Beer and a Fifty Dollar Note – week 75

A Story of Hope: final 2018 post

Pushing open from the bright sunshine, I cracked some space into the dingy gloom of a rough worn room. Stepping inside, I make out some figures, adults, sitting very still. A movement on the floor made me glance down to see a young child playing with something, a bone perhaps, but my mind couldn’t compute that today, in rural Victoria, a child could be playing with a bone.

Floor was dirt – not the compacted clay of the deserts in India, which is swept daily and as hard and shiny as polished concrete. No, this was loose dirt – loose enough to feel I wasn’t really inside but rather in a workshop or farm shed.

As my eyes adjust, I realised there are some upturned roughhewn drums as chairs, a table and what I recall as a charcoal fridge – something I remember having on my childhood veranda as an antique, to be laughed at and played around in our childhood stories and adventure. Do people still use these?

I’m a rural counsellor. A confidential service providing crisis financial and personal assistance to farmers in the rural Victoria. My patch is carved out of the State and divided up amongst other counsellors. We’d been operating for just a few years and I was beginning to feel this lifetime of mine as a 25-year-old just wasn’t long enough to even scrape the surface. Plough on is what I thought needed to happen.

Being a rural counsellor made me understand that my world is pretty sheltered. Large properties in western New South Wales as a child with a governess and then later to boarding school in Sydney. Drought, flood, low wool prices, seemed to register little. Time in Europe, agricultural college, a few low paying jobs in Sydney to get some skin in the game.

Somehow my little-lived experience landed me in regional Victoria in crisis work with farmers. I thought I knew a few things. Farming is a business, its cut and dry decisions about profit, not emotional languid decision making. As a woman, I was hell-bent on making my mark for women in agriculture.

Lately, I was getting some rungs on the board politically; speaking on local radio and television about the roles of women, the economic and social value that women contribute to the economy and to the fabric of society. I was even up for an award for my work and the movement I had started locally. All this success had given me confidence that I knew it all. This was a modern world, a business that was without emotion – decisions were hard but so is success.

I didn’t know that today this would all change.

The harried cough startled me. Turning, I saw a large crooked man in classic farm wear sitting in the corner.

“Hi,” I said. “I knocked but no one answered so I stepped inside.”

Cracking the thick silence brought movement and life into the dullness. The child stops playing with the bone and stood up, clutching at my leg. I felt repulsed by the feel of this rough hand on my bare leg. It was like a paw, clawing at me. It was the rough hand of an old worker, not a young child. Was it even human?

Stepping back, I fumbled to think what I was doing here. This was not my usual place. The farmers I saw were doing it tough, but this was something else. This was out of this world. How could this place still exist?

“I’m Ada, the rural counsellor – I spoke to Alec on the phone – you called me?”

“Here, I’m Alec. We were told by the bank you could help us.”

Could I, could I really help this family glued into a cycle of poverty, a dirt floor, dairy cows that were skinny than the catwalk models of the 1980s. The drought, no feed in the paddocks, and a refusal from the factory that they wouldn’t be picking up milk anymore because of the bacteria in the milk machines. I am paralysed.

A voice rose from this dullness asking the child to put the kettle on and some scraping told me a chair was being found. This movement stirred up the thick smell of humanity, of poverty; dirt, filth, unwashed, soiled clothing. The darkness was fading as my eyes adjusted.

The shapes and shadows became people, one old man, a bloke in his thirties and a child who could have been three but was on the floor, crawling towards what looked like a makeshift stove and kettle.

I had to help, I had to get out of this frozen fear and think. How did this family get here, what pathway of decisions has led to this when their neighbours were now milking 1500 cows three times a day? When the town was flourishing with that lucky country feel of high farm prices, steady access to water and land values that allowed expansion.

Bracing and gulping down the spasm of bile that had started to rise, sending it back down my throat, I sat down and smiled and accepted a curling milky tea from a chipped willow pattern mug. The familiar pattern gave me a calming feeling. How many farmers had I sat with for hours sipping tea from these mugs?

Searching for a starting point, I asked the question that would open up the story. I needed to hear about their grandparents that arrived at this plot of land in the 1920s when new settlers flurried to the region with the promise of cheap land and water.
Its this starting point, this story that would build the foundations of who these people were and what happened.

Alec’s voice creaked from the dimness.

“My grandparents arrived from Melbourne with a few pounds in their pockets and the promise of high returns now that irrigation had arrived in the region.

