Thursday, February 07, 2013

Meeting Denise Morcombe

I had the pleasure of interviewing Denise Morcombe last year for an article which appeared in Insight Magazine. 
As the world watches the current events surrounding the trial of Daniel's accused murderer we're reminded of the Mum that's behind it all.

I arrived for my interview with Denise Morcombe on a typically hot February morning.  She's still in a meeting but pops out to see if I’d like a glass of juice - a small motherly act that speaks volumes about the family environment Daniel was raised in.

We all know too well the details surrounding the disappearance of Daniel Morcombe in 2003 and cried in our living rooms at his parent’s heartfelt pleas for information in the subsequent 8 years.  With an arrest made in August 2011 of the person accused of his murder and the discovery of Daniels remains shortly after, it was assumed that perhaps this would finally mean some peace and closure for the Morcombe family.  But thanks to an outpouring of support, The Daniel Morcombe Foundation will continue to spread its message of child safety.  “On August 13 last year the foundation really exploded”, explains Denise.  “Before then it was just me, Bruce and the committee.” 

Denise refers to “The Foundation” often.  It’s clear that its existence is the focus that this mother needs to survive the unthinkable.  “What happened to Daniel isn’t right.  We have to get out there to tell the kids and their parents.   Our message is no different to what anyone has said before, but the kids relate to Daniel, he was a real boy just like you.”
Denise describes Daniel as being a shy boy.  Best friends with both his brothers, he enjoyed riding his motorbike and was good at maths.  “He was just a good kid,” says Denise.  Daniel would now be 22, a young man.  An image far removed from the photo ingrained in our memories of the 13 year old boy with the cheeky smile.  “Who knows what he would have become.  He loved animals, so maybe a vet.  We’ll never know.”
The sadness in her eyes when she speaks of Daniel defies ordinary comprehension. Her weariness is beyond ordinary too, as if she knows a kind of tiredness from which sleep offers no respite or remedy.  How she survives, not even she knows.  “People say we’ll collapse if we keep going like this.  We haven’t yet.  But we haven’t been through the trial yet,” Denise says apprehensively. 

At this, I remind Denise of the countless scenarios she must have saved children from simply by the extensive coverage of Daniels story.  To Denise, the pride she feels in this makes it all worthwhile.  “We love talking to the kids.  We’re always getting cards and photos from the kids all dressed in their red.  It really helps.”

It’s clear that her work with the foundation is her purpose now.  This is a profound change from the woman who had previously very little community involvement.  Prior to Daniels disappearance life revolved around work and family, a very typical suburban lifestyle.  Today Denise is in constant communication with schools, community groups and politicians.  “If you had asked me to speak in public 8 years ago I would have said no way.  To me everyone should be treated the same whether it’s a school kid or a politician.  They all deserve the same respect.”

Her philosophy on life and her answer to the big question, “why me?” is honestly raw, “we’ve been dealt a pretty crap hand.  But you can’t go back in time and change what’s happened.”  Like all mothers, Denise is working tirelessly on the cause closest to her heart, her son.  This gives her purpose, strength and fortitude despite the most painful of hurdles. 

Her husband Bruce meanders by occasionally, keeping a protective ear on our conversation.  The solidarity of their relationship is apparent and Denise says that Bruce helps to keep her strong.  “We’ve worked together since 1992.  Spending 24 hours a day together has its moments,” she chuckles, “but you have to have a laugh about it.  We go just about everywhere together.”

Denise has a wicked little laugh and shares with me her love for a good joke.  “For a long time we didn’t know if we were allowed to laugh, but you have to,” she says.  “You can’t be serious all the time and walk around crying all day.  I don’t want to, that’s not what we do.  You have to be able to have a joke and a laugh.”  Denise Morcombe's smile is rarely shown in the media coverage surrounding her family. I feel privileged to be in a room when it fills with her laughter. It's a moving reminder that while life may never be the same, it can still go on despite unimaginable loss.

One can hope to never have a complete understanding of the mindset it takes to survive your worst nightmare. How would we really stand up if our worst nightmare became our daily reality? Denise Morcombe is a woman on a mission to make sure we'll never have to find out.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

I Want To Be a Doctor When I Grow Up

Hello Blog, I’m back.  But I’m sorry; this writing thing may be coming to an end because I’ve had the realisation that I want to be a doctor.

