Most days were a struggle. The shame because of what my father had done gripped me, who could I tell, most friends I could not. Telling even my closest friends was difficult, if I did the tears would stream and adrenaline would pulse through my veins causing me to shake again. Leaving the house was never easy, getting clothes on my frame, daunting. I had lost all ability to co-ordinate outfits, make-up not even an option because it was too hard. I felt haggard, exhausted, drained and not myself. Smiling was impossible when I did get out the door to take the kids to school. Tears coming and going in my eyes, blurring my daily vision and functions. My appetite was a roller coaster, my clothes loose and hanging, I had no desire to eat for weeks and weeks. Making food for my family was my biggest task of the day, I had lost the ability to plan meals and I could not shop. Think my brain had determined it’s basic need was to survive emotionally at this stage, and all other life routines would take a back seat. Washing mounted in the laundry, which was making mornings harder, but for the first time in my life it didn’t matter to me. My husband Michael had taken time off work initially to be there for us, for me , to help me function but he had to go back to work and some how I had to cope. Once again I felt alone, I had three little people under my broken wings and I felt isolated in my pain every day.
As weeks blurred into months and the shock of my horror story started to wain although guilt still haunted me. Why had I not seen any signs of my daughter abuse, what had I missed.I had sat at dinner tables, ate at barbecues weekend after weekend, I had sat there in the church pew Sunday after Sunday all next to my father, next to a man who was sexually assaulting my children and nothing was a red flag. How could that be possible, how could I, the one person closest to him besides my mother not have seen any thing. He must have been a Master of his evilness , I kept telling myself over and over.
My mind kept racing back to scenarios in the past with him and my observations of his interactions with my daughters. My brain kept making desperate attempts to piece together fragments, any clues.
There were a few…..he had groomed them, something in hindsight which was I had only really sighted. He had lollies jars in place from the moment we had arrived to live with my parents, there were jelly beans, there were chocolates, all there for his random disposal to the children, although our youngest Emily tended to receive more than the others , I often found him handing her one alone off to the side in the kitchen while the others were out playing. This type of grooming was incredibly hard to spot as this was their grandfather, what grandparent doesn’t like to spoil their grandchildren?
On one occasion I had walked into the kitchen and found Emily seated on the bench top crying, she had a small graze on her knee, just a scrape really. She held a lolly in her tiny fist and my father was there in the pantry. When I asked what had happened , he turned to me and said ” she fell over outside that’s why shes crying,” to which I replied ” but why does she need a lolly to make it better?” I hadn’t seen that he was creating an association for her between pain and reward. That’s what perpetrators do.
One morning I woke up and went to the kitchen to find Emily as I often did making tea with my father .She was sitting on the high bench top, she was smiling, her chubby 4 year old little legs swinging with delight, two cookies in each hand and a cup of tea beside her. She looked up to me and said ” I am Pop’s girlfriend.” I remember being shocked by her words, I turned to my father and then projected my words to both of them and said ” NO Emily you are not his girlfriend you are his granddaughter, he is your grandfather.” This sentence would go on to haunt me for a long long time , I just didn’t know it at the time.
She disclosed after a month or so in therapy after her abuse that that’s what he used to call her. I was sickened to my stomach when she told me this. Only a seriously sick individual would tell a small child such a horrific deranged lie. These words made me grateful that he was no longer here, that he had fled from police and that he had taken his life and that he was out of our lives now for ever. As time went by I would also come to realize, the morning ritual he had created with Emily ,where they went to the kitchen to make tea, where she sat on the bench top her tiny hand shaking as she placed her teaspoon of sugar into the tea cup, where she often had a cookie, was not a sweet innocent scene but rather a bloodcurdling routine he had started after he had abused her. Each morning while he had lived with my parents little Emily would wake and run to her grandparents bedroom and dive in between them in their bed, she loved to see her grandmother and grandfather. And this is where he would abuse her time and time again.Then he would take her downstairs to the kitchen, make her tea awash with sugar and a cookie to go with it.
The phrase ‘girlfriend’ and cups of tea are now banned from our house.
The hindsight I now had looking back on these kitchen scenes made me comprehend to my horror , why her tiny hand would always shake putting her sugar in her tea cup. Why had I not seen it, why had I not put the pieces together then, these questions and these images would torment my mind at night for months and months while I tried desperately to sleep but could not. They would be the reason my pillow would be drenched from my weeping at 3am in the dark as a broken mother. As a fragmented parent who wished she had read into these signs and followed her gut instinct to protect her daughter. I felt I had failed as a mother. I had let this happen.
There were signs with Ella I had also not understood at the time. We arrived inter-state when she was 6 years old and for the first year she would come home after school curl up in a fetal position on her bedroom floor and sob. I tried every thing to help her for months, when I asked her at the time what was wrong she would say ” I don’t know.”This strange behavior started when we were living with my parents when we had first arrived and Michael was trying to find a job. We had lived with them for 4 months , then moved into a rental property a fair way ,away yet her crying continued. Most afternoons would entail me holding her tightly in my arms sitting on her bedroom floor while she just cried it out.I had tried almost every thing I could think of, food straight away as she walked in the door, meeting with her teacher to determine of it was related to something happening at school, meeting with the school counselor, every thing. Still with no real answers.
Two years on I would discover, my father had been pursuing her in attempts to abuse her too. Her therapist said she was mostly likely crying because she was terrified every afternoon that we would see him. She never knew if she would or not.
The other sign with Ella was her bedtime routine. She had always struggled to settle at night, often cried for me growing up, from when she was a baby until she was 6 years old. So when we moved inter-state and the night time resistance continued, Michael my husband and I just thought it was just Ella being Ella. She would cry and cry for up to 2 or 3 hrs sometimes meaning bedtime at 7pm turned into 9pm and with school the next day she was always a nightmare in the morning as she was exhausted. When she was around 7 years old we had had enough and I took her to the doctor. He prescribed Melatonin and referred us to a child psychologist, Megan. And we went to see her weekly for months, we were desperate.
In hindsight we realized , her bedtime crying had escalated when we had lived with my parents and just continued even when we had moved out. She most likely had been terrified that he would come into her room and try to abuse her at night. The two years we had been living here were her worst. No wonder she wanted me to stay with her at night.
This knowledge would once again eat away at me as a mother, why had I not seen what she was going through, why had I not stayed with her. Why had she not told her therapist of her fear, what was holding her back, why had she never told me? I asked her months later if she ever felt close to telling either of us and she said “yes I felt close to telling Megan when we were making special plans to help me get to sleep at night”.
These warning signs I had missed. My intention with writing about these graphic painful signs of grooming is to create awareness for other parents. Just trust your instincts and act, don’t wait and dismiss them and then feel the guilt and horror I do looking back. I wish I had offended him, I wish I had offended any one that had stood between me and my daughters.