Catherine Gracey

Living Life, One Misadventure At A Time.

Don’t Mess With Mum

One month ago I started a new job. This is the first time in almost five years that I have been employed by someone else, and it represented a massive step for me. Returning to full time paid employment meant leaving Shroomi for most of the day. It meant putting her into crèche for a few hours each week. It meant restricting the amount of time we could spend breastfeeding together. It meant completely redefining the roles in my family. And it meant seeing if my body could handle the demands of a normal office.

The past month has been intense. Not only did I learn that there are tiny muscles between the vertebrae, I learned that they can become swollen. Yes, it is as painful as it sounds. I learned that Shroomi wasn’t delighted to have her day time feeds restricted to my half hour lunch break. My partner learned that being at home all day with a toddler is fairly exhausting. I could have told him that, but it was funnier to watch him learn it for himself.

Despite the problems we all faced, I also learned that we are resilient and able to cope with a lot of obstacles. Towards the end of the fourth week I thought that we might have found our groove when things started working for everyone. Shroomi began to understand that she would see Mummy soon, my partner’s stamina improved, and I found a myotherapy schedule that was keeping the pain under control.

Friday is when things got…interesting.

I was alone on my lunch break when my female supervisor came into the break room. She had just spoken with our male manager, who wanted me to stop breastfeeding during my lunch break. He was giving me three weeks, at which point I had to wean Shroomi, who would no longer be allowed on the premises.

I heard myself resign before my fork hit my plate.

The conversation became fairly awkward at that point. She didn’t want to lose me, but she was at a loss to think of a solution that would work for me, my child and our manager. We discussed a few possibilities and agreed that none of them would work. She begged me to think about it over the weekend, which I agreed to do.

Boy, did I think about it over the weekend. Then I read some legislation. I read a lot of legislation.

I have to give it to Boss Man; he was smart. He didn’t say anything to me directly, which meant that he could claim that it was all Supervisor’s doing. Any formal protest that I might make has to include the conversation with Supervisor, and any allegations I want to make against Boss Man would be hearsay at best. He could defend himself by saying it was all a big misunderstanding, that he hadn’t expected her to say whatever I was upset about in particular, and that it was nothing to do with him.

His method for preventing me from breastfeeding Shroomi was also technically within the bounds of the law. As the person responsible for the safety of the site, he can prevent anyone from coming on site that he wants to.

Yesterday I gave him my resignation letter. He was surprised to receive it. He was so surprised that I found myself wondering if he’s never had an employee quit on principle before. Suddenly he was so keen to be friendly and accommodating. And I had guessed correctly: it was all a big misunderstanding. Fancy that. He hadn’t meant to upset me because he loves working through “problems” with his employees. He was sure we could come to some sort of arrangement that would work for everyone.

I sat there silent for long stretches of the conversation while he refused to respect me. The garbage he came out with left me so amazed that I lost my anger. At a few points I cut him off and said that we would have to agree to disagree, because he was hanging himself so badly that it was embarrassing to watch. There were, however, a few points that we were able to agree on:

  1. I am an excellent employee who has been punctual, diligent, and I have responded positively and respectfully to every criticism given to me during training.
  2. Breastfeeding Shroomi during my lunch breaks has not interfered in any way with my ability to do my job, and I have taken no extra time away from my work to feed her.
  3. Shroomi has not been disruptive while she was on site with me. After all, she and I have been do discreet that he didn’t even realise I was still feeding her until Friday when it was mentioned to him in passing by Supervisor. That passing comment was what triggered the whole fiasco.
  4. Resigning from a job is a big step that has implications on me, my family, my finances and the company that I work for.
  5. It’s difficult to hire people like me for positions like this one.

Since Boss Man said Work Safe would have an issue with my baby being on site if the company was ever audited, I decided to take a break from our discussion to go and chat with them. The guy at Work Safe said that yes, my boss is legally entitled to ban Shroomi from the site, but when I told him only a fraction of what had gone on he suggested that I ring the Human Rights Commission to get their opinion on sexual discrimination law. I don’t need to call them for their opinion, because I copied the relevant part of their website into my resignation letter.

