I don’t need Karl Marx to tell me there are oppressive institutions

I have been reading, with great fatigue, constant observations by Christians that those of us who believe “Black Lives Matter” don’t understand the Marxist ideology behind this concept. I keep hearing that Marxist ideology is where we get our ideas of power, race and gender struggles. I want to graciously say that ‘privilege’ means you need Marx to tell you there are systems of power that oppress some and benefit others. As a person who benefits from these institutions, your privilege becomes the lense through which you view the world. As a person who suffers from these institutions, your oppression becomes the lense through which you view the world.

I’m the child of migrants, my olive skin and unruly curls betray the accent that escapes my lips. I’ve stood on all sides of the power structures, accessing privilege in one breath and being oppressed byt it in the next. I’m aware of my privileges, because of the way I’ve seen the systems (and the gifts that I’ve been given) in which I operate, benefit me at the expense of others. Bryan Stevenson really helpfully explains that the first step in combatting these oppressive structures is proximity. Being relationally close to those who suffer and graciously observing their struggles helps us both understand our plight and use our privilege in a way that is generous.

My parents left Egypt in 1971, because they were in search of a better life for their children. As part of the minority in Egypt (Coptic Christians – their ethnicity as much as it is their religion) – they were limited by the institutions, set up by the Islamic majority, that prevented their ability to thrive. To this day, those same institutions continue to oppress the lives of Copts in Egypt. There are wealthy Copts, sure – but the system is stacked against them, evidenced in so many ways: churches are routinely attacked at Christmas and Easter; Coptic women are kidnapped and taken from their communities; Coptic homes and businesses set alight – and no one is ever prosecuted for these heinous crimes.

I was born in the mid-80s in Sydney, into great privilege. 

My brothers were over a decade older than me, so I had a more diluted migrant experience than they did. One of my brothers taught me to read before I got to kindergarten, the other encouraged me to read the newspaper when I was in year 1.

Before I was born, my Dad bought a dilapidated house near a well-to-do suburb, and so I attended an excellent public, all girls, languages High School. Diversity and bi-lingual skills were acknowledged and celebrated. 

My father was injured in his work when I was a toddler, and my mother violently attacked in a racially motivated hate crime (by one of her colleagues) at work, so neither of them worked for income in my living memory. We had no great wealth, but I still count the social security we depended on as a great privilege that sustained us. We were always clothed and fed.

We had close family friends who were Anglo-Australian, from an association with a white Church. They gave us hand-me-down clothes, introduced me to the literary greats, and – incidentally – helped us hone our accents so we didn’t sound like the children of migrants. 

Of course, I recognise these privileges because I saw how others struggled without them.

My brothers spent their teenage years and adulthood mediating between my parents and every institution those exhausted migrants could not navigate. I realize that having an adult mediate for you in schools, with Centrelink and telephone companies is a privilege that most children of migrants don’t get to access.

My brothers have been constantly verbally and violently harassed as “Wogs” by police and their peers alike. I’ve accessed the privilege of being a woman, with a rehearsed smile that can disarm even the angriest heart so that I’ve been able to de-neutralise tense situations and avoid violent conflict. Although my brother and I share the same DNA, my feminine charm has given me privileges they cannot access.

I know that Strathfield Girls High School afforded me privileges I wouldn’t have accessed if I ended up at Wiley Park Girls High School – a community which was more inline with our socio-economic status. With 60% of the school of Anglo Australian descent (and 98% of the teachers) I learnt how to navigate through a positive, dominant-culture environment as an ethnic minority. I know that some of my peers who grew up in ethnic enclaves (because of their socio-economic status) had to navigate through the powers of the dominant culture in confronting and sometimes violent ways as adults. My privilege allowed me to avoid this culture shock.

Although my parents didn’t work for money, they both volunteered fulltime in the Arabic church. This is a privilege, because my parents demonstrated busyness in their unemployment, and although I noticed some people looking down on our family because of our economic status, I felt a great sense of pride when their ‘work’ was celebrated and honoured within our religious community. Statistics tell me that children with unemployed parents are at risk of entering into a cycle of unemployment and Centrelink dependency themselves – a privilege I have been able to escape.

