I Will Not Wear Boots

The snow is deepening
and we are going out;
It is a party.
I will not wear boots,
I tell my mother.
She never gets it.
She is practical,
she is critical, too.
She tells me I’m shallow
because I care how I look.
I cannot wear snow boots.
It is a party.
My soft-leather burgundy shoes,
T-bars, with a buckle.
That is what I shall wear.
It is a party.
They go with my dress.
It’s Christmas in six days.
I really cannot wait.
I made snowflakes from paper,
cutting them out one by one.
Now they hang from the ceiling
in our living room, tied daintily
on white thread.
It’s been a horrible year –
so many problems, upsets
and loss. Lots of loss.
I am so excited for Christmas.
And to be going out tonight.
It is a party.
As we prepare to leave,
my mother stops by our stairs.
Holding the bannister, looking around, slowly.
Can you smell smoke? she asks.
No! I reply. Let’s go! We will be late!
It is a party.
A Christmas evening at friends’.
Today was the last day of school.
I was given a box of chocolates.
I put them in my room to save them.
But I will never enjoy them.
We leave the house now.
For the last time ever.
It is a party.
We need to go.

The next day, I haven’t slept.
Because I have no bed now.
I still have my party dress on.
My mother’s friend tells me
You cannot go out in the snow.
You have no boots, she reports.
That’s right. I refused to wear them.
It was a party.
They did not go with my dress.
I can smell the stale scent of my
party clothes now.
But I cannot take them off.
I have nothing else to wear.
Suddenly, I decide it was my fault.
Mama, I caused it
I left hot chocolate
on the stove.
I am crying now.
The adults all reassure me;
No, you are imagining.
It was electrical.
It was the washing machine,
faulty wiring, the fire chief said.
Years later, I realise I was a child,
I did not know how to use the stove.
I just wanted to blame myself.
It must have been someone’s fault.
It was a party.
I was looking forward to Christmas.
I needed to absorb the guilt.
I imagine the bright flames,
licking at my pretty snowflakes,
I cut out of the paper so carefully.
Did they all burn?
I think I can smell the ashes
from the next town,
where we are staying.
It was a party.
It feels wrong our house is gone now.
Everything feels wrong. It’s Christmas.
It was a party.
It was a party.
Why am I being punished again?
It was a party.
I wish I had worn my snow boots.

On the Surface

“…I’m doing fine, thanks,
really good, actually…”

The smile illuminating
her verbal contentment
is boldly coloured in
Take-the-Stage red –
ironically vivid lips,
the gatekeepers
of words locked,
to remain unspoken.
“…work’s going well, yeah
and the kids are doing great…”

A shadow of sadness lying
somewhere deep, still
within her withered heart;
the heart of a young girl,
her small tender hands
holding remains
of a shattered childhood
and crumpled self-worth
“…thanks for asking, and
How are you?…”

One day, perhaps, she may
let the truth rise to the surface….
“…really, I’m doing absolutely fine…”
…But not today.

Another Reason for Silence

It’s the #16DaysofActivism. Violence against women and girls is something I think about every day, not just in the 16 Days, but this campaign does encourage me to be more proactive about tackling it.
This morning, I was thinking about survivors, and about not disclosing, and the reasons for their silence. I thought about one of my own experiences and my reasons for my silence. I say “reasons” because there is more than one. There usually is. Anyway, some of the well-known ones apply; I was young, I was scared, I was ashamed, I was alone and I was afraid of not being believed.

That was back then….. Now, I have another reason. The fear of gaslighting. Worse than being not believed, gaslighting is a direct attempt to deny one’s own reality. My mother has used this tactic for decades – her way of negating my complex, toxic childhood. And I have struggled with her gaslighting over many issues. But sexual violence is something we don’t imagine. It is real. It is devastating. It can create layers of trauma which solidify under the burning heat of shame, and take unquantifiable lengths of time to chip away at.

So, for now, I choose self-preservation. I choose silence to keep that part of my story from her. It is oddly empowering, allowing me to control what I am subject to and ensuring she has no opportunity to gaslight. No chance to try to tell me it was not possible, and it never happened, in order to protect her own long-held, sanctimonious beliefs around her parenting.