We had 10 acres and the lease of a further 10 from our neighbour. Borrowing from the State Bank my grandparents purchased 10 dairy heifers and settled into the community. Lots of new settlers meant the town was booming with business.

New shops, supply stores, schools. Being only a few miles from town the arrival of children meant schools were nearby.

Life went on, daughters grew up and married other farmers, sons took over. Debt was paid and more debt was gained. Jersey cows to Friesians as the market changed. More milk but also more feed required. With the next generation, we now started to see that we were small farmers. Neighbours were getting bigger, buying up land, moving further out from the town. Two sons who didn’t get along – the fighting that never ceased led to the division of the land. From the now 100 acres to lots of 50 acres each. Setting this pathway of diversion and division.

I’m one of the sons. Family deaths and succession led me to this. I married young, too young and by the time I was 17, I had two children. I didn’t really go to school. It was hard going to school from a poor family. My shoes were old, my uniform scraggy and too small. In the end, it was easier to stay away.

My father and then mother died, I was 32 with five children. By this stage it was the 1980’s and dairy industry was restructured. Prices slumped – everyone said its time to get out or get bigger. Farmers were planting orchards to diversify income. Government incentives were paid to farmers who look for new business opportunities.

I borrowed. Built a new dairy, tried some automation – although in those days we didn’t call it that. The house, well, the house is the house and no point spending money on that. Neighbours got bigger.

More cows were purchased, we couldn’t buy more land but we could increase feed production through grain.

Milking twice a day, we had a break. Prices started to claw back to something better but then so did interest rates. It’s the 1990’s and our loan was heading towards 25%. I was losing control.

Neighbours got bigger.

The girls left home for the city; they didn’t need this kind of life. Even my boys disappeared, except one. He’s still here and this is his little one on the floor. Unfortunately, his mum didn’t make it through.

It’s a tough life on the farm.

This is us. I’m in my 50’s. Son is 30 with a little one. We owe $100 000 and our best income is $15 000. Grain prices are killing us. We’re sick – we have no control and now the factory called to say they couldn’t pick up our milk anymore.

We owe the bank, we owe the grain merchant, we owe the supply store. We are behind on rates and water.

“Without an income we lose everything.”

Alec heaved, gulped back tears.

I leaned over and touched the back of his hand.

“It’s ok,” I said. “Let it go.”

The tears began rolling down Alec’ cheeks, drawing craters in the dirt smeared on his face.

It’s this cue, this crack that allows people to feel relief. Their story is told, believed.
The story provides me with time to think of the future. To start painting a picture for this family that is in the sunshine, beyond this pitiful existence amongst the opulence of this bourgeoning region; a region with an international export strategy in-place. A region that just yesterday hosted a delegation from China interested in buying land and putting in new technologies that would open markets and opportunities to the farmers here.

“What does your best future look like? If you could be yourself in a few days and your family, what would that future look like,” I asked.

Alec’s son, Lachie, speaks up.

“My future is in farming. That’s all I know. I use my hands, I work and toll the soil. My dad? Well, his time is up, he’s tired. My future is having him in town in a little house, looking after Zane (my son) so I can work on the farm. But here? On this farm? No, its bad, the soul has gone from it. It’s time to start fresh, maybe an apprenticeship with a big dairy farm to gain some new skills, a fresh look at what works and what doesn’t.

Being part of a farm that makes money, not millions but enough to get by. I don’t know what that feels like. I don’t know what it feels like to have $50 in my pocket and go to the pub for a beer. To have friends and say, mate, this shout is on me. I’m 30 and only know pockets with holes. I’m a single dad and right now I can’t see a future for Zane. Do you know what that’s like?”

I’m thinking here, I don’t. I have no experience of this hopelessness, this poverty.
But what I do feel and say is, “Wow, what an amazing hopeful family you are. Amongst your life’s journey, a life that reads as tough, you haven’t given up. You can still see and visualise what a good future looks and feels like.

I’m not a fairy godmother, I don’t have a wand or even cash in my pocket to hand out to you. What I can do is take your hope and turn that into something real. It won’t happen today or tomorrow, but it will happen.

I’m not going to tell you what to do but I’m going to give you some things to think about, it’s your life, not mine and these are your decisions.”

We talk about the future, what that pathway looks like, the steps that can be taken. We talk about education and tapping into services that are well placed to support farmers exiting farming. We talk about relationships with debtors and letting them know the action plan.

As I leave, I say thank you.

“Thank you for your story, your openness, and your trust.”

As I drive away hours and a whole world from the one I entered, I think of my arrogance, my naivety and total lack of knowing the real world.