I have a weird little fascination with hospitals.  I’ve spent a bit of time up there of late and now I know for certain, I want to be a doctor.

I pity the fool who ends up with me as their doctor
Fortunately I’ve only experienced hospitals first hand on a couple of occasions and most of those times took home a baby with me, so it’s been a pretty good run so far.  On the occasions I’ve been to hospital as a visitor though, I am often found lurking the corridors and lingering in door-ways a little too long to find out what’s wrong with Mrs Smith in Bed 5. 

This isn’t a new fascination; it’s something I’ve toyed with for years.  I was actually accepted into a Nursing degree when I finished high school, but I deferred when I was offered a job too good to be refused – a dental assistant.  Why they think children of 16 and 17 can make sensible decisions on their career continues to baffle me.

I know being a doctor would be hard.  I watch Grey’s Anatomy.  All that study, the long hours, those hot doctors, it’s going to be tough!

Reality can be a cruel bitch sometimes though and it seems for the time being I’m stuck in the role of Dr Mummy.  I’m going to be back up the hospital next week with the kids though, I’ll be the lady with the Fisher Price stethoscope around her neck.  

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

I’ll Have a Skinny Cappuccino, Hold the Muffin-Top

I tried on my “test pants” last week.  You know, that item of clothing you stash away at the back of your wardrobe waiting for that day when you’ll slip effortlessly back in like an old friend.

Please note:  This is not me.  It's a stunt muffin top.
My Test Pants are a slim little Allannah Hill number,  chocolate brown with cheeky little pink stitching in just the right places.  BB (Before Babies) I’d love nothing more than rocking them with a killer pair of heels and a strappy singlet.

Between B1 and B2, I had a brief moment of glory when the planets aligned for me to fasten zipper and buttons.  I celebrated my achievement, then quickly removed them when my legs started to tingle from lack of blood supply.

What I was thinking the other day when I put them on I don’t know.  Exercise is a random occurrence these days and I still eat like a pregnant lady.  Food is my problem and I know it.  I’m a comfort eater and reward myself with food.  “Treating Myself” or “Me Time” these days generally involves something sweet and even on our trips to the park I stop via my local café for a Skinny Cap and a little somethin’ somethin’.

It’s going to be a hard habit to kick, but I’m determined to get off the sugar before I need to sacrifice my favourite jeans and summer shorts. 

It’s seems the old girl ain’t what she used to be, but I’m hanging onto my Allannah’s for next winter.

Do you have "test clothes"?  What are they?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Story of the Owl and the Lark

This week I had the pleasure of interviewing a psychology professor for a magazine article I’m writing.  He specialises in the human body clock, which in a nutshell puts some theory behind things like why we reach for a Tim Tam and cuppa at 3pm.  Among many interesting tid-bits, he shared with me the world of the Lark and the Owl.

It seems there’s two kinds of people in this world.  Larks and Owls.  Owls as you may have guessed, love to stay up late into the night and enjoy long leisurely sleep in’s the next day.  Larks are a bit like those annoying birds you hear chirping away just as the sun is starting to peak over the horizon.  They greet the day in full song and then nestle back into bed straight after Masterchef.

I’m going to challenge that there’s a third kind of person in this world, and that is whatever kind of ungodly creature my children can be represented as.  You see, before the Larks even begin to stir my children are up and at ‘em and probably on their 2nd round of raisin toast.  I’m talking 4am people and that’s even in the middle of Winter.

B.C (Before Children) and B.H (Before Husband), I was an owl.  I have truly spent whole days in the wonderful self-indulgent bliss of sleeping, reading, sleeping, eating, sleeping.  My only conclusion is I slept too much in my early 20’s and am now being repaid with a lifetime of sleep debt.

I’ve gradually grown accustomed to a lack of sleep and once the sun actually rises, I’m feeling quite good.   After a shower and with clean teeth, I’m ready to face the day.  It doesn’t make it any easier though EVERY MORNING when my children bound into the day long before dawn.

I conclude with two questions for you dear reader.  Are you an Owl or a Lark?  And does anyone know how the F@#@ I can get my kids to sleep longer!  