Silence can be corrosive, and I have selectively shared what happened to me, to start healing and chisel away at the trauma layered inside.

But my mother will remain unaware.
And that is just fine.

That One Adult

photo by C Staff 2010

Having worked with children since the late 80s, I have worked with many professionals across all sectors, at all levels, too. There are so many amazing people working in really valuable roles – many of whom have found healing in being the adult they needed as a child, and did not have access to.  It can be very intense work and downright distressing at times.  It takes people who have their own affairs of their past in order.  Those who are not out to prove themselves to anyone. Those who are psychologically well enough to have capacity for children’s sadness, grief and fear.

Among the amazing people, there are some who have decided, perhaps through insecurity, or perhaps through conceit, that their work is the only work available to children with complexity, which is of any significant worth.  Self-proclaimed heroes, making the difference to children every day, all by themselves. Here is where it becomes very problematic.

Let’s begin with a gentle activity to illustrate this situation.  If your childhood was lacking and you did not have adequate parenting, resources or access to any help with trauma, abuse or neglect, you may look back over that barren landscape of youth and see a prominent adult figure. It may be someone who was in your life for a time, long or short, who made a difference.  Like, a real big, memorable difference.  Maybe it changed your education pathway, maybe it saved you from a life of offending, maybe it inspired you to do the work you do now.  Based on this, we could easily believe that children just need that one adult.  That One Adult.  The coach, the foster mother, the teacher……

I wonder if this is maybe how some professionals come to think that they can be That One Adult for the children they work with.  Perhaps.  But there are some difficulties with this.

  1. Even those who look back and know That One Adult made a huge difference, there will likely have been others on the periphery – others who were only there once, or whose name they never knew, or a stranger who acted anonymously on their behalf. Perhaps even someone supporting That One Adult, a partner or a work-mate, without whom the Adult would have been unable to be there in the way they were.
  2. The African Proverb goes “It Takes a Village To Raise a Child.”  Buying into the belief that you are that one person who can give everything to the child you are working with (or even the children you are raising) negates this beautiful, inclusive concept that life is about relationships.  Everyone we meet may have something to offer which can enrich our journey in some way.  The contributions of others and our safe, healthy relationships with them can shape us in positive ways for the rest of our lives. It is others’ impact on our lives which can teach us, as children, about humanity.
  3. Lastly, surely it is only the child themselves who will be able to look back one day and declare who were the difference makers for them?  Who gave them a boost, who gave them a tenner, who gave them advice, who gave them half their sandwich?  Who believed in them when they had no self-belief?  The person they quietly thought about in bed at night, wishing they were their mother or father, instead of the one they had?  Only when they have some distance between the now and the then will children be able to do this with the perspective it requires.

So, it is not down to any single one of us.  We all need to look after ourselves, to keep doing what we believe in and to see ourselves as part of a collective, a community (or village) of adults who may or may not have been let down as kids ourselves, who want to make sure we do our utmost to help today’s children have safer, nurturing childhoods.  Childhoods like we deserved, and they like they deserve.  A macro-village of difference makers, each doing their part, so that others can do theirs.  Together being a part of something which contributes to children being able to reflect one day, and have a concept of That One Adult which was made up of all our efforts, which made a difference for them in an immeasurable way.

