstream classes. Fortunately, it came with a non-teaching Deputy, who helped bring me up to speed with every new challenge including:

  • chasing a boy who was ready to jump the low fence and run onto the road. He stopped. In the playground.
  • finding another boy climbing to the roof of a building to escape the problem he had being in class.
  • having a mother of a girl scream at me over the desk “what are YOU going to DO ABOUT this, YOU”RE the PRINCIPAL”

“I really do not want to be a Principal” I said after a very hectic Term 3 leading into Term 4…but then again..

” the old death bed regret” popped into my mind.

“Did I want to think I should have given the principalship a go but I did not?”

Answer: NO.and this…

As the last Term of 1998 progressed, unless I did decide to start applying for Principal’s roles, I had this ultimatum delivered.

As a Deputy Principal who had needed to leave her original school (the 10 year one) because the school student population  was slowing and there was no longer a DP position, I had to accept any position as a DP and guess where I was appointed: to the school where I was currently Relieving Principal. 

Oh. No, I thought that was untenable and also once I knew who the new boss would be in the following year my hand was forced – in a way. So it was out with the application templates and late nights writing and honing these to match K-6 School Principals roles that I might fit.

It All Takes Time.

Back then, applications for Principal  were sent into the District Office for the Superintendent to look over with his/her panel of selectors. These were a parent from the school which was seeking a new principal, a staff member from that school, a principal of similar status as the role on offer and the Superintendent. If the application met with the panel’s approval, professional referees (nominated on the application) were called, and then if the panel thought they wanted to know more, then the applicant was invited to a formal interview.

I went through this process over some weeks for a total of four times and got to interview but not the role. I was also still leading a school! I did get positive and helpful feedback particularly by one District Superintendent By the second last week of Term 4 I thought I was not going to get a Principal’s job but that was not true and within 2 days of school ending for Term 4, I was offered and I accepted the role of K-6 Principal in my own right.

Appointed As Principal.

The District Superintendent rang me to offer the position and of course I accepted it. Being so close to the end of the year, I could not visit the school until close to the end of the January holidays.

The words that rang in my ear, and were written to me by the District Superintendent echoed…and not nearly as much as in future years.

“Denyse, you have to bring this school into the next century and I know you are the one to do it. It won’t be easy and it will have challenges but you are the right fit for this”.

And of course, Life Goes On, in the family! We were looking forward to the birth of Grandchild #2 in the May of 1999 and by this appointment, I remember telling my daughter “I don’t think I will be able to have part-weeks off to care for him/her”. My daughter understood, and already had an amazing family day care arrangement. I admit my “Grandma” hat was firmly back on my head – with the blessing of my boss, the one who had appointed me and my staff when she, new GD was literally on the way, I was able to have the week off school to help out and BE Grandma. That time meant a great deal.

With my GD some years later!

1999 First Year as a Principal.

The first months.

Hot, No Plan, Making Plans, Learning About the School.

I was busy learning about the school and the fact that the person I replaced had actually died the previous term without anyone at the school having access to school keys, passwords and the like made it more difficult. The school was a medium sized (around 450 kids from K-6) one with added Unit for Students with Special Learning Needs and an Autism Satellite class. Within the stream of classes there were two “OC” groups: Year 5 of 30 students and Year 6. These students gained their place at the school via competitive examinations the year before.

The school culture was, as my boss told me, one I would need to lead into the 21st century and I knew that but I also knew to hasten slowly on some changes whilst making some practical ones quickly. The previous principal, sadly departed, had been there for quite some time, shared very little in terms of financial goals for the school but, as a local which I was not, whatever he had done was acceptable. One big ticket item that happened under his leadership was a sports area which catered for a number of court-based sports.

One of my first spends was blinds. In a school with a second storey and in a very hot/cold place in outer Sydney, some respite from the sun and to make activities such as work via a whiteboard or screen effective this was vital. Once done it gave the school, from the inside and out, a better appearance for the community.