Because my parents had diagnosed, physical injuries that prevented them from working, we received Centrelink benefit, without the added stigma that is attached to those who receive it because of mental health or addiction issues.  This is a privilege. I’m thankful that we live in a nation with these measures and it’s a privilege I want to preserve for others, knowing that my tax dollars continue to sustain the lives of men, women and children all over the country

Although I had neither the clothes I wanted, nor toys, bikes or birthday presents, I had the privilege of never going hungry. My Mum was a great fiscal manager, and although I was often in want, I was never in need. This is another a privilege I recognise and appreciate when I consider how quickly 2 pensions could have enforced a life of deep poverty on a family of 7.

I read at a higher reading level than my peers, and I used this gift, education and privilege as a way to articulate my thoughts. I went to schools which had debating teams, and I got to practice the skill of public speaking which is now my (tiny) income source. I know that not all students get to practice using their voice in the public sphere, and the Catholic primary school where I began my education never afforded me this privilege.

There were adults who were invested in my education and gave me books to read, and this privilege meant that not only had I read non-fiction C S Lewis books before my 12th birthday, but I was encouraged to discuss them with adults who fostered my voice and celebrated my mind beyond my racialised body. Not every child has the privilege of having safe conversations with grown men, nor the opportunity to hone their voice and ideas. 

I honed my Australian accent to force my acceptance in the greater Australian community, and to access resources and privilege that would have been difficult if my accent exposed my ethnicity. As a 19 year old, labourers who bullied my dad and mocked his migrant accent while they worked in his home, cowered when I walked into the room with my greatest ‘Aussie’ impersonation: “hey mate, is that really necessary?” and mediated on his behalf (it was the first time in my life I had used the word ‘mate’, and I rehearsed it several times before saying it). In recent years, I have seen people complain about, mock and correct migrant accents and miscommunications while simultaneously celebrating and encouraging Anglo-Australian with speech impediments for their efforts at communicating.  

I’ve experienced racism. Not just racism, but patriarchy, racism, abelism, sizeism… But I don’t want to tell you those stories. I want to tell you the story of my privilege. And I want to tell you that when we speak about privilege, we’re not making moral judgments about people who access privilege. We all access privilege in our different contexts, and in different ways. 

But it’s important to recognise the systems where our privilege has benefited us – not so we can be ashamed, or take blame, but so we can use our privilege to strengthen others. To make room at the table for those who can’t get through because of the disadvantages that stop them from getting a seat. 

Also, don’t go at me because I “didn’t mention God”. Neither did the book of Esther. I don’t need to spell out that my privilege – all privilege – is in fact a blessing from God. Because I truly believe that all those oppressive structures have also been a blessing from God.

I just need to cry

You known how sometimes, you just need a good hearty cry?
I haven’t been able to do that lately. Usually, when I need to cry and I have no big emotional push to make me cry, I watch Oprah, but she’s not on TV anymore. Other times, I’d watch a sad movie, like The Notebook (only the end though, because the rest of it makes me rant like a mad woman) or read a bit of My Sister’s Keeper.
But I’ve been time pressed this week, and haven’t had much (any) alone time, so I thought I’d write a list of things that made me sad. But that list just made me angry, because it started with Scott Morrison’s face and I couldn’t get past that.

Then I googled images of “sad women” and they all had their hands on their foreheads.

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So I put my hand on my forehead but I still couldn’t cry.

Then I remembered that time I was in year two, and I missed the class Pizza Party because I was in the sickbay, and I cried so hard the school nurse thought I was in pain and called Mum and Dad to take me home, but still I couldn’t cry. And I got really hungry for cheese and tomato jaffles.

And now I’m angry about Scott Morrison’s face, and my hand is on my forehead, and I’m hungry, and I still haven’t cried.

Do you ever feel the need to cry?
How do you make the tears flow?

Five in Five

You know in Primary School, when the teacher picks two captains and they get to choose all the members of their team? I was always left ’til last. Except for one time, when I was picked second last (maybe the last girl had a fight with the cool kids). I felt so cool and sporty and validated as a human being.
Well, I kind of got that same feeling when EssentiallyJess tagged me in one of those internets blogs tag games. I tried not to look too eager and do it straight away, so I posted one blog before excitedly filling out the answers.

