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Archive for November, 2013

Dark Secrets

Abuse in any race, language, culture or level of society, is still abuse and domestic violence is not confined to one particular class or creed of society. The struggling family, comprising of a mother with two, three or four children, still faces uncertainty, bewilderment, trepidation and countless other fears.

There is an ‘unspoken,’ class of women however, who, despite undergoing the same predicament, continue to hide behind a cloak of respectability. They maintain the façade while they lead, what to their social-equals appears to be normal, busy and contented family lives.

These women living in affluent suburbs and engaging in social activity have deep, dark secrets that they cannot or will not share while living in their gilded cages. Sadly, some take their secrets to their graves!

I’m talking about a hidden and unspoken of, but nevertheless, real problem that has beset some women living in Sydney’s wealthy areas.

What is it all about? Why is it hidden? Who is involved?  While these questions can, to a certain extent, be answered, the where, when and why are scenarios that no one can delve into as long as there is a conspiracy of silence surrounding the issue.

Behind closed door the women concerned are being abused physically, mentally or verbally. If they refuse to seek help or cease to accept any further assistance or support, it can at times be a fatal mistake. Yes, some of these women have paid with their lives, to hide not only their shame or their fears, but at times, simply to protect the very monster who is abusing them. A quote from writer, Stephanie Meyer, sums up their predicament, ‘Sometimes, loyalty gets in the way of what you want to do. Sometimes, it’s not your secret to tell’.

So why is this report focussing on the privileged, financially blessed, ‘spoilt’ class of abused women? What is so significant about these women in comparison to any other abused woman in society? Why draw attention to their plight? Are their difficulties even worthy of mention?

The general public would rightfully sniff and scorn at the notion of society’s elite or affluent women even having ‘domestic issues.’

On the one hand, these ladies do have the best that money can buy: beautiful homes, designer clothes, the latest models of cars, domestic help, gardeners, cooks, pool boys, housekeepers and ground keepers. Their children attend private schools, receive tuition to excel in subjects that they may be mediocre in, learn to appreciate the arts, play musical instruments and be accomplished in singing or dancing, or both and vacation in places many can only dream of.

The façade behind the social standing, the Vogue-magazine homes and the manicured lawns can be, akin to a magician’s sleight of hand, an illusion or a back-drop that is hiding pain, shame and fear. The stresses behind the highly-maintained front, could camouflage mounting debt, a struggling business, failure to get the corporate promotion, failed investments and any or all of the above.

Husbands who are ruthless in their climb of the corporate ladder may take out their frustrations in missing out on the corporate promotion, on their wives. Or feel the pressure of bankruptcy when they gamble their savings on a failed business venture. In their bid to keep up with the proverbial, ‘Joneses,’ they may have over-extended their finances. There are so many possible scenarios but the hard facts are that generally speaking, their wives, and in some cases, their children, suffer the consequences of their stress and frustration.

Wives can be mentally or verbally abused, or worse, physically battered whenever the husband gets home from the office.

Abused wives who do report their husbands have rescinded their statements when faced with the possibility that their esteemed husband and the father of their children could face a prison sentence. The probability that he could lose his acclaimed position at his work; that the family would be shunned socially; that the children would miss out on their private education, all play a part in the withdrawal of the statement.

The police, having been made aware of the family situation, can do little to intervene, despite being mindful that the wife could face further mistreatment for exposing the family’s secret.

While the general lack of sympathy can to a certain extent be understood, these society women have other issues that are at stake and are equally as concerning, if not more, than their less well-off, suburban counterparts.

Picture the scenario: a mother and her children are fleeing the marital home! They are placed in basic, shelter accommodation which, compared to their former lifestyle, is generally unappealing. The fundamental problem they all face is when the husband freezes the account and the entire family suffer, or the executive lawyers make certain the wife is left without a penny to her name.

Hiding from and fearing their husbands’ wrath, trying to survive on the limited budget provided by the shelter; attempting to make life as comfortable for the uprooted children; bearing the brunt of the children’s disenchantment with their new surroundings; the children missing their social connections; and finally, dealing with new schooling for the children, can deplete the mental and physical resolve of these woman.