Seeing the Unseen

Magical winter with our two babies, experiencing all their joy.
New Year, seeking a larger home for our growing family,
hastily making a swift purchase for an uncomplicated move.
“The occupants died,” explains the property agent, in ‘that’ tone,
“Such a sad situation…” Callously perhaps, we avoid the subject.
We don’t want to know.
Asking no questions, we move in and await our third baby.
She’s summer-born; beautiful, adored, keeps her mother close by.
A darling infant, yet a fretful sleeper, waking often in the night
to be lifted from her white crib by our bed, and soothed.
Her focus develops, she is fixating on something unseen;
whatever does she notice near the coving in our room?
We don’t want to know.
Her gaze follows it, feed after feed, night after night.
Where wall and ceiling meet, her tiny face entranced
in the nightlight’s glow, as it’s traveling back and forth.
Pleadingly, I say her name attempting to distract her,
but she remains transfixed, while motionless in my arms,
mesmerized by this unrevealed vision she’s watching.
Night noises, unexplained, disturb us constantly:
“But –“ we reason, “It’s just an old house. It creaks.”
We don’t want to know.
Returning from shopping, I place bread on the counter
only to hear it fall tumbling to the floor after a while.
Bemused, returning to the kitchen, I replace the bread
far back on the wood surface; it cannot possibly fall.
Later, I hear a noise: the loaf landing back on the floor.
Leaving it there, I feel a shiver, afraid of what’s next.
The middle child often speaks of “The curly-haired girl.”
We try to find out who she means but never succeed;
she gazes out of the window when we ask the girl’s name.
Occasionally, she reaches for a hand only she can see.
“The Curly Haired Girl.” Of course.
We don’t want to know.
One night, hours after they have fallen asleep,
a row of books on the children’s bookcase is toppling.
Like dominoes they fall, book after book. After book.
I cry in our bed, what is this presence frightening us?
We don’t want to know.
Fourteen months old the baby stands beside me as I fold laundry.
Suddenly, she’s frozen, staring at the ceiling. I speak her name sharply;
Nothing. I say it louder. Staring soundlessly, she doesn’t respond.
Finally, a chilling movement, her arm slowly rises up in front of her,
stopping when her tiny index finger is in line with her fixed gaze.
Then, silently her finger and eyes, follow a force over her head and
she turns to the window, offering a barely perceptible wave.
The house is valued that afternoon, and up for sale the next day.
We don’t want to know.
The housing market’s quiet, sales are slow. Our desperation grows;
I throw away an antique French dress I bought for the baby,
give my late grandmother’s rings to a friend “for safekeeping”.
So desperate to rid our house of that which we cannot see.
Craving peaceful sleep, we spend weekends at a nearby hotel,
“A little holiday” we tell the children, so they won’t be afraid.
One day in the dining room, our oldest child asks
What the light is, moving on the wall?
“Where?…. Where?!” I demand.
“There!” he insists, pointing.
It is a grey day, no sunlight. The dining room has no windows.
We don’t want to know.
Concealing my alarm, I tell him it’s nothing. But he knows,
As, do I, although I have no explanation to offer my child.
Driving to school, he’s pensive, staring out of the window,
then, quietly our small boy makes a resolute declaration:
“It was a head, wasn’t it Mummy?….It was a ghost.”

The day we leave the house for good, we do not look back.
Still, we don’t want to know.


Photo @jcstaff_

October by @jcstaff_ , Sept. 2020

Green leaves, givers of oxygen,
begin to change
colours transform to velvety rusts,
golds, auburns, maroons;
colours of dying.
Though there is exquisite beauty
in their death.

Some cling to their last known resting place,
trembling, quivering in their final spot,
slight undulations with breeze’s breath.
Until they can hold on no longer,
liberated, they dance in a gust,
spinning, spiralling in air,
skittering to earth
in sun, warm and syrup-like.
This brings delight for children,
the dying swan song of the leaves.
The death of summer in the air.

Now, it rains. Dark autumn days,
the leaves blacken, colours stolen.
Plastered on the ground,
too heavy to fly free any longer.
Mildewing and losing their crisp voices,
as decomposition silences them,
robbing them of their elegant beauty.
They settle in the soil to rest, and wait,
to begin their next journey.

A Boy in A Pick-Up Truck

pick up

A Boy in A Pick-Up Truck – by JC Staff

An uncomfortable vacation with my mother; she’s irritable,
and so embarrassing. Everything’s a drama for her.
I’m sixteen – why did I come? Why?
It’s spring break in Florida.
Too good to miss, so I thought.
I spent yesterday in the sea, at one with the waves
and the salt, and my thoughts adrift on the water.
Today, red hot, crispy skin covers my shoulders.
Back at the beach, I cover my burnt flesh
with a baggy, summer sweater, in teal green,
worn gently over my swimsuit, inside-out,
protecting my parched skin from seams.
The sunburn hurts, and I’m aware of my fishbelly-white legs
self-conscious, surrounded by golden Coppertone bodies.
It’s so hot, I feel unwell, and need a break from the sun.
From my mother, and from the sun. Space and quiet.