The school was fully staffed with each role filled: 2 Assistant Principals (teaching) 2 Executive Teachers (teaching). There was a group of speciality teachers: for Gifted and Talented students, Special Needs – Intellectual, English as a Second Language, Computer and Technology, Special Learning in Mainstream. I had been familiar with leading each of those roles in my previous schools with three  ‘new’ to me

  • having the O.C. classes
  • overseeing the use of the school’s facilities with an outside the NSW Dept of Ed jurisdiction
  • supervising a Special Needs Unit of 3 staff within the school

I like to think, looking back from now, that I did all I could to both understand, accept and get up-skilled quickly to enable me, the educational leader of the school, to best meet the needs of those students, also considering the skills of their teachers and to see that the parents of the students knew the children’s needs were paramount.

That of course, was also integral to my oversight and management of the remainder of the school in the mainstream classes.

There were computers for my work and communication via emails did not arrive for a few years. It was a telephone, fax and mail school and being on the outskirts of Sydney the communication and responses were not as frequent as the suburbs of Sydney.

The year went well with ME being the major learner of course. I was the ONLY new staff member but I also had to ensure that MY leadership goals were part of the new school’s as well. There was a lot of policy discussion which was mostly related to why there were none where I was used to having these done. Like I have said before, I was there to make change but I also needed to handle matters carefully.

This year I turned 50 and on the staff was another person my age and I recall a joint celebration with two cakes. We did socialise somewhat during the school term with a restaurant meal or something similar with staff. We had regular morning teas and I promoted collegiality and support for all staff.

My executive staff were good but two of them sought promotion – one to a country school, the other to a city school and of course I was pleased for them professionally when their  work was rewarded with what they sought. I recall an incident which was a critical one as it demonstrated a lack of foresight, organisation and care from one of the senior staff. This related to a student being announced at the final year assembly as Vice-Captain, when in fact, she was to be a prefect, and another student was the Vice-Captain. In an embarrassing time for the student, her family and the senior staff I had to interrupt the announcement with the correct person’s name. From that time, I was aware of more loopholes within the school’s management. Policies for example. In a first for this executive staff, there needed to be a written policy on the how, what and why of student leadership nominations, voting and results. From my side, it looked quite poorly scrutinised and certainly that family of the student who was incorrectly announced as vice-captain continued to let me know of their upset long after that incident. No apology in the world was good enough.

Onward into 2000 & beyond.

There were some staff changes into this year of the Sydney Olympics and I had to call panels of parent representative, school representative and one other teacher to enable me to interview, by merit selection, 2 people to replace those who had been promoted. More on this in the third post next week.

The education communities in and near Sydney loved the fact that this was the year of the Sydney Olympics and we even had an extra week off school in September 2000 for all of the available transport (buses mostly) to be geared to getting people to and from Olympic venues. A person who had carried a torch in part of the area near the school brought it to us and we all got to hold it. We had special days and the vibe was good. We even made our Staff Photo that year based on Sports and the Olympics.

I had some lovely people working at the school in administration and I know my mantra (from my boss) of keeping on heading into this famous 21st century was embraced but it remained a load on me as the school leader both administratively and educationally. There were courses in finance and human resources to attend and of course ones to train us further in Child Protection.

This became even more important as time went on, and I recall sitting at yet another training course thinking “I am responsible for all of this yet I have no control over it”. It was quite a  watershed moment for me.

I loved the role even so. I felt I brought action and innovation to the school and lifted its place in educational areas. I may not have been a local in a very conservative area but I did my best to keep open and good relationships with the local community, my Parent groups and the community of schools nearby.

At home, I know I really never switched off. The laptop came home with me. Newsletters written by me on the weekend. There was no email or other communications like that until 2002 so everything was done and then printed off for the families each fortnight. I improved more of the external appearance with signage and keeping areas safer by removal of damaged play equipment. I had a General Assistant 3 days a week and because of the size of the school grounds, he spent most of his time on a mower.