Generally however, the plea that the husband could lose his corporate position or even be fired, or that he could be jailed, plays a significant part in the wives returning to the marital home and the real possibility that, despite the husband’s reassurances, that the abuse will continue. For many of these men, their positions underline their business and social standing and they feel defined by their career. They lose more, in being denied their corporate role.

While this report exposes the hidden problems that face the affluent wife, no examples can be given due primarily to the fact that few of these women will step forward to acknowledge, or to speak out and expose their secrets. If you know of any who are willing to talk to me or to any reporter, please leave a message in the comments area or Inbox me on Facebook and we can take it from there.

White Ribbon Day, held today, 25 November, highlights and draws attention to domestic violence across all levels of society.

© 2013 Wendy Robinson

I have learned now that while those who speak about ones miseries usually hurt, those who keep silence hurt more.  ~ C.S Lewis

Keep on smiling

I can refute Stanley Gordon West’s adage, ‘Smile and the world smiles with you,’ as I can categorically prove that it can at times be a case of, ‘smile and you smile alone.’

Yes, I can easily smile when I think about the number of times individuals have not greeted me in return, while on my daily power-walks. I can also categorically say that the non-response never put me off my cheery greeting every time I saw the same individual.

I often put it down to the fact that the recipient could be a hundred miles away in their thoughts, trying to solve a problem; was caught off guard with my greeting; just may have had a bad start to the morning or umpteen other reasons. I’m actually not sure if I ever stopped to ponder on whether I would eventually crack through the veneer of, for want of a better word, the non-smilers, and receive a positive response. Perhaps, deep down, I may have secretly hoped it would happen.

I have a number of friends who would occasionally join me on my walk and there was a time when a good friend regularly joined my exercise regimen. He, at first, did not say much but was quite aware of the few non-smilers.

There was a sun-tanned, greying man who would regularly pass us walking in the opposite direction and I would gaily greet him with a quick, ‘good morning. ’ His face often looked severe and at times, haggard, and, if he heard me, he never acknowledged it. This went on for a month or so but I still greeted him every time we saw him.

One day however, he suddenly smiled in return and wished us, ‘good morning.’ His eyes crinkled with laughter lines and his tanned face virtually beamed. Even though the exchange took barely a few seconds, I couldn’t help smiling back even more broadly at him.

Once past, my friend and I looked at each other in astonishment. We shared in the satisfaction that we finally broke through his façade. It was akin to winning a skirmish and we actually laughed aloud in sheer disbelief and delight.  He was the topic of conversation for the rest of the walk and we couldn’t help wondering what caused the change of demeanour.  We conjectured on whether he’d won the lottery; he’d met the woman of his dreams; she agreed to marry him; a business venture reaped some profit or he was happy about going on vacation. Whatever the reason, he continued to greet us, after that day, with a happy face.

Oddly enough, another die-hard individual who ignored us and would walk with her head down was a girl barely out of her teens. Her dark wavy hair was parted in the middle and tied back, her shoulders were hunched and she never raised her head but looked at the ground as she walked. She appeared determined not to make eye-contact with anyone.

I nevertheless, always called out a cheery ‘good morning,’ but she never acknowledged the greeting.  This went on for a good six months or so. One day, when I was walking on my own, I spied her in the distance and felt disheartened and uncharacteristically decided to just walk past without saying anything.

To this day, I still have no idea why but as I began to head past her without saying anything, she looked up with a radiant smile and said, ‘good morning!’

Not only did she catch me off-guard, but I couldn’t help noting the difference the smile made to her usually downcast demeanour. I had never seen her teeth and there they were, gleaming in a neat row and her smile reached her eyes and they glowed with a light. I was so taken aback that I almost forgot to respond. Fortunately, I was able to return the smile in time and noted that she was actually saying something to me.

