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Celia Capace - I Turned Out Fine

I don’t understand when folks say that they turned out fine in spite of some form of abuse of maltreatment that happened in their youth because, at the time, it was considered the norm. They didn’t turn out fine if they don’t see a problem with others also experiencing any form of child abuse or maltreatment.  Why would they want others to suffer? That’s not turning out fine. That’s some fucked up thinking.

As a baby boomer who grew up in the ‘children should be seen and not heard’ era, it’s a wonder there wasn’t a higher child mortality rate due to what was endured at the hands of ‘well-meaning adults’.  Thank goodness that world no longer exists. Children were sometimes subjected to what is nowadays considered abuse under the deluded assumptions that it was for their own good.  

As a young child, I was forced to learn to swim in elementary school.  Swimming lessons at the time were compulsory in most Australian schools.  This makes sense as we are an island surrounded by some magnificent beaches and our weather suits this pastime.  When I say I was forced to learn to swim I mean forced. I can still recall the terror of being pushed into a massive pool at the Melbourne city baths and instructed how to manoeuvre to stay afloat. Every time I tried to reach out to the edge of the pool so that I could hold on to a solid rail of safety, I was prodded with a wooden pole back into the centre of the pool until I properly swam the dog paddle.  I and other children were tortured this way till we got it right, swallowing water and exhausted from trying to keep afloat.

I can swim but I cannot do the dog paddle to save myself.  There are too many traumatic memories which resurface each time I try.  I eventually taught myself how to swim but owe nothing to those days of abuse at the hands of the elementary school swimming instructor.  I can do the backstroke for hours easily and this is how I swim. 

Another form of torture I had to endure was marching.  Each week classes would march in unison on the cement school playground for two hours to help install discipline.  I have no idea what marching has to do with discipline but I normally enjoyed the rigid in-stepping with others of my class to the loud music blaring from speakers installed around the school.  No matter the weather we marched so in summer this ritual became its own form of torture. I can still recall being dressed in full uniform marching in over 40-degree heat with the harsh Australian sun beating down on us frying our delicate bodies and brains.

When a student fainted from the heat the lucky soul was dragged into the shade quickly, without missing a beat, and left there while the rest of us poor unfortunates continued to march.  On a number of occasions, a student would fall prone to the combination of this exercise and the heat and would be convoyed to the relative safety of sparse and insignificant shade to recoup, much to my envy.  How I prayed for God to make me faint so I could join them. Being in a Catholic school I thought He might favour my wish. I was wrong. I never fainted and looking back I realised I could have faked it but I was too naïve or stupid to come to that conclusion as a child.

Children now would never be raised as my generation was.  Thank goodness for that! That world no longer exists and we, hopefully, learn by our mistakes.  I survived my childhood but I wouldn’t wish some of it on others. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all bad.  We had the freedom of playing outside when stranger danger wasn’t as great a threat it is now. I feel the children of today are no longer ‘seen but not heard’ and that is a positive thing.  Children are now given more importance, though the advent of the internet has brought a new danger where ominous strangers can lurk. Only time will tell how humanity goes about to hopefully remedy this for future generations. 

*Ed. Note
The notion of children being ‘seen and not heard’ has greatly contributed to pre-internet acts of grooming by adults.  Where adults are revered as all-knowing and to be obeyed at all times by children creates opportunities for the construction of environments and circumstances which children do not have the knowledge and experience to navigate safely.  Children are to be both seen and heard and any other perspective needs to be addressed as a society for the safety of our future generations, especially in the technological age.