It’s called “Five in Five”, and was started by Ms Mystery Case.

How long have you been blogging and why did you start?
I started blogging when I was 15. It wasn’t a blog, it was an MSN Community, and mine was called Sylvie’s Smile. I stopped after a year though, because even though my community had about 30 people, only 2 were checking in, and that was lame.
And then I started blogging on MSN groups when I was 19/20 (I know. MSN makes me feel old). But I had a lot of people reading it, and 4-6 regular commenters. I even had guest blogs. That one was called “Mind Caves”, because I was deep and meaningful. I can’t find it anywhere on the internets anymore – MSN must have killed it and Google didn’t care to archive it. I stopped blogging because I got engaged and I joined a wedding forum and suddenly learning the difference between Thai silk and ordinary silk became very important.
Then I started blogging here. I tied to rope HusbandSylv into it – he wrote two posts and decided life was more fun than blogging.
I blog because I love to write. Writing helps me process, and sharing with others helps me process and think and grow. I couldn’t write for over a year when I had PND – it is so liberating to realise the fog has been lifted and I can write again.

If your wardrobe could talk, what would it say about you, and tell us about your favourite or most worn item?
My wardrobe would cry “neglect!” So many beautiful pieces that I used to wear when I was younger and slimmer and cooler, crying to be taken out and see the world, but instead imprisoned in a messy ‘robe. Also, I realised the other day I had four of essentially the same top. Black with lace shoulders. Four.
My most worn item (this month ) would be my Suzanne funky pyjama pants. I tell myself no one knows they’re pyjama pants, and wear them all day. I feel a little bit cool and a little bit rebellious when I don’t wear them to bed. And LittleGirl holds onto the back of them and runs behind me, and that gives us hours of fun.

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What’s your idea of the perfect date night?
I don’t like dates nights, because I prefer sleep. Once, when we first started dating, HusbandSylv took me to a nice Belgium Beer Cafe, and he insisted I drink wine. I didn’t even finish my glass, and I wanted to put my head back and close my eyes. But I was trying to be an adult and impress him, so I kept my eyes open with all my strength. But then I fell asleep in the car and proceeded to sleep talk about Kate Cebrano, Dawn Fraser and disabled Chinese.
So, lunch dates would be better. A walk through Darling Harbour, an awesome Sashimi boat, lots of sun and conversation. Home by 5, takeout dinner, and bed by 9. Perfect.

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sashimi boat

What’s on your worth casing list?
I have no idea what this means. I even googled it, and checked out the original website, and I’m still confused. Show casing? Locking in a case to keep forever?
Not sure. Either way, I’ll say:
1) my favourite smoothie. 1/2 an avocado, 1/2 a banana, 6 strawberries, 1 TBS honey, 2 TBS cacao and 1 cup coconut water. Blend and savour. It makes my heart sing.
2) Sashimi Boat
3) Paul’s letter to the Colossians. HusbandSylv is preaching from it at the moment, and I’ve been reading it a few verses at a time. It’s incredible. And it’s all about Jesus. I love Him more just reading it.

If you had a theme song, what would it be and why?
Ever since I was 14, I have sung this song in my head. It makes me feel like me. I don’t know who sings it, I don’t know what it means, and I’m not sure I want to google it, incase it turns out to be different to my recollection.
But it sings,

sometimes I feel, feel like I am drink behind the wheel,
the wheel of my serenity, however it may feel.
Give it a spin, see if it can somehow back to in;
You know there’s always more than one way to say exactly what you need to say.

Was I out of my head was I out of my mind?
How could I have ever been so blind
I was waiting for an indication it was hard to find
No matter what I say only what I do
I never mean to do bad things to you
So quiet but I finally woke up
Take your stand, and it’s time you spoke up too
.”

That actually makes no sense.

Ok! That was fun (for me)! I tag Michelle and Jess and Lisa.

It takes a village but nobody wants it

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“Your milk is too watery.”
“You’re going to give her a sugar addiction.”
“Well, you’re just going to have to tell her ‘no’.”
“She’ll never go to sleep like that.”
“All babies cry before they sleep. You just have to leave her a few minutes.”
“And that’s exactly how fatal accidents happen.”

I get a lot of unsolicited parenting advice. And I