bed time

Week Four

“bed time”

This week’s topic is something a little easier: we all go to bed after all. What does bed time mean to you? Is it a relief or a challenge? And end or a beginning? A time for stories, for thoughts, for shutting down? Does ‘bed time’ mean something different entirely to you?

Bed time. Harder to get right than the answer to the time-honoured question ‘Do these sheer micro mini hot pants with split crotch and diamante butterflies make my butt look big?’ (The correct answer, for those who may encounter this is of course: ‘No Greg, you look awesome’).

When I was a wee lad my bed time was strictly 7.30pm. Any later would lead to accusations of being overtired from my parents the next day, regardless of the scenario. It wasn’t quite as bad as the examples below but I seem to recall them using it as an excuse for pretty much anything out of the ordinary that happened.

Example #1: Dad slams car door shut on Seb’s fingers.

Seb: “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARGH!!!!”

Dad (carefully placing severed pinkie in a lunchbox filled with ice): “Stop it. You’re just overtired.”

Example #2: Seb runs past with head on fire, trail of smoke billowing behind him.

Seb: “MuuuuuuuuUUUUUUUuuuuuum!!!”

Mum (without looking up from Mills and Boon novel):“Overtired. 6 o’clock bedtime for you tonight!”

Example #3: A Boeing 747 falls out of the sky and lands directly on Seb.

Seb: (bone crunching squishy sounds)

Parents (in unison): “You’re just overtired and showing off. It’s a nap for you this afternoon, mister!”

After countless years of begging to be allowed to stay up to watch Hart to Hart and Knight Rider my parents finally extended bed time to 8.30pm shortly after my twelfth birthday. This triumph only elevated my status among my friends to ‘second lamest’ in our group, narrowly ahead of Julia Mcgonfrey who had a 9pm bedtime but had a serious social disadvantage in that her parents didn’t own a television. Plus she said ‘Ha ha ha ha ha haaaaaaaa’ in a loud voice instead of laughing when something amused her.  Kid was weird.

When I moved out of home I cautiously extended my bedtime to 9.30pm which I hoped managed to reflect my new found independence while still affording me the protection a good night’s sleep offered from the car doors, fireballs and rogue aircraft that I feared being overtired would attract.

The following year I discovered nightclubs, shift work, drinking until 2 Unlimited’s lyrics became deeply meaningful and a rather handy trick –  completely blocking sunlight out of your bedroom by lining the inside of a window with foil.

Bed time then became whenever I collapsed in a twitching heap, if not directly on a mattress then at least in a park within three minute’s walk of my house.

Sleep lasted anything from four hours to twenty, dependent on my ability to grab and set the alarm clock as it spun around the room after a night of drinking my body weight in vodka doing volunteer work at the local cat shelter.

After decades of sleeping patterns that would test the mettle of the most hardened late night infomercial enthusiast, I returned to a day job with early morning starts and a requirement to be pleasant to the people I encountered from the moment I set foot in the workplace.

In theory this doesn’t sound very difficult but the reality of only having half your brain wake up after the alarm blasts the song of it’s people at 5am means you have to lumber sideways like a crab as you attempt to bathe then dress, using your (then) only functioning arm. The other half wakes up when you pass out momentarily getting into your car and your forehead hits the horn at full blast in your remarkably acoustic garage.

Once entering the office any attempt at communication – pleasant or otherwise – results in you emitting a strangled croak as a lone cornflake falls from your cheek and lands elegantly between two keys on your manager’s keyboard.

Not only did I have to battle this, I constantly have to factor in that depression and anxiety would also be along for the ride.  After an increased incidence of swearing at my screen, frustrated man-tears and the sudden onset of flailing Muppet arms at work recently I resolved to try setting a bed time for myself in 2013.

Of course, weekends are still for sitting up until bitch, is you crazy? o’clock. There’s no better time for arguing with people on the internet and searching new YouTube videos of people scaring the shit out of Taylor Swift.

My weeknights however now have a strict 10.30pm lights out followed by a 6am wake-up. Seven and a half hours of blissful slumber.

This is interrupted only by my diabetes’ insistence that my body make the equivalent a 44-gallon drum of urine every four hours which then requires a one-eye-open zombie stumble to the bathroom. It’s incredibly annoying but it does finally allow me to rid myself of the recurring dream that I’m being being soaked by a giant purple chicken holding a garden hose. My subconscious early-warning piss-the-bed system is fucking insane.