I snapped to attention and realised that she had said it was a beautiful day. Continuing past each other, I managed to turn around and quickly agree.

Walking on at my usual quick pace, I pondered at the sudden change of events. I realised that I was still smiling and mentally made a note to relate the event to my absent friend. My mind however, was a whirlwind of thoughts. How was it that the only time that I felt dispirited and had made a decision NOT to greet her, she had obviously made up her mind to cheerfully wish me a good morning. Why? What had changed? Why this morning of all mornings? I asked those questions of myself whenever I pondered about that day.

If she has conspired to floor me with her surprising move, she certainly succeeded.  And what a difference the smile made to her entire facial features! Although it seemed like a minor miracle, I felt oddly humbled rather than elated at the entire episode. All the way back home, I seesawed between laughing with inner delight and puzzling over the scenario.

The adage, ‘never say die!’ is certainly true for this entire experience.

© 2013 Wendy Robinson

Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does! ~ William James

Lost but not found

We’ve all lost items and much to our despair, some have been precious, irreplaceable or valuable. I own up to losing and lamenting over lost pieces over the years and have made it a habit, to turn around and check that I have all my property before leaving any area.

A friend recently lost her wallet after a quick lunch at a university hub but did not miss it until hours later.  She then rushed over and searched around the table and even looked in the bins to see if her wallet had been discarded.

The wallet was handed in, intact, by an anonymous person. Not only was she surprised to get it back, but she was astonished at the integrity and generosity of the person who had not touched the contents or the money, and also had not bothered to leave his/her contact details. She knew she was extremely lucky!

My mother on the other hand, was not so lucky! She was travelling on a coach while touring Europe, when they stopped at a castle. The bus driver advised the passengers to make use of the toilet facilities as the next stop would be hours away.

Unfortunately, the toilets were situated in the depths of the castle dungeons so all the women made their way down to it. By the time the ladies reached the toilets, a number of them were bursting to go.  My mother generously allowed them to precede her and therefore, ended up being the last to use a stall.

Imagine her alarm when she heard the coach driver honking his horn and realised that she was on her own and still had to travel up all the stairs to the castle entrance. In her panic, she raced out of the stall to wash her hands and forgot her camera was hanging on the back of the toilet door.

It wasn’t until the coach was half way to the next destination when she remembered the camera. She was most upset that she would never again see the photos she had taken all along her journey through Europe and it was a route that she was unlikely to repeat in the near future, if at all.

Unfortunately, my mother did not have her name and address inside or on the camera case.  While many of her friends scorned the possibility that a Good Samaritan would even want to locate the owner of the camera, I firmly believe that there are some honest people who would, do their best, provided they had contact details.

Due to my mother’s camera episode, I ensure I always fill in an airline luggage tag with my details and attach it to my camera bag and my hand bag while on vacation. I have also placed a name and address label, the kind I use for envelopes, on my mobile/cell phone cover.

The aforementioned girlfriend, who had lost her wallet, realised that she had none of her contact details in her purse. It was filled with several credit cards and miscellaneous cards but none of them had her personal contact details on them. The person, who had found her purse, had no way of contacting her. The University administrative staff member was able to contact her by using her ID card number to access her details online.

I wonder how many of us, actually have our details on our phones or our wallets, or for that matter, on our camera case.  My faith in humanity many be construed as a Pollyanna attitude, and while I do believe there are some honest people in the community at large, they will never be able to return your lost property to you, unless you ensure your contact details are on your items.  Would you agree?

© 2013 Wendy Robinson

Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart. ~ Anne Frank (The Diary of Anne Frank)

Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For indeed, that’s all who ever have.  ~ Margaret Mead (Social Anthropologist)

Driving in New York – Part 2: Caught by the NYPD

I glanced up at the NY state police car that was blocking the off-ramp to the parkway. Yes, New York’s finest was looking down straight at me! I then knew in no uncertain terms, that I was caught in the act of breaking a major road rule.

I’m however, getting ahead of myself so will backtrack to the event that led to my downfall.