I am a better person now than I was this morning.

Before I turn onto the road home, I pull over and make a call to my friend at the Salvos in town. I know I can trust her and that she’ll do the right thing.

And I know that within a few hours a refrigerated truck will drive up that parched driveway filled with fresh fruit and vegetables, meat, bread, milk and butter, a portable gas stove, battery torches for light, and an esky of ice to keep everything cold.

There will also be a crisp $50 note. And it’s this note that will take the men to the pub to have a few beers with their mates.

All love

Jessica xxii

Jessica Purbrick-Herbst
18 December 2018

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The importance of bananas – week 74

By the time my boys are brave enough to have sex, they will be experts at putting condoms on bananas.

With two teenagers in the house, I’m having some funny conversations about sex, disease, and consent. And the best tool in the house? A banana…

bananas

Bananas are one of the greatest fruits to hit the kitchen bench. Not only are these yellow delights wrapped hygienically in its skin, but the humble banana is also a clever parenting tool for teenage “show and tell”.

A demonstrator at heart, I found myself asking for advice in the local pharmacy about condoms, lubricants and dental dams. Choice has come along nicely since my time —long ago—as a single woman so it was great to get comfortable with the new offerings. I settled on the party mix for flavour, texture, and leopard.

Fortunately, it was a Friday and the bananas were looking tired after a week on the bench. With the boys trickling home from school, it was the perfect segue from the school week to the weekend.

The bananas were pushed and pulled and generally took a beating, yet all ended well with a neat row of consenting wrapped bananas.

Definitely an Instagram moment with special thanks to Australian banana growers.

All love

Jessica xxii

Jessica Purbrick-Herbst
31 October 2018

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Being a resilient parent – week 73

Resilience. It’s a word that is used daily at school, in parenting groups and cafes.

As parents and teachers, we’re keen to ensure our children are resilient to the daily twaddle that might come their way.

Bounce back, stand-up, speak out – the words used to encourage our teens to thrive and not merely survive the playground and the crack of time in the growing up years.

What about us? How resilient are we to the daily grind of life? As parents we are hammered. If it’s not our children, other parents, it could be work.

A few months ago I was unexpectedly made redundant. This came totally out of the blue and sent me sideways as the ramifications of someone else’s decision impacted me. I lost my amazing team who were scattered across the organisation and I lost my identity as a working mom.

We have a rule in our house. When faced with disappointment, you’re allowed 24 hours to mope before pulling up your knickers and getting on with life.

I gave myself that grace; yet the first day of unemployment opened up a whole week that was empty. I had no idea how I was going to fill that time (and the months that follow) whilst getting up each morning and showing my family the resilient, tough stuff I am made of.

This is the time I need to show my teens that we can bounce back when life takes a sudden unexpected turn. This is the time of silver linings.

All love

Jessica xxii

PS. I find silver linings in every situation and my first week of unemployment was no different. To find out more about creating new opportunities for myself, gearing up my career and having fun, then follow me on Instagram.

I have a tribe. I am exceptionally fortunate to be married to an amazingly supportive husband who has the inert ability to pick me up when I’m feeling ragged. I also have a career coach and incredibly loving children, parents and friends.

Jessica Purbrick-Herbst
August 2018

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The Tweens have left the building – week 72

This is it. Today Number Two Tween turned 13. It’s a milestone, a leap and a jump from a pocket of power to a pot of gold. The usual birthday ritual of lining up for a measure shows inches have stretched from toes to head.

With this growth comes short trousers, bigger shoes and a reckoning of the world that knows no boundaries.

The house is now fully complete in its testosterone filled shell. With two teenagers to bring a new strength into the conversations, convictions and sometimes a battleground.

The mother in me has been repositioned into the friendly antics of the “Unicorn mom“; if you don’t know her, then she’s the friend you need to keep life real – kids, career, marriage.

I’m Her and have been for quite a while.

I love my children without boundaries but this doesn’t mean I blindly look at some of the $%^& that comes out of their mouths and wonder what or how this is happening.

I’m the mom that happily pays for Uber eats so I don’t have to think of nutrition and a balanced meal every single day.

I’m the friend who tells it straight. Yep, our careers aren’t amazing, however, we’re having so much fun at work, our husbands/partners are fallible and so are we. The world is more important than loo paper on the roll and toothpaste in the sink.

And that’s what Tweens Between has taught me. There are no rules and roads to follow. The playground is often full of “judgy” people but that’s their issue, not mine. That my friends love me regardless of the trouble I cause and weird cakes I bake.