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

The Booby Trap

What kind of bee’s make milk?

Funny?  Yeah a little isn’t it.  The sort of thing I thought my 3 year old son would lap up.  You see he is a bit of an early starter when it comes to his toilet humour.  I simply have to throw Bum or Poo into a conversation and by his reaction you would think that I’m Jerry Seinfeld.  So I told him my Bee joke and was met with a very serious face and his reply, “No Mum, bee’s make honey.”

You see, boobies are very serious business around here.

I was fortunate to have been able to breastfeed my 3 year old until he was 13 months old when I fell pregnant with #2.  Now my beautiful B#2 is nearing 17 months and is still being breastfed.  It’s a habit I’ve been meaning to break since her first birthday and every week I create a new reason for myself to keep going for a few more days; she’s sick, I’m sick, it’s too cold.  As you can see I’m starting to run out of reasons.

The funny thing is the decision to breastfeed or to not breastfeed and then when to stop should really be no one’s business at all but every so often a story will appear in the news or online and suddenly everyone has an opinion.  Pink recently posted a beautiful photo on Twitter of her breastfeeding her 1 year old.  This special moment that she chose to share publicly was ripped into shreds by the seemingly well-meaning public. 

For me, I know these precious days are coming to an end with my little one and I know that it’s highly likely I’ll never have another baby to connect with in this way.  It makes me sad.  So sad. 

With all that said, the fact that my daughter attempts to seduce me with moves akin to her father in order to have her way with me is starting to weird me out a little, so I’m going to stop breastfeeding next week.  Promise…

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Pounding the Path to Your Purpose

I had the absolute honour of speaking to the amazing Dick Hoyt recently.  Never heard of him?  Do yourself a favour and read on...

The path to finding ones purpose is a unique and personal journey.  For some, it strikes them like a lightning bolt from the heavens.  Others have it thrust upon them, like Dick Hoyt whose son Rick was born with cerebral palsy.  For anyone still searching or struggling to find their purpose or passion, Dick Hoyt has one simple message, “Yes you can.” 

Dick Hoyt didn’t set out to be an inspiration.  As one of ten children, he was raised to do things the hard way, perhaps that’s what attracted him to a career in the military.  Life changed forever when his first son, Rick, was born with cerebral palsy in 1962.  Dick and Judy Hoyt were told their son was a vegetable and should be institutionalised.  “Forget about him,” they were told.  “We cried a bit and then we talked,” Dick recalls.  “You could tell by looking in his eyes that he was smart and paying attention to everything we said.”  The Hoyts took one day at a time with their special little boy and eventually convinced a team of engineers to create a custom-designed computer to help Rick communicate.  This incredible machine enabled Rick to not only complete school but to then move on to university where he achieved a degree in special education. 

It was while at university that Rick first convinced his father to compete in a charity run for a student who had become paralysed in an accident.   Rick said to his father, “I want to let him know that life goes on.”  Despite finishing next to last, after the race Rick typed a simple sentence to his Father that changed his life forever, “When I’m running it feels like I’m not handicapped.”
More than 30 years later, Dick has pushed, pulled and carried Rick in 1073 different marathons, triathlons and ironman triathlons.  The numbers are extraordinary; a gruelling 32 races a year (down from 50 a year at their peak), the longest being the notorious Ironman Triathlon with  distances of 3.86km swim, 180.25 bike, 42.2 run.  The most extraordinary number though is their ages.  Rick is 50 and Dick will turn 72 later this year.  Team Hoyt, as they are now collectively known, are an unstoppable force.

The pure joy on Rick’s face as they cross the finish line is moving stuff and is the fuel Dick needs to continue.  Watch any footage of the pair in action and Team Hoyts message of “Yes you can” feels absolutely possible.  Dick’s motivation has never been in question.  Only once have they pulled out of a race, after they crashed out in the bike leg of the Hawaiian Ironman.  “There’s something that gets into me when we’re out there that I can’t explain. It makes me go faster,” Dick says with his relaxed Boston drawl.

