I’ve noticed something happening on my personal Facebook timeline and it’s made me start wondering what it is all about. I seem to be developing a habit of posting pics related to crocodiles. I don’t know a lot of about crocodiles, and my country of New Zealand doesn’t actually have any here. I have encountered them (as close as I ever want to get with a large fence between us) at a crocodile park in Papua New Guinea. Yes, I have really been to PNG, hardly a country on the tourist trail, when I visited my oldest brother who was working there, now 25 years ago.
Anyway back to crocodiles. They seem pretty fearsome creatures and I admit that when I go near the wonderful waterways of New Zealand I am thankful we don’t have any that are going to come charging out of the undergrowth. Probably the worst I have to worry about might be a wild pig, and as yet I have yet to come anywhere near one. I will be climbing a tree very fast at that point.
For some reason though, the wonderful people who create these funnies that get posted around social media seem to like crocodiles, and for some reason so do I.
This is one of my favourites, which I have posted before. It reminds me of my Dad going with me to face WINZ (Work and Income New Zealand) – the NZ version of Social Security – many times to fight some battle or other on my behalf. I got to the stage where, while I had previously worked for them for five years, they frightened the heck out of me, so Dad came too. Now that Dad has died I have to face them on my own once more but I go with an image of this pic in my head, and that way feel like Dad is still with me. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t but that I think is the nature of Social Security agencies.
This crocodile talking itself into being a dolphin also tickles my fancy. It’s something of the thoughts I have often when coming out of Social Security offices. Those staff inside have a tendency to make me angry as well as make me want to yell “I’m not going to be squeezed into a box of their making!” So turning myself into a dolphin has its attractions, although only if I can roam the seas wild. I don’t want to be trapped in some marine park, playing with balls for the crowds.
All this got me thinking. Who told me I could be a dolphin if I wanted to be one? Actually I don’t think anyone did. No one said, ‘Cate you can be who you want to be, what you want to be’ and I feel a little sad about that. I think now there are so many more options for people leaving school but even so, I had options. It’s just it seemed that I was constantly told I didn’t fit the options.
When I left school I thought I wanted to be a primary school teacher. I have little idea why looking back. I can’t see that I would have made a great one and I love the kids who are related to me, but 30 of someone else’s kids? I don’t think so. But anyway my parents told me I was too young to go to Teachers College, so that was the end of that.
Technically I wasn’t too young but I was a year younger than most kids finishing school (because for some reason I was put a year ahead in primary school). Actually my mother wanted me to go back and repeat my last year at high school. I was mortified. I hadn’t failed, but she thought I needed to mature. Probably to this day, she would say that all my problems came about because I didn’t have that extra year at school but I won’t raise the subject as I am still mortified that she would suggest social ‘suicide’ by having to repeat my final year. In my eyes, it just wasn’t going to happen and thankfully it didn’t.
Probably as part of the argument I was also told I wouldn’t cope with university. At that stage I didn’t question it because I had no clue as to the possibilities of university study and so accepted what I was told. I think I had a habit of accepting what people said.
Instead I went and got the first job I could find. That happened to be in the Social Security office, and actually there is no way I would put a 17 year old in a job like that. I had no clues about anything let alone know anything of how tough it might be to live on a benefit. But back in those days they regularly hired school leavers (and particularly, it seem, school leavers with no aspirations).
I just couldn’t see the opportunities the world offered me. My oldest brother had done really well academically and while I was told I wasn’t being compared, somehow I was because I was always being told I wouldn’t cope with things I considered. I should point out though that actually I had no diagnosed mental or physical illnesses at that stage. I was a quiet, introvert who didn’t display much enthusiasm for anything, but maybe it would have been there if it had been encouraged. I’m still not really sure why they thought I wouldn’t cope.
Actually I did very well in my work. I got promoted, I got new and better jobs and about seven years on I got an opportunity that I am now very grateful for. I had a very good job and now had two bosses who believed in me. They started to say “you can do anything you want to do”. And that’s what I needed. Admittedly they had to say it quite a few times. Interestingly there were a lot of tears over it too. Something I never understood at the time, but perhaps it had something to do with them helping me to see that the sky was the limit for me, if I chose it.
I headed for the sky and got better jobs. Jobs I was actually interested in and enjoyed. The best jobs were working for people who inspired me and encouraged me to do what was right for me. I didn’t just need a boss, I needed someone to guide me to make the most of me, and thankfully there were three people who did that over the years.
Unfortunately I think I fell out of the plane (on the way to the sky) for a fair bit, some way further down the path. Illness has a habit of doing that, and really now my life is so completely different, it is hard to see the same Cate. Those three people would never recognise me now because like the crocodile I have changed so much. Deep down inside though, it’s still me.
I don’t mean to imply that my parents treated me badly. I think they just didn’t know how to help me become me, and for that I am so grateful that I could learn from those men.
“Risk more than others think is safe.
Care more than others think is wise.
Dream more than others think is practical.
Expect more than others think is possible.”
– Claude Bissell