There was no way I was going to let Boss Man talk me out of resigning so flippantly. He might have said the company is like his family, and how he wants all of his employees to be happy, but the truth of his actions is that he doesn’t want to have anyone disagree with him. I certainly don’t treat my family the way he treated me. He didn’t offer any apologies for his behaviour, and indirectly tried to explain why I should be the one to do the apologising. He actually thought it was reasonable to tell me that I’d have to come into his office every three weeks and tell him how the weaning process was going.

One does not leave for oneself, one leaves for the next person. Now he has to find someone to replace me, hire them, train them on a system that typically takes two months to learn (although I learned it in two weeks, so I’ve got no idea what he’s talking about there either), and pay for all the expenses involved in that. I could complain to the Human Rights Commission and see if they can force him to apologise to me, but for what? I don’t want to work with him, and I wouldn’t believe him even if he did say he was sorry.

As I walked out the door he told me that I am a strong woman. I had to smile at that. At least, in the end, we found another point that we could agree on.

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Christmas in November

I was at the local shopping centre during the weekend when my happy mood was disturbed by a sudden blare of trombones. I looked up, aghast, as a marching band picked up the Christmas carol and led an absurdly long procession through the building.

The procession was a strange one. There was the marching band, followed by Santa, which I understood. Then there was a long line of other people whose purpose I couldn’t fathom. Two large dogs were in the mix, there to promote pet photos with Santa.

As everyone walked past with ridiculous fake smiles and stilted waves that would have made Her Majesty proud, I couldn’t help glaring.

There are so many things that I took issue with that I could probably write a book about it. For the sake of brevity, I’ll keep the list short.

  1. It is NOVEMBER. Christmas is in DECEMBER. Why are we celebrating an event two months before it happens? The decorations have been up for weeks.
  2. Christmas is a religious festival. I’m not Christian, so I haven’t read all of the bible, but I can’t recall the part where God wanted me to get a photo of my dog with Santa. If you are familiar with this passage, please tell me which verse to read.
  3. It is NOVEMBER. Small children notice the decorations and get excited by them. To walk into a shopping centre in October and expose children to Christmas this early is an unnecessary cruelty to both children and parents. Delayed gratification is hard enough at 20; 2 is an unreasonable ask.
  4. Christmas is a religious festival. Again, I’m not that well versed in the bible, but I can’t recall the part where God wanted me to buy a lot of rubbish just because it’s on sale for people who I would otherwise never give a gift to. I can, however, recall a part where man was supposed to be a steward of the world, and crass consumerism doesn’t fit my image of good stewardship.
  5. It is NOVEMBER. I could take responsibility for my distaste and avoid going near any Christmas stuff. I get this. On the other hand, my kitchen isn’t very large, so I would run out of food by the end of the week. Plus, the gym that I go to is at the same shopping centre, and they won’t let me defer on the grounds that I find the decorations in horribly bad taste. I know this; I’ve checked.
  6. Christmas is a religious festival. There are several people who would probably be delighted if I was able to get into the “Christmas spirit”. It pains me to acknowledge that when they use this term, they don’t mean it as feeling appreciation for Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross to provide the faithful with salvation. That is the important gift here, not the latest model iPhone.
  7. It is NOVEMBER. That means there are two months of strangers talking to small children about what a mythical person is going to give them as a gift for being good. Am I the only one who was told to be wary of strangers who give gifts in exchange for compliance? And now society expects children to listen to two months of this?
  8. Christmas is a religious festival. I am not Christian. I’ve never gone around insisting that my religious festivities be used to spur consumer spending, and I’d be offended if someone else did. Why are Christians so tolerant of their salvation being bastardised in such a blatant fashion?
  9. Oh, and did I mention? It is NOVEMBER.

I’m all for getting together, having a good time, and celebrating what is important. By all means, decorate your environment so that it pleases the eye. Just cut the manipulation, and be honest about what you’re doing. Marketing departments, this means you.


Thanks, DHL

While touring Germany, one of my stories was published in an anthology by Ink Monkey Press called You Don’t Say. After carefully evaluating my options, I decided to get a few copies sent to my final known address in Germany. The shipping speed would have given me nearly a week with the books before I continued with my journey. I figured even if they were a day or two late, it wouldn’t be a problem.