We eagerly met other Australian expatriate members over the weeks following our arrival in the USA and began to feel more settled. Among the list of advice we received was the warning, to remain in the car and keep hands visible and absolutely still, should we ever be pulled over by the police. Under no circumstances should one ever reach for a wallet or touch the glove compartment as it could be construed as reaching for a weapon to fire upon the police. While we took this in our stride, I did silently hope any future encounter with the NYPD would never arise.

An expatriate friend, who was also a nurse, advised that I only deal with the Westchester Medical Center for our medical needs, as it was a world-renowned teaching hospital. She gave me directions just before she and her family returned to Australia. I distinctly remember writing down the directions on the back of a buff-coloured manila folder and I still have that folder today.

Soon after, as luck would have it, my three-year-old daughter developed a raging fever and I had little choice but to make an appointment and find the hospital. Dosing her with Tylenol to bring down the temperature, my daughter still felt feverish when I strapped her into the toddler seat in the car.

Making my way to the parkway, I saw the large, overhanging sign advising I turn right to access it. Spying a road leading off to the right, immediately before the sign, I quickly indicated and turned. The road however, slowly meandered down to a rough, walking path with bushes and trees blocking the way. Reversing, I managed to turn around and retrace my way back.

Acutely aware that I had less time to make my appointment, I opted to drive past the overhanging sign and to my relief, found myself on the parkway. Putting the car on cruise-control, I glanced at my rough directions to ensure I was heading on the correct route.

I gave a silent cheer half an hour later, when I spotted the huge façade of the hospital visible through leafy foliage but nevertheless, in stark relief on the horizon. Glancing at my watch, I realised I had less than ten minutes for the appointment and quickly drove up the exit ramp on my right. At the top, I indicated, turned left and drove towards a forest of trees which obscured most of the hospital.

The sudden appearance of a road to my left threw me and I almost drove past but quickly indicated and turned into it. My heart sank when I found myself driving down the off-ramp leading back onto the parkway that I had just exited. Knowing I had only a few minutes to make my appointment and none to spare in finding my way back to Valhalla and the medical centre, I pulled over to the side to decide my next course of action.

Turning and touching my sleeping daughter in the back seat, I noted that she was still burning up, despite the medication I had given her.  I will admit I was in a dilemma! Glancing through the rear view mirror, I noted that the off-ramp was clear and made a decision to drive back up it while keeping a sharp eye for any descending vehicles. I turned my car around and looked up, and that’s when I spotted the police car slowly cruising past the entry to the parkway. It stopped strategically in the middle and the police officers glanced down at my car.

I then had an internal debate as to whether I should turn my car around and proceed back onto the parkway. Anxiety for my daughter’s condition however and the added fact that I wasn’t certain whether the New York police would construe my actions as an escaping lawbreaker and would then pursue me along the parkway, gave me reasons to pause.

Mentally debating the issue, I squared my shoulders and considered my position. Tick one – I was a law abiding citizen, at least until now, and a young mother of three children. Tick two – I had a husband in senior, management position, who was working in Manhattan.  Tick three – I was new to the country and merely lost my bearings in trying to find the hospital. I then reached over and touched my daughter’s forehead and noted her cheeks were rosy and her curls were damply framing her face. That fact decided my next course of action.

Picking up the manila folder and my handbag, I lowered the windows slightly and then locked the car. Reassuring myself that I was hardly an example of an escaped felon, a murderer or a member of the Mafioso, I nevertheless nervously made the rather long walk up the off-ramp while holding my precious manila folder in front of me.

I will pause at this junction to mention the groans and incredulous shake of heads, when I later related the story to American friends. ‘Do you realise that you could have been shot? You could have been concealing a weapon behind the manila folder. NYPD shoot first and ask questions later!’ they chorused.

I will admit, I did at the time, consider if my friends were teasing me but the look on their faces told a different story. Perhaps it was just as well the police officers restrained themselves and refrained from greeting my passage up the ramp with a hail of bullets.  This ‘Aussie’ no doubt, would have been the topic of conversation around the dinner table, for quite some time.