I had to organise school repairs and more via private contractors and be savvy enough to know how to ask for quotes and then to see how the school might benefit and when to get those happening in a child-free time. I would be phoned at home in school holidays about staffing and maintenance and there was/is not a time-off for school principals.

In re-reading this I recall much of it. It has stayed as a very strong memory, being principal of R.P.S. I did have some amazing opportunities and one was being a community member for the local (new then) gaol in the area and contributing to ideas and supporting the warden in his role. I was the district principal  representative for Stewart House, the N.S.W. Public Schools charity supporting needy children to have a break from home by the sea. I do know I missed a lot of ‘family time’ because of the nature of the role and my school was about 40 minutes from home but I was (still am) a passionate educator!

Stewart House: South Curl Curl.

Next time: 2001 and 2002. The Way My Career as a N.S.W. School Principal Ended.

I know there is a lot that’s been said (and I hope read) but it’s such a pivotal part of my life (then) and even now. I needed to share it as I have.

Thank you.

Denyse.

Link Up #175

 

Link Up #175. Life This Week.

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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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#LifeThisWeek. 29/51. Telling My Story. Chapter Eleven.1983-1987. 79/2019.

#LifeThisWeek. 29/51. Telling My Story. Chapter Eleven.1983-1987. 79/2019.

In keeping with the prompts here being optional, I am writing on a different topic to “Winter: Like/Loathe” as suggested for Life This Week 29/51. I am writing a new chapter in Telling My Story as I have neglected this part of my writing for some months.

Telling My Story. Chapter Eleven.1983-1987.

This time, with the image for Telling My Story, I am honouring what has happened to me in the time when I first started writing my story, which was abruptly interrupted by cancer. I then became well enough to continue the story, along with the continuation of my changing appearance thanks to oral cancer, and 4 surgeries and many trips to get me some teeth..over time! 

1983.

  • It was a rough first half- year for our family, particularly my husband who became very unwell and required surgery mid year. We had a young family, he was medically-retired, and I was working (teaching) full-time.
  • We (he!) got through thanks to his own strength and courage and it opened up some new parts of family life that we had not experienced for some time. Family holidays at the beach were back on the agenda as was a new-to-him backyard project of building some furniture for our daughter’s bedroom. More on that later.
  • My father retired from his work and whilst that did not directly affect us, it provided him and my mother with more time to enjoy their family, particularly their now four grandchildren. They also made the Gold Coast their ‘winter home’ for July and August, catching up with friends who had moved their permanently and enjoying the lifestyle away from the cold of Sydney. Each of the grandkids got to spend some time with them over the next few years, some even flying to join their grandparents.
  • I was back into teaching and eyeing off promotions into the next roles where I could put my hand up. I did, and was given a relieving role in a nearby school which then ended up being the first substantive role: Executive Teacher at Walters Rd P.S.

Dad and Mum: retired life: On the Gold Coast each winter.

1984.

  • Happy and busy family life. Whilst I was out to teach and lead part of the K-2 section of the school, my husband was the one at home, ably helping our daughter  settle into her first year at high school and our son into Kindergarten at the local public school. With his experience as a teacher and school leader, though medically-retired, my husband became P&C president for the years ahead and this was a great way to become involved again in education.
  • I was busy at my school and recall asking (and it happened) the NRL’s Parramatta Eels’ star, Peter Sterling, to come and read to the children for Book Week, showing them how “even footballers read” and he was delighted to do so.
  • Remember Wham? It was their season in the sun! We also started Morning Fitness at school with the K-2 kids and “I” taught a dance to “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go”. Still think of that fun time!
  • But, time to move on! Why? Well, there was a new job, and at the second list level that I had earned and it was for me to become the substantive Assistant Principal at Seven Hills West P.S. Yes. I had already been there in an acting capacity for part of 1982 and now I was returning.