Delivery day rolled around. The books did not. I went online to look at the parcel tracking, and my books appeared to be sitting in the USA. My sense of geography can sometimes be a bit delusional, but I am fairly sure that there are a few countries and an ocean between the USA and Germany. In other words, it isn’t the next town over.

Not terribly pleased about this, I contacted the manufacturer, only to be assured that my delivery had probably been delayed by customs or the local post office. I was told that parcels cannot be tracked through the global tracking system once they leave the USA. Clearly I have been overseas too long, because I must have misremembered ‘global’ as meaning ‘everywhere on earth’.

I started to become a bit obsessive about the DHL website. Three days after the books were supposed to arrive, they finally left the USA and were flown into Germany. Then they sat there, relaxing. I was not quite as chilled, especially once I found out how much it would cost me to get the books shipped to Australia after I left.

My books finally arrived in Jena on Saturday. I left Jena on Friday.

I’m irritated by this at so many levels. There is the inconvenience of being given a delivery date and then not having it met. There is the inconvenience of needing to organise additional shipping, not to mention the additional cost. But, most importantly, there is the inconvenience to my career.

I could have sold every single one of those books while I was in Germany if they had been with me. There were more requests from people to purchase a signed copy than I had ordered, so I would have run out of stock. I can assure you, having no stock because you sold it all is a much better problem to have than not having stock because it didn’t arrive and losing every single one of those sales as a result.

Even if these books now arrive in Australia without any further shipping problems, the potential profit that I could have made from them has vanished. If I keep or give away a single copy, I will make a loss. And is this the worst part for me? Not by a long shot.

I write because I love to do it, and I love it because I can communicate something to other people. One of the key components to communication is having someone to communicate with. A writer needs a readership, or she isn’t taking the process very seriously. This was a chance to build a readership, to show people the quality of my work, to keep their attention while I had it. And, thanks to the expedited shipping process that I paid a decent amount of money for, this particular opportunity is now gone.

Yes, I can make new opportunities, but they might not be with this group of people. I could complain bitterly about how angry I am, how the company should compensate me, and blah blah blah. But honestly? It just makes me sad. There are some amazing people out there that I don’t get to share this book with now, and that is the part that matters most.

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Losing the Championship Title

I am no longer the household title holder of Most Recently Taken To Hospital. Obviously I miss this dubious honour, and I am sure my body will jealously respond by randomly losing a limb, or having one of my critical organs fall out somehow, but until then…yay?

It was interesting being on the other side of the relationship (where interesting means utterly terrifying at the time). Normally I am the sick person glaring balefully at those around me who are trying to help. It was a new experience being the one glaring back and joining the too-bad-you’re-going-anyway club.

A small part of me can’t help but think of the various times when I was the one being contemplated by my loved ones. All those times I turned grey, began to shake, and was asked if I was okay while insisting that nothing was wrong and trying not to vomit from the pain. Those times I was bleeding and trying to convince everyone it was nothing serious. The nights when I just cried while someone held me, drugged me, and put me to bed to ride it out.

Wednesday night’s experience reminded me of why, at some subtle level, I prefer to lie in those moments about how bad it is. I know the doctors around me can’t do much to help, because if they could they would have by now. I know there is little that my friends and family can do to help me. In that moment I become convinced that the best thing I can do is try to not let anyone else get stressed about what is happening inside. So often I have taken the hardline approach that it is my problem, so I am the one who needs to deal with it.

Seeing someone else in a medical crisis, even when I knew what it was and roughly how to deal with it, was a rapid education about my own moments of crisis. The feeling of knowing I needed to do something, and realising that all I could do was try to stop it from getting worse, was ghastly. I wonder how often I have unknowingly given that feeling to others.

Not knowing what was going on inside was the worst part for me. Wanting to ask questions, realising there was no way they could be answered, and waiting until it was over was exhausting. With my own body I can feel exactly what is going on. I know how bad it is, and I usually know what I need to do to deal with it.