When I reached the top of the rise, I proffered my manila folder with the directions scribbled on it and proceeded to tell the officer my story. I’m sure he noted my accent was anything but a New Yorkers, but I told him quickly that I was from Australia; I was already late for my sick, little daughter’s first appointment and that I had inadvertently turned onto the parkway instead of the hospital entrance.

Without responding, the officer quickly glanced at his partner and they exchanged a look. All three of us then became distracted at the arrival of another police car. I later learnt that for every incident that a patrol car attends, it is mandatory for a second police car to act as back-up.  This became necessary after too many fellow officers were being shot in the line of duty.

My police officer waved those officers off by assuring them that they weren’t needed. Although bemused, I still had no idea what would eventuate over this incident.

Taking a deep breath, the officer spoke in an authoritative tone. ‘You are never to do this again ma’am. I’m letting you off with this warning. You have broken a law that could have had serious consequences. Do you understand the seriousness of what you’ve done?’

Suitably chastised, I walked down the ramp, unlocked my car and drove up the ramp. In the meantime, the officer stopped all the traffic on both sides of the road and waved me on. I noted the disbelief on the faces of the occupants of several of the waiting vehicles. As I indicated and turned left, I quickly wound down my window and thanked the officer again.

Thereafter, I could only speak highly of the New York State Police.

© 2013 Wendy Robinson

The difference between school and life: In school, you are taught a lesson and then given a test.  In life, you are given a test that teaches you a lesson. ~ MountainWings

Driving in New York: Part 1

Our family of five were newly arrived in New York. The morning after we arrived, I ventured onto our driveway to familiarise myself with the hire car that had been delivered the evening before. Knowing I had to contend with driving on the right side of the road, it was imperative that I practice with the blinkers, windscreen wiper and other signals that were the reverse of our right-hand drive vehicles. I planned on practicing around the neighbourhood streets for a few days before venturing out onto the major roads.

Yelping, I automatically drew my foot up from the floor of the Oldsmobile and glanced down. The entire floor was covered in icy-cold water. We eventually discovered that the air-conditioning had been leaking internally. There went my plans for easing onto New York’s main roads!

With three youngsters in tow, I mentally prepared myself after my husband (from work) immediately organised a replacement car with another rental company. Just prior to the representative picking us up, I conveyed the importance of the kids acting as my little helpers as we had yet to purchase a street directory and this was in the days before GPS.

The eldest son was assigned the task of watching for landmarks and street names on the right side of the road, while the second eldest was given the left side to watch. And of course, the three-year-old had the middle seat, so she was allocated the extremely important duty of watching through the front windscreen. The task had to be carried out in silence so that we could all concentrate and memorise the details.

While a woman drove us to the rental office, I managed to chat and keep a sharp eye out for street names and store signs.  After signing the required documents, an agent cheerfully handed me the car keys and told me the car was out the front. A large, burgundy coloured sedan awaited us. Buckling all the children in, I told them that I needed their help in getting back home without a map and more importantly, I needed their undivided attention, their cooperation and their silence (meaning ‘no squabbling or arguing’), as I was about to tackle the New York traffic for the very first time and would be driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road.

To this day, I marvel at the cooperation of all three children. I placed my eldest who had studied the roads and signage, on the left side for the return journey and the second son on the right side of the car. After adjusting the mirrors and practicing with the indicators, I took a deep breath and ventured out into the fast-flowing traffic. The kids pointed out various landmarks that they had seen on the way to the hire company which fortunately tallied with my observation list and the names of the various streets we had passed.  I passed my first ‘heart-in-the-mouth,’ trip with flying colours!

Thereafter, I adapted to right side driving with ease and even when I struck, ‘black-ice,’ during the winter season, I adjusted to conditions.

© Wendy Robinson

I’ve learnt that every loss or defeat reveals an important surprise … for time will prove each set back, was a blessing in disguise.  ~ Linda Ellis (Author of The Dash)

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