1985.

  • Assistant Principal roles are full-on! With full-time teaching responsibility and managing and leading a group of staff. In this case, an Infants Department of 7 classes and with an executive teacher to assist in the leadership. Located in a busy and relatively low socio-economic area of Sydney there were many challenges and rewards.
  • I worked for a very demanding principal who encouraged my leadership. I also ‘put my hand up’ for external roles to help gain a better understanding of how the then Metropolitan West area of Sydney was managed and to make a contribution. I became a member of the K-6 English committee and through involvement there was convinced by a senior educator that “now” was all about getting more qualifications to go further in our careers.
  • What she meant was, that as we were still two-year trained teachers, when the new and different promotion means would come in, then a person with a degree (Bachelor of Education) would have more training academically. I agreed. After soul-seatching and a decent discussion at home, it was agreed even with the kids that I would start my B.Ed. by distance ed. It was called by “correspondence” in those days.
  • On top of the three terms at school, I had two semesters at Uni. It was then via notes by mail, assignments sent back that way and it all happened out of the old Wagga Teachers College which became the Riverina Murray Institute of Higher Education.
  • I recall weekends which were me away from the kids, head down reading the reams of notes for the subjects, coming up with a draft and then TYPING it all on an electric typewriter and if all was well, it was posted.
  • They were tough times holding down the full-time job and studying and my husband had started his new at-home business tutoring children with learning needs.
  • Yet we managed. We did have a cleaner and at least Uni wasn’t 365 days a year.
  • Each January we took ourselves to a beach unit on the N.S.W, coast.
  • A somewhat sad year in our family too. My beloved Aunt died very suddenly after surgery went wrong. Mum was in shock for sometime after that. Dad’s mum had died from a stroke in her 80s earlier that year.
  • I remember too, that with a small legacy from my Aunt’s will, we got enough money to add a ‘toilet and washbasin’ to the now-study that was our double garage. Two loos! Luxury.

Our first home, did not have the addition until the late 1980s. The addition is above the garage which was always a play/work space of some kind.

1986.

  • This year was full-on and busy too as I continued the University work part-time, had a class and of course, led a department of teachers caring for the needs of the students which were many and varied.
  • It was time, I decided to “go for third list”. Not this year but the next. Back then, a long lead was highly recommended as the candidate for promotion not only had to be visited over some days in the school but had to hand in quite a series of folders with: my initiatives and programs, policies I had devised and how they were working, evidence of my professional learning and reading (here was where doing the degree was the best thing!)
  • I was incredibly fortunate to have the time to do this. I am aware that having my husband at home who worked on his small cabinet making projects at home & elsewhere during the day was available for our kids if need be, along with us living not too far from the school meant that I could be back home in the late afternoons for family dinners (I cooked) as he was often busy coaching young people.
  • There is much to be grateful for as I was living this life but I do recall how fraught I might get and I also know it was hard to deal with some issues both at school level which impacted me health wise. I know I had a great GP who listened to me and for a time I got some help from professionals. My irritable bowel syndrome kicked in around this stage of my life, and after all the tests it was deemed to be part of me. Sigh.
  • Passed Uni again this year as I did the year before. It was also the year (I think) I had to go to Wagga campus for a residential school. THAT for this girl was quite an experience and I was glad to drive home!

Assistant Principal

1987.