Next time I am the one having the medical problem, I am going to try and communicate more about what I am experiencing. Sparing someone else’s feelings is clearly a form of dishonesty and self delusion. I am not often surrounded by idiots who don’t care. Their concern does not stop just because the conversation has. Sharing might not stop their concern, but at least I can ensure they know what they are concerned about.

Hopefully this new tactic won’t see me reclaim my title any time soon. My housemate can keep it.


(I have been deliberately vague about who was involved and what happened. After a night spent in ER, the episode is over and, while further medical guidance will be required, it is essentially resolved. If the housemate in question chooses to comment and provide further detail that is their choice, but I will not in a public forum.)

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Someone Else Can Drive Next Time

It almost went to plan.

Last week I had borrowed the ute, the trailer was hitched to the back, and both were loaded with furniture for my move to Canberra. I needed to make it to Wangaratta by 8:30am to get the trailer registered before leaving Victoria, which meant leaving home by 4:30am. This did not please me, but it was that or make several trips. With a drive of 725km each way, losing a few hours of sleep felt like a small price.

The drive to Wangaratta was mostly uneventful. I had a bit of difficulty with mild fishtailing on the long, slow bends, which I put down to my inexperience with a heavy load, the trailer, and an unfamiliar vehicle. It had rained overnight, and I wondered if that also contributed to my difficulties. Each time was just enough to startle me, but never more than I was able to get under control.

I was able to get the trailer registered without any problems, which was a major relief since I had been clueless what to do if the application was rejected. The woman at VicRoads suggested I go to Supercheap Auto and see if they would be able to help me attach the licence plate. I went back to the ute and checked my load. In the rain the glue holding one of my bookcases together had given way. This reduced the tension in the ropes holding everything down, so I needed to adjust them. Content that it would hold until I made it to the shop, where I could gauge how rapidly the load was shifting, I set off.

There is a petrol station opposite Supercheap. I knew I should pull in, but there was a queue for the bowsers. Instead I decided to go to Supercheap, come back to the petrol station, and then continue on my way. Half way to the U-turn for Supercheap I ran out of petrol. In 13 years of driving I have never run out before, so this was an unpleasant learning experience. I was lucky to be close enough that I could walk to buy a can and petrol, because towns on the Hume Highway are often very far apart.

I managed to sort out my petrol problem, the man at Supercheap was able to attach the licence plate to the trailer, a full can of petrol was with me for the drive just in case, and I was off again. With the stress of running out of petrol, I forgot to recheck the load. I became paranoid about running out of petrol, as I had barely travelled 300km on 50L.

My next stop was at Tarcutta. After a fairly relaxed lunch, I went back to the ute. My load had visibly shifted, and I started to wonder if the instability in it was what had been causing the ute to fishtail. As I stood there trying to work out how to tie it down more securely, a local road construction worker asked if I would mind if he retied the load. I’m very happy to thankfully accept the help of big strong men when it comes to manual work, especially when I’m not sure how to do it myself. It presented a challenge, and before I knew it I had two construction workers and three truck drivers arguing about my ropes and the best way to tension them. They decided to give me a truck tie down, insisting that it was no trouble at all to help a damsel in distress.

I made it to Canberra with vastly increased confidence thanks to their help. The ute struggled to make it up the inclines, and I frequently had to drop down to third gear. A small amount of fishtailing continued, but with the slow speeds I was able to stop it easily. As I become convinced fatigue must have been playing with my skills, I drove past the sign welcoming drivers to Canberra. Home was close and, even though I was confused by why I was driving so poorly, I knew I would have no trouble concentrating for the remaining distance. The ute slid a bit around one of the corners on a backstreet in my suburb, but otherwise there were no further problems.

Saturday morning came, and it was time to make the return trip. There was barely any weight on the ute, the trailer was empty, and many of the problems I had faced on my trip to Canberra should have been irrelevant. I set off with confidence, expecting an easy drive home.

Barely past Yass the fishtailing resumed on a long, sweeping bend. This time it happened at 110kph, not 80kph. It resisted my usual easy tricks to stop it. My heart was beating wildly, and I had to slow to nearly 40kph as I entered a straight section to bring the ute under control. Other drivers were overtaking me, despite the ute swinging out into the next lane. I considered pulling over, but decided that it was better to push on instead of sitting on the side of the road letting my fear build. It felt stable again, and there was nothing I could do about something past.

