One is the loneliest number

I am an only child.

No matter how many wishes I wished in my childhood, this didn’t change. It was only later in life my father told me I was a mistake, which answered many questions for me. After his death I found a letter written to him by my mother, which extinguished any doubts I might have had about her love for me. It was obviously written sometime after they were married but before she had me. She desperately wanted children, my father did not and apparently he had made her promise never to have any. How sad.

I have included my mother’s letter in my book. In part it reads:

From the time I was old enough to play with dolls I wished and dreamt of my own family. When in school and in college my ultimate goal was to find a true mate and together with him build a family and home under God’s blessing.

Two years ago my joy was immeasurable when I became pregnant – it too was denied me, no doubt due to my many sins.

I weep now for the children I never had.

I’m sure if it had been left to my mother to decide, she would have had more children. Enough at least to fill the void both of us felt.

Despite my mother’s maternal nature, I think she struggled with the daily details. I get the impression there were many times she just didn’t know what to do with me. She was an only child as well, so there were no sisters she could ask and I’m not too certain my grandmother was any better as a mother, although she was a wonderful grandmother. I understood all this so much better when I had children of my own. One can love your parents immensely even if they make mistakes and I loved my mother dearly.

Nowadays I’m a vocal advocate for parents having more than one child. I realise sometimes it is impossible and I do try to be sensitive (those who know me well might smile a bit here). It is only when you grow up as an only child you understand the loneliness. Of course in many families there are cousins and friends with children of the same age but the only child still spends most nights in a bedroom on their own and, on the days when they are not with family and friends, they are left to amuse themselves.

I believe my only child status was the catalyst for my love of books. Whenever I found myself alone, and this was the norm rather than the exception, I dove into my books and escaped from my solitude into magical lands and charmed stories. I loved stories about siblings, such as the entire Narnia series, but I also enjoyed stories of the lone child who battles various predicaments, such as A Little Princess.

My desire for a big family resulted in my three boys. Originally I wanted six children but I have to admit, three was enough for me. Similarly to my mother, I struggled at times to know what to do. I did ask her advice now and again, just as I asked for the advice of my mother in law and my friends. Somehow I stumbled through the baby and toddler stage and found myself much more comfortable with the primary and high school stages. Now I have three fantastic adult sons who make me proud with everything they do – ok, maybe not everything… but you get the picture! My eldest son and his partner have recently made me a Nanna to the cutest grandson ever. I’ve already suggested they consider having another.

Sticks and Stones

My mother often quoted “sticks and stones will break your bones but names will never hurt you” to me as I was growing up, usually after I had suffered some form of torment at school. After the first couple of incidents, the saying no longer comforted me. My father would tell me school days were the best days of my life. In a way he was right but it had nothing to do with school. I sometimes long for those days of no responsibility where I could laze around and watch the world go by. But the years I spent at school, especially high school, could never be described as the best.

I was not a beauty. As a child I was the clumsy, tallest kid in my class. I grew into a gawky, gangly teenager who was always a head taller than anyone else. I was skinny, covered in pimples and wore glasses. Sad, but true. I was also socially awkward, I never said the right thing because my parents had never taught me what to say. I am an only child with parents who were far older than those of my peers and who were very much involved in their own work, friends and lives. They didn’t mix with the parents of my peers which in turn did nothing for my social life.

I was ten when my family migrated to Australia and I soon discovered there were huge differences in school culture. In Australia if you were good at sport, nothing else mattered. You could be ugly, but if you were a champion it was forgiven. I was useless at sport. I was always picked last for any sporting team except netball. My classmates figured I was so tall it would assist them if I stood under the goals and played defense. I’m pretty sure I was still bad at it.

Not only was I bad at sport, I was also a bookworm. There were very few of my classmates, including my friends, who understood the attraction books held for me. Books were my safety mat. I could disappear into other worlds with the turn of a page and I often did.

Back to the sticks and stones. Being picked last, being excluded, having your school mates stop talking when you walk up to them and then giggle when you pass, are awful things to deal with at the same time as you are dealing with puberty and growing up in general. But of all the torments to deal with, it is the words which stick with me.

I still remember one of my high school peers telling me, very seriously, I would have made a far better looking male as I was a not very good looking female. I remember the height jokes, the comments about pimples and the off handed remarks of “square eyes”.

Over the years my love of words has persuaded me to become far more careful with them. I admit there are times I have deliberately chosen the most hurtful words during an argument, or worse in a situation when I should have been more thoughtful. As a parent I learnt the importance of words. The wrong words can devastate a child. So I try to think before speaking because words can hurt just as badly as sticks and stones.

My 3 R’s – Reading, Writing and Research

Three of my favourite things – reading, writing and research are also the most time consuming, frustrating and difficult of all my pursuits.

Why you ask should reading be frustrating or difficult? Try reading in a foreign language! It is most exasperating when the only way you can read an article or a piece of information is by copying and pasting it into a translation service. Then the subject matter may be difficult to read. For example, I am trying to learn more about Germany and the German people during and after World War II. My father was in the Wehrmacht (German army) and, while cleaning out his house after his death, I found letters written to him at the end of the war by a young girl who lived in Neuruppin, a town outside of Berlin. Both the fiction and non-fiction which deal with this subject are at times grim reading to say the least.

Which brings me to writing. I have no idea how anyone can write a book in a month, or six months, or even a year. I have spent just over three years now and am still rewriting and rewriting and tearing my hair out trying to find just the right word or phrase. Granted, I have had to write around full time work, study and family, but even so it is a time consuming process. Some weekend days I can sit at the computer for hours and not produce more than a paragraph. I know what I want to say but my words are not as perfect as I wish them to be. So far I have succeeded in completing a first draft. Now I must dismantle it like an annoying item from Ikea when, after you have built it, you find two spare screws which you know must fit somewhere.

I love research but I would prefer to be able to find definitive answers to my questions. I have my father’s war records, such as they are, but I am having difficulty finding the exact troop movements for his units. Many of the German army records have been destroyed. I can find general information, for example I can find out which direction the 18th Army headed during Operation Barbarossa but I cannot find out exactly where his particular unit fought say in July 1941. It is maddening to say the least. I have recently registered for several forums whose members may have information and I am hoping for some assistance. As for trying to find out what happened to Neuruppin after the war, there is only very general information. It was taken over by the Soviets, so one can only assume the worst for the population, but I cannot find any definitive history from that time.

My book is based on the relationship I had with my father, my need to know more about his past and this is intertwined with the letters written to him by the young German girl. The only way I can finish it is to continue with my three Rs.

Fever

Every now and again our bodies remind us just how far we can push them before they take charge. I reached my limit last Friday when a couple of my workmates decided I should go home about an hour and a half after I started work. I must have looked pretty bad. Luckily I managed not to vomit until I got home. While Melbourne basked in warm sunshine, I shivered under a doona.

It is now Sunday afternoon and I think I’ve finally beaten the fever. But it has left me weak, as limp as a two-week old floral arrangement deprived of water. It took me three hours this morning to make it to the shower and an hour of resting afterward before I could manage to open my laptop. It is all so frustrating.

The human body is pretty amazing. When you get an infection your immune system knows it doesn’t belong there and fights to get rid of it. In the process chemicals called pyrogens are released into the blood stream and travel to the brain. There they interact with the hypothalamus which acts as the thermostat for the body. So the hypothalamus spots these pyrogens and resets your body temperature to higher in order to fight the invader. The result is fever.

It has just taken me an hour to write a couple of hundred words. All I want to do now is lie down. So I will.