  • We got the family Christmas present of a Commodore 64 so after the games fun (Bomb Jack for the boys) I found I could type assignments…and print them out to send via the mail to Wagga. Still didn’t get the idea of how to make a draft so I was still copying my handwritten assignments.
  • Back to school also meant back to a new Boss, the principal who I had started with got a promotion and now, in the year I was going to ‘go for my third list’ I had a new female principal to work with. This is quite a big deal. “Back then” the Department of Education was changing big time as the governments of the day were shaking up their previously independent Depts of Education, Health and so on.
  • Merit selection, along with ensuring a fair mix of women in the workforce, at principal level was a major shift. Previously people like me who were in K-2 roles could not go for a K-6 principal role. The world in education in N.S.W. was ….gobsmacked if you were a man, and applauded if you were female (ok that may be some exaggeration but it was H U G E).
  • Lists are very hard to explain but ‘back then’ there were levels of promotion in N.S.W. public education called Lists. They really were actual lists because your name, if you were successful in your inspection, got added to a DATED list and there you stayed until you got a school position where there was no-one more senior to you. The actual lists came out published each year (it was called the stud book – male oriented much?)
  • Women like me could only go as far as 3rd list this time round and even if I had wanted to go for 4th list by the time I was at my next school, the whole process changed to: merit, equal opportunity…you know the rest.
  • In preparation for List Three inspection I had full on classroom responsibilities to have made ‘perfect’, to record all I had made via policies and planning written up and the staff understanding of it along with enacting it, could lead subject (English was mine) based learning for teachers to improve student outcomes and much much more. I also had to be up to date with all of the N.S.W. Department of Education policies and be prepared to answer questions on their implementation at our school. My staff also needed to know what we had done together for improving learning and they were expected, if asked, to be ‘inspected too’ so the inspector could see evidence of my leadership.
  • I was also continuing to do University work….and attend district meetings and so on.
  • I recall being very stressed about it but also wanting it to happen. I was really, really ready.
  • The process was over 3 full days. The District Inspector watched me teach, asked the children, questions, read their books, looked through my documentation, observed me leading a staff meeting, visited other classes and more. Full-on alright!
  • Mum and Dad came over and cooked us a baked dinner somewhere in the middle. It was so lovely of them to do that but my gut was not happy.
  • Nevertheless, the final day came and “Denyse I am prepared to put your name forward to be placed on the third list, congratulations.”
  • I think I was very happy…but oh so tired and relieved. Thank you I said. Then….
  • Some weeks later the Assistant Area Director had to spend a day with me doing similar inspection to confirm that, “Yes, I was eligible to be place on the third promotions list”.
  • But what did I want to do next?

Latter part of 1987.

  • The part-time degree was nearing its end and whilst I did not go to the graduation for this one, I was very proud to receive the testamur in 1989.
  • Our daughter was now in Year 10 and just as term 4 started (I think we just went from three terms to four, if anyone remembers, let me know in the comments) and she caught glandular fever. She was so very unwell she had liver complications and basically stayed on the couch. It did however lift enough for her to attend the Year 10 Formal but I will never forget how tiny she was and that GF stayed with her for a very long time.
  • N.S.W. schools also started the new Foundation style of handwriting. I thought it would be hard for me as a left-hander but it went well.
  • Before we knew it we were inundated by Handwriting books at the shops and from then on, every parent who ‘wanted their child to excel’ would pick up one of those books…which are still around. Everywhere.
  • So, on the way to promotion…where was I? Right at the cusp of all the changes. I could choose to be a principal if I wanted to seek merit selection to that position or I could go down the path of non-teaching deputy principal in a large K-6 school and that’s where I wanted to be.
  • How I got there was this: fill in the many forms, list ALL of the schools I would want to be appointed to, and attend a six person interview at Regional Office to answer generic questions for either principal or deputy positions and then wait. To see if I passed.
  • I did. Late November, I found I had been appointed Deputy Principal to a large Mt Druitt K-6 School called Shalvey.
  • I was on my way. Off class, and I admit I was glad after 18 years and onto leadership.

 

 

What a story comes next…..

I do need a break! This was quite some post to recall as much as I could and I admit, checking with my husband a few times.

It’s the bi-centenary next time…and more!

I do hope you got to the end and did not feel too tired. They were busy years.

Denyse.

 

 

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Next Week’s Optional Prompt: 30/51 Share Your Snaps #6. 29/7/19

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