The road began curving again, and the fishtailing started so quickly that I almost jackknifed the ute across both lanes of the Hume. This is not something I recommend doing at over 100kph. I’ve had a lot of driving experience on unsealed and slippery roads, but this was new for me. My body filled with adrenaline, my heart was pounding so fast I suspect it was above 180bpm, and all I could think about was making sure I didn’t roll the ute and kill myself.

As soon as I had it under control I decided to pull over. I needed to work out what was going on. While I was slowing down in the emergency lane, the feel in the ute shifted, and I suspected I had a flat tyre. I’ve only had one flat before, in a small car without a trailer, and I wondered if I had missed the signs.

My legs were wobbly as I got out and began to check the tyres. Everything on the driver side looked fine. I went to the passenger side, and that was when I realised my rear tyre was missing entirely. Where there should have been a tyre there was only metal digging into the grass.

I let myself freak out for a few seconds, which felt like a perfectly logical thing to do given the circumstances. Once I got it out of my system, which didn’t take nearly as long as I had expected it to, I got out my phone. My phone with barely any battery power left. My boyfriend started driving the 75km from Canberra to rescue me, my Dad suggested that I start the long walk down the road to find the missing tyre, and my phone started warning me that it was about to turn itself off.

After walking back 200m, I came across a pulped kangaroo on the side of the road. It looked like it had been dead for a while, but I started wondering if I had contributed to the destruction of its corpse. This was when I decided that I’d had enough and was going to sit down in the ute and not deal with anything for a few minutes. When I turned to walk back, I realised that I was beside quite a large valley. Any hope of finding my missing tyre faded until I realised I could see where the scratch marks from the ute began on the road surface. I followed the angle, and spotted my tyre resting against a tree. There was no way I would be able to get it out, but I found some comfort in realising how close to the ute it actually was. My tyre had held on until I was breaking in the emergency lane.

A truck driver pulled over to help me. He retrieved the tyre, looked it over, and decided that it was damaged beyond use. He got the spare from under the tray and I started going to the other tyres to remove a single nut from each to replace the missing nuts. Of the five nuts on the front passenger side wheel, four were loose. I tightened all except the one I removed, shocked that I could have lost a second tyre so easily.

My boyfriend arrived as we were screwing the first nut onto the replacement tyre. He removed a nut from the other two tyres and reported that they had also been loose. We all stood there, staring at the ute, and I decided that I was heading back to Canberra. The truck driver was relieved I was not going to try to drive the remaining 650km to Melbourne, and my boyfriend was happy to follow me the whole way home. He was even happy with my announcement that I would be pulling over frequently so we could check the tyres.

I’m very aware of how easily I could have been killed. Aside from a sunburn that covers most of my body, I escaped without injury. Still, there are a few positives in my mind:

  1. It could have been much, much worse, but it wasn’t.
  2. I was able to control the ute through sheer physical force to get it off the road safely. Six months ago I was too weak to drive it at all.
  3. My body’s adrenaline response worked the way it is supposed to. By that I mean I had the adrenaline to save my life, it carried me through the situation, it stopped when I was safely home, and I was able to sleep it off. Previously adrenaline surges took at least a week to recover from, sometimes nearly a month.
  4. I handled a crisis in a way that leaves me feeling quite proud of myself. There was no fear induced paralysis, no hesitation to do what I needed to do, and I know that there was absolutely nothing more I could have done to help the situation given what I knew at the time.
  5. I know more about problem solving when driving than I did before. Next time I am in a situation with unexplained fishtailing, I will know to check the nuts on my tyres. Now I also know to make this check a standard part of my long distance driving routine during the drive, and not just at the start.
  6. My country has a lot of good men who are willing to go out of their way to help a stranger. Their attitude that helping is just what you do made me proud to be their countrywoman. I probably won’t ever be in a position to help those individuals, but I can make sure I stop and help others when I am able.

Of course, all of these things aside, flying seems like a much better idea now.

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