He is often asked the question of how much longer he can keep this up.  While most of his contemporaries are deeply settled into retirement, Dick laces up his sneakers each morning often in temperatures that plummet to -5 degrees.  He admits that the early mornings are getting harder but he only needs to look at his son for inspiration.  “The easiest thing Rick could have done was quit,” he says.  “But he’s a fighter, he never gives up.  We’ll keep this up as long as we’re still enjoying it”. 

It’s not suprising that when Dick does have any precious down time he prefers to spend it enjoying the company of his family.  Simple pleasures like fishing or water skiing with his four grandsons bring him the greatest joy.  The family also own a small restaurant and ice-cream stand, Team Hoyt’s Finish Line.  As well as a reputation for the best ice-cream, the café is full of Team Hoyt memorabilia and is a popular stop for tourists.

Any break is never too long though.  With mounting injuries and state of the art equipment required for races, the cost to maintain Team Hoyt is astounding, so now on top of his training, Dick also travels the world as a motivational speaker.  His “yes you can” message is a powerful one that has changed the lives of alcoholics, drug addicts and people on the verge of suicide.  What began as a quest to bring happiness to his son, now feels like a much broader duty.

Dick is most proud of the changes he has seen in other families with disabled children and how they have been encouraged to take a more active role in their child’s life.  In 1962 people with disability were removed from mainstream society and most people would never have seen anyone in a wheelchair.  The Hoyts were determined that their child wouldn’t miss out on a thing.  “We took Rick everywhere with us.  To the shops, to restaurants, and people would leave because they didn’t want to be around us,” says Dick.  Team Hoyt have now inspired similar pairings around the world with athletes volunteering their time and bodies to give those with a disability the chance to feel free of their physical boundaries.   Where the Hoyts were once not even accepted in their own home town, they are welcomed with open arms the world over.  Dick admits there’s still some work to be done in overcoming people’s prejudices, but through the sheer determination of his family, Rick has been fortunate to live a fuller life than many able-bodied people.

Dick’s advice can be applied to virtually any dilemma and is almost frustratingly simple.  “If you are focused you will be able to accomplish almost anything you set your mind to.  It might be hard, but you can do it.”
It seems the Team Hoyt phenomenon is far from finished.  There are many races still on their ‘to do’ list and they would love to one day compete in Australia.  It’s been a journey that has given Dick’s life a depth of purpose he could never have imagined and for Rick it’s a journey that transcends the limitations of his body, and other people’s minds.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Melody of Life (A picture says ...)

The latest of my creative writing posts in the Picture Says... series set by my writing friend Kelly Exeter

The melody still dances through my mind, as vivid today as it was 30 years ago.  It’s the weirdest things that trigger the memory; the smell of gravy, the sound of a shovel piercing through fresh earth…

Most afternoons, my mother would call out over the fence to Mrs Tucker and obediently I would follow.  I was always in the way whenever my mother was around and especially so at 4pm when her latest boyfriend would be about to arrive for a midweek sleep over.  My fear and confusion would be washed away in a sea of iced vovo’s and milk the moment I stepped into the sanctuary of Mrs Tuckers home.

I would potter around the house with her, helping shell peas or mending her husband’s trousers and she would ask me about my day as if it was the most important information she’d ever heard.  Every so often she would pull the old sheet off her piano and play for me.  She would sit at her stool, apologising in advance, “I’m a little rusty,” she would always say, crack her knuckles and wince as she took one long sip of her warm sherry.  With fingers poised, she would wait as if for some signal from above, and then she would start. 

Her fingers would glide across the keys and I would stare, trance-like watching them.  The music transported me to another time and place, far from my suburban prison.  As she played, her eyes gleamed with the vibrancy of youth and her arthritic hands seemed suddenly cured.  Then as abruptly as she started, she would stop, her eyes moist from the time and memory the music evoked.

One day my mum picked me up from school and we didn’t go home.  I would sometimes dream that Mrs Tucker asked me to live with her and we lived together cosy in little fibro shack, without a worry in the world and a big garden at the front to display her prized Azalea’s. 

I cried every night until I forgot to.  Many years later I was reminded of my afternoons at Mrs Tucker’s house when at a party I heard the sound of neglected piano brought back to life by a man emboldened by one too many boutique beers.  I’ve even been inspired to take lessons myself, determined to find the beauty she did in the music.

She’d be long gone now, but the memory of her music will always play in my heart.