Thank you to Tween One and Two, and thank you to all the people who have followed me on this journey, commented with love and held back from the hurtfulness.

Happy 13th – may your first teenage year be blessed.

All love

Jessica xxii

Jessica Purbrick-Herbst
June 2018

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A Wondrous Adventure – week 71

We’ve just returned from India.

Two boys and one mama on tour. It made a great Instagram hashtag.

The teenager and the tween were excited about this adventure. Tween Two had been before, a couple of years ago we ventured to the northern desert region . An easy first step.

This trip we hit up Mumbai, Varanasi and Kolkata.

Arriving to the chaos feels like home to me. This is my tenth trip to India some have been long and languid over many months and others have been quickies to enrich my soul during difficult times.

The boys have been lucky. They have travelled well over their short lives; births in London and New York, travelling Europe by car and train, and drop in holidays to Asia has given them an understanding of their place in the world and importantly how much we have compared to the have nots.

Arriving to the faecal smells of India hit the senses at 7am in the morning. The crammed taxi, the gridlock traffic. We bustle into the hotel for brief relief before we’re off again on the local trains to taste the food on the beach, the laneways and roadside.

We cycle early in the morning as Mumbai awakens to her daily routines. We gather the smells of the pavement dwellers and the cleanliness and order of the slums.

Flying into Varanasi gives us a new smell. The smell of burning wood for warmth and the offering of the family to the Ganga god underpins the taste of everything in this small rural location. The Ghats are busy with offerings amongst the closeness of the smog and pollution. It’s not how I remember it  long summer evenings sitting and thinking, a quiet calmness. That was in the 1990’s  Varanasi like me has grown up.

We check out a day early as we yearn the bustle of a city again. Kolkata doesn’t disappoint.

We walk the roads to Mother House to be part of the movement of volunteers. We spend time with the round milky babies and the wobbly children. We tickle, we laugh.

Early the next morning the boys drag tired bodies from the warmth of blankets to experience mass at Mother House, a volunteer breakfast of cha, bananas and bread before heading off on the local rocking bus to work in the one of the children’s homes.

The delight of the teenager and the tween as they spend time with young people who haven’t had the kick start to life is refreshing. They do laundry, play, teach, read and feed before tucking up into large cots for rest time.

Our metro ride back to the hotel is full of funny stories and laughter. The lightness of their world is wonderful.

We eat, we explore, we taste. The food has flavour, the conversations are rich and we discover new enchantments with each twist and turn.

My early morning solo run on our final day provides delights to the locals and some peace for me. I run to Mother House to listen to the singing. The doors are closed but the sweet voice of women, young and old, emerges above the traffic and the horns and floats down to me.

It’s this peace amongst the chaos that makes two boys and one mama on tour such a unique and wondrous adventure.

All love

Jessica Purbrick-Herbst
January 2018

 

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Cracking the code – week 70

Mothers are wrong.

The look, the vibe, the hostility some days flaw me. How can the charming, delightful, funny, joyous 14 year old turn from this to a cutting, disdainful teenager in just a matter of moments? It makes no sense and honestly, I don’t really want to understand why.

“Everyone” tells me this is “just teenagers” and that “it’s ok, they come out the other end”, yet I don’t accept this behaviour as okay. It’s not and never will be something that is “just teenagers”.

There are some days when the interaction from 6.30am until the busting out the door an hour later is so cutting and mind chillingly dreadful, I find myself stopping on the way to work for coffee to pull myself out of this head space and into the reality of an adult world.

Do the teenagers treat their teachers this way?

Apparently not as term after term I receive glowing reports of this amazing young man who has maturity and delight that grabs his teachers hearts and souls.

Perhaps Teenager 1 uses up all his good bits at school and the safety of home opens a flaying child who is exhausted by this best public behaviour. Or could it be that home is so safe Teenager 1 has the luxury of pushing all possible emotional boundaries to test the love of a strong family bond?

I know it won’t break but will I?

The rational of adulthood seeks to crack the code of the teenager however just maybe it’s me that needs to wait out this time.

All love

Jessica Purbrick-Herbst
July 2017

 

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Spinning worlds – week 69

March already in a world that is spinning faster on its axis than ever before. Not actually true yet that’s the rush that surrounds parenting in 2017. Stop any parent at the school gate, sports stadium or Saturday traffic jam.

Tween One has reached the sky; we have seen him stretch tall to look over my head – the garden shed bears the tale-tell signs of pencil makings of a growing lad. He is relishing this lean languid of a new body.