I’m happy to report that the early bedtime is working for me – better than I could have imagined in fact. Mentally I feel better prepared for the day ahead and I haven’t arrived at work sporting a steering wheel mark across my forehead since late December.

I even tested the effectiveness of my new routine by staying up until 12am one Thursday night and the following day had my worst panic attack in over a year. I couldn’t breathe properly and was shaking so badly that my chair threatened to shuffle across the call centre with the momentum of an off-kilter washing machine.

That was the only time I broke my self enforced ‘rule’ and I’m not going to be testing it out again in a hurry. (And no, I won’t do your laundry)

Yes, I may have to finally concede that my parents were right and Julia Mcgonfrey probably out-ranks me in the coolness stakes but a set bed time that allows me a little more mental breathing space coupled with a notable reduction in unexpected Muppet arms makes it more than worth it to me.

Goodnight, all.

(*thud* *snore*)

something that has to change, will change – erinn’s story

(In Australia, Friday March 18th was the National Day of Action Against Bullying and Violence)

I encourage anyone with children attending school to read this story. This is dedicated to Erinn.  You were tougher than anyone gave you credit for and I’m so incredibly proud of you.

In Western Australia in 1977 a young boy named Erinn attended his first day of Primary school.  An only child, Erinn was shy, a little withdrawn and these days would perhaps be described as androgynous.  The name ‘Erinn’ was unique for a male at the time and this, combined with his quiet, gentle nature often lead to him being mistaken for female.

Within a week he was being verbally abused by the older students in the school.  Initially assuming he was a girl, a teacher had scolded him for using the male toilets during lunch. A group of boys from another year saw this, and began teasing him, branding him a ‘poofter’ and a ‘pansy’.

The bullying escalated throughout the year as older students took his possessions, hit him, forced him to eat sand and frightened him so severely on two occasions he was found by teachers crying and hyperventilating in a corner of the playground, having not returned to class after recess.

His parents approached his teacher but were told that they were overreacting.  His parents were only aware of a very small amount of the actual bullying that was occurring at this time.  The teacher knew about the majority of it.

 

In his second and third years of school ( aged 7 & 8 ) Erinn was bullied regularly by students from the sixth and seventh year classes.  Halfway through the school year he was grabbed as he was leaving the school grounds, held down by three older boys then kicked in the genitals repeatedly by a fourth before the same boy urinated on him.  The boys threatened to kill him if he told anyone.

A complaint to the school lead to the Principal saying he couldn’t discipline the boys because the incident had not occurred on school property.  It had occurred on a council footpath less than a metre away from the school oval.

The same children were later overheard by a teacher threatening to ‘next time’ force Erinn to eat a cup of faeces.  She reported it to the Principal.  The ringleader’s parents were called in but it only escalated the taunting in later months.

 

The bullying continued throughout Primary School having now extended to students from the local High School chasing him on bikes, hitting him with steel rulers and pelting him with food.  Too scared to speak about this with his parents, it was the complaint of a local resident that had witnessed the physical assaults on the then ten year old that brought the issue to the attention of the school.

The High School Principal disciplined the students by singling them out as bullying a 10 year old boy during school assembly.  The bullying stopped immediately.

Graduating to High School in 1985, most of the physical abuse had subsided but there was still the name-calling.  Branded a ‘faggot’ by his most of his peers, Erinn managed to form a strong friendship over the holidays with a couple of the more popular students who then protected him to a degree over the next two years.

In 1987, his family moved to another area and he began attending his 3rd year of high school.

A sports focused school, the students immediately noticed the differences in this new, quiet student and the insults hurled from one boy in the first week had escalated to hundreds of students within a few months.  Walking through the corridors, other students from varying years – both male and female – would shout ‘faggot’ or ‘poofter’ at him.  Any teachers that witnessed this would completely ignore it.  When passing classrooms, students he had never met or spoken with would begin shouting out insults.  After school he would be dragged off his bike and repeatedly punched by a group of boys. It was at this time, aged fourteen that he would unsuccessfully attempt to take his own life.

 

With the level of bullying now brought to the attention of the school, Erinn and some friends were given access to a classroom for all breaks and the Principal also mediated some meetings between Erinn and some of the other students that were verbally abusing him, giving them a chance to meet him for the first time.  In most cases this was extremely effective and began to allow him his own means of changing the attitude among the student body at large.  Unfortunately there was still a core group of male students in his class that would not leave him alone.