“I’m going to look at the gift stores.”
My mother hates shopping; I leave her there on the sand,
scowling and wiping her sweaty face. She hates beaches too.
Reaching the roadside, I wait for a pick-up truck to pass.
A blond boy, older than me, rides in the back barechested.
Laughing, he shouts out two words: “You’re fat!”
And time stops.
I’m fat.
He has told the world in a moment of hate.
Everybody knows now, and despises me for it.
In reality, I’m not. I am not fat, or overweight.
But my true size doesn’t even matter anymore.
Cataclysmically lasting damage has been done.
The seed is planted in fresh, damp fertile soil.
He couldn’t know, but I loathe my body already.
Every damned piece of it, in all ways unimaginable.
His declaration, “You’re fat!” adds to a growing arsenal
of ammunition, the suite of weaponry that starts a war.
Assailing a healthy body which would endure much harm.

Many years later, I will question whether he even meant me?
I convinced myself he did, an accusation I did not challenge.
He wasn’t there when I ripped up my school photograph,
consumed in a rage of fury, certain I was the ugliest girl alive.
He did not know how I wished to melt my freckles away with acid
and yank out the wretched cowlicks in my wildly tangled hair.
He never found out I already thought I was fatter than fat.
Years have elapsed since I stood at the roadside,
in a flowy, soft cotton sweater, nursing sunburn.
Years have elapsed since I later stopped eating,
almost starving myself to death.
Yet I still remember that taunt
and sometimes, it still stings.

Stilling the Wind

Stilling the Wind jc staff, July 2020
Violent force, unseen, whipping my hair across my face,
branches of trees, decades old, lurch and jerk, directionless.
A ghostly moan – where does it come from?
Is it the mournful voice of the wind itself?
Turbulent, it is unsettling the way it stirs,
never soothes.
Because it is never soothed.
It is aggressive, discontented, darting –
moving recklessly, with unclear intent.
But it leaves the grass alone – stoic,
and untrembling.
Perhaps, the grass is too strong and anchored
to be sucked into the wind’s cruel game,
standing resolute in the storm-filled torment.
The courage of the grass against the wind
is the courage of my heart against my mind.
Be still, it whispers.
Even though it shan’t be heard.
Be still.

Photo by jc staff

Body-Mind Quandary

Body-Mind Quandary – by JCStaff

Prioritize your health.20200523_083146
Sounds simple enough.
But it is not. For some,
physical health and mental health
are diametrically opposed to each other.
I developed anorexia nervosa in my late teens,
Then spent a good number of years starving;
nearly to death, on occasion.
Today, I am healthy, physically.
My weight is in a normal range,
my bone density has regenerated,
my menstrual cycle follows the moon.
Though decades later, the anorexic brain lives on,
long after the calorie counting quietens to a whisper,
and average-sized women’s clothing on racks fits again.
Health is the priority, true: but choosing is a daily battle daily,
for those with disordered relationships to food.
Our mental health or our physical health;
Which of them matters the most?
If we eat normally, we feel guilty;
If we feel guilty, we want to restrict;
If we restrict food, we struggle with exercise;
If we can’t exercise, we feel enormous;
If we feel enormous, we over-exercise;
If we over-exercise, we suffer injuries;
If we are injured, we struggle with exercise;
If we can’t exercise, we don’t want to eat;
If we don’t eat, we cannot think straight.
This is not the end, but it gets tedious, doesn’t it?
All the while, quietly observing this tense game
of moral ping-pong is our tattered metabolism,
forever striving to end play, yet frozen
in a constant state of confusion.

Darling Sparrows

Darling Sparrows – by jcstaff

Were the leaves that green yesterday?
There seem so many of them presently,
blossom, fresh growth – like mid-spring.
But this beautiful decade has been tainted,
its hours are passing strangely, so slowly.
How peculiar our world feels, this planet
now foreign to us all; unchanged
only in name.
Outdoors, oxygen feels drenched
with a hazardous cocktail of
uncertainty, contamination.
So, we stay inside, secure.
Do the birds not know?
They sing louder now,
persistently inquiring
why earth is so silent.
Dawn chorus all day,
like the eerie backdrop
of a John Wyndham novel.
Oh darling sparrows,
your palpable fear is
our sudden nomality:
a life we didn’t choose
called 2020 lockdown.