Tween Two has also stepped into a new world of his self; new school–new friends–new routine. Exerting the rightfulness of independence, Tween Two has kicked away the ropes of primary school and enwrapped the offerings of high school tightly around his brave new world.

With this comes a change in parenting. 

Turning to the bruised knees of growing, as parents we are sometimes left holding the forgotten lunch that likely wasn’t going to be eaten anyway. How – just when the parent ebb is low, the hackles are up and the family feels of a battleground – there is delight, laughter and the immense joy and living with those whose everyday is growing up. 

I remember I’m more than a bystander. 

All love

Jessica x 

Be a rainbow – week 68

We’ve been having some fun. Tween Two is stepping out into a new brave world. 

As primary school comes to an end, Tween Two is looking ahead to high school—from 26 children to 170 boys—there is the delight of stepping into the mix of the masses; the diverse; and the languid. 

With this gleeful insight,  it’s hard not to check out of today and bide time. 

I’ve been wanting to use Tween Two’s creativity and sense of adventure to keep him grounded to now, the present. 

The solution? Add a start-up business into the mix. A trip to India last year sparked an interest in playing with fabrics, textures, colours and designs. From this tactile experience has developed a mother—son collaboration. 

Brick Green Designs – a start-up that takes the beige out of boring and adds in pop, colour and design. We have worked together to develop designs and sourced manufacturers that align with our values. We have chosen fabrics that are produced without harming and adding more waste to the world. 

Our launching platform is a crowdfunded kickstarter campaign to get our first commercial production off the ground. 

Success or failure—it doesn’t matter. 

It’s the chance to ignite the creative soul of Tween Two into something tangible, spending time together and leaning in to learn. 

The gift as parents is to teach our children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort and keep on learning (Carol Dweck). 

And that is what I hope I’m doing. 

All love

me

Jessica x 

PS. If you want to travel the journey of Brick Green Designs, please support our kickstarter campaign here

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Stormy clouds – week 65

Stormy clouds hung over Tween Two.

In full force he fought the demons that make him crack.break.fall apart.

It was the last week of term. The school production was in full swing with Tween Two taking on a  front and centre role.

He learnt the lines, he sang the songs; solos were practiced and practiced. He examined the life of his character.

The opening night was beyond spectacular. The crowds cheered at the incredible display of 70 children having the time of their lives; the stunning singing, the acting, the words.

The second night arrives; a few mistakes, a missed line, a yawn. Tween Two was primed and ready to deliver his piece. He missed a beat, memory went blank – eyes widened. The cast nudged in, a heart beat, just a fumbled word, phew… the scene moves on and words are remembered.

Sitting in the second row I noticed a physical change. A squaring of shoulders, a face turned to thunder. The tears begin to fall.

My stomach lurched, the play continued.

Its the solo act, the singing of a narrative song. Tween Two steps to the front of the stage, thick with glistening shine, chin out and sings.

The voice is clear, striking, moving. The crowd holds its breath, the tears continue to flow. He does it. He makes it through, not just as a struggle but as a sound byte that delivers one of his best.

Standing ovations for the whole cast and the lumbering thankfulness of a mother.

Backstage I gather my 10 year old into my arms, I wrap him in kisses and take him home.

I am so full-blown proud that he held it together, that he really, really understood what resilience really feels like. Its not just a word tossed about during class time, not just a stamp on a page that ticks the box.

Resilence is a physical, a mental and whole lot of guts to keep going, to stand up and stand out. Its a moment, a time that once strongly felt enables anyone to rise up and be counted.

And my mother pride saw the growing up of Tween Two, his gathering of inner strength and the breaking away of the boy that stood in his way.

The toughness of the moment led to a deep sleep that gave silver lining in the morning.

 

Warmly

in the library

Jessica x

5 July  2015

 

Ps. On the cold June night when my second child flooded his face with tears in the middle of the school production, I did everything I could not to rush onto the stage to cuddle him. To watch your young child soldier on, to sing an incredible piece whilst flooding the floor with his tears of inner despair and disappointment was heart wrenching.

Reflecting back on this moment I still feel slightly sick. I’m also incredibly proud of his strength to continue on – I wonder what I would have done if it was me?

As parents in the thick of parenting we can forget that our children are tough, or can be tough in circumstances we can’t predict. We are lucky to be watchers and to share their path of discovery.

Merciful holidays…. and it begins all again next week.

What toughness have your children shown you?

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