Toward the end of that year, some incidents of violence in the change rooms lead to Erinn being given an exemption from sport lessons.  After only a few weeks the Physical Education teacher argued to have this reversed and he was reinstated in class.

The first day back, after the class Erinn was pushed into the change room urinal, where he was kicked repeatedly, then stomped and urinated on.

Talking about his past with another student he trusted, he had mentioned the incident in primary school.  This student told the story to some other students who decided it would be ‘funny’ to do it again.

After the incident Erinn was home schooled for the rest of the year.

The following year Erinn attended a different school for three months before the taunts of ‘faggot’ began again.  The next day he left the education system permanently.

As an adult he suffers from depression and in 1999 attempted suicide twice.  He has severe issues with anger.  He has agoraphobia and hasn’t been able to sustain a romantic relationship in 16 years.

This is a horrible example of the school system failing a child.  Of peers and a community failing a child.  Throughout Erinn’s life there were hundreds of witnesses to the bullying he received.  The bullying occurred five days a week for over ten years.  In that time, only four strangers ever stepped in to help.  One that saw a small child being kicked to the ground by other children close to twice his age, another stopped a teenager being dragged to a fight in a shopping centre car park by three other boys, a third reported seeing a child being struck with steel rulers by high school students and a fourth stopped to help a kid lying on the road, knocked unconscious after being pushed off his bike and left there as a group of boys rode off.

I’d like to think now that the school system has changed enough since the late 70’s and 80’s that there would never be a child that went through what Erinn did.  But back then it was trusted that it never would, and it did.

As a community we’re all responsible for the safety of one another.  And we need to be vigilant when it comes to bullying, be it an open dialogue with our children, witnessing an incident as a passer by and stopping to help or wondering as a teacher if it goes deeper than the ‘few comments’ you witness in the classroom.

Does your child know that they’re able to speak up? Erinn was too ashamed to tell adults about the extent of the bullying.  His friends just saw it as his life.  Have you given your children the mental tools to defend themselves against a bully and taught them the importance of upholding their own moral code, regardless of the mentality of their friends? Could they stand up and say ‘Hey the way you treated that kid isn’t right’?

Do you hear them referring to other people as ‘Gay’, ‘Ugly’, ‘Stupid’, ‘Fat’, ‘Gross’?  Do you say anything about that?  Are you allowing it to be okay by thinking it’s ‘just what kids do’?

Only a dozen or so children caused physical harm to Erinn.  Hundreds of others throughout his school life caused mental harm. I wonder how many parents heard their children refer to ‘this weird poof at school’ and thought nothing of it.  I wonder how many of them would read Erinn’s story and still think it was such a ‘throwaway’ comment.

From the kid with the patch of hair without any pigment to the girl with the birthmark on her arm, to the effeminate boy, the tomboy, the short kid, the kid that reads all the time, the kid that can’t catch, the boy with the accent, the girl that likes spaghetti and peanut butter in her sandwiches, the kid obsessed with sharpening pencils, the boy that snorts when he laughs, the girl with the weird mum, the quiet one, the loud one, the gangly one, the….  well, they’re all just kids, aren’t they? Amazing, funny, different, lovable, brilliant kids.

All kids deserve acceptance, tolerance, support and love.  If the thought of your child being abused daily breaks your heart then it’s your responsibility to ensure nobody else’s child suffers the same.

The parents of Erinn’s tormentors no doubt loved, supported and were proud of their children.  We’re not talking about at-risk teens here.  We’re talking students that excelled at school, played sports and were respected by their peers.  And no doubt as parents they were relieved that their children weren’t being bashed, bullied and abused by others.  I wonder if they ever entertained the idea that their children were in fact doing all this to another child, and what they would think when they found out it drove someone to the point of suicide. That it would still be effecting that person’s life three decades later.

If you’re relieved that your children will never know the pain that Erinn’s childhood did, take a moment to be very, very sure that you know your children would never participate in bullying. Don’t take it as given.  Help them to be strong, take the high road and be the amazing people you want them to be.  It’s up to all of us to stop this.  Don’t be relieved it’s not happening to your family. Don’t be complacent. Be a part of working towards making the lives those at risk of bullying better.

Please.

———–

(In 1999 Erinn changed his name because it related so strongly to the memories of the bullying he’d experienced. He’s a very lovely man.  He’s funny, kind and quirky.  He’s working hard at freeing himself from depression and anxiety. He likes music, reading, the marvel universe and far too much chilli.  His name is now Seb.  He wrote this post and he thanks you with all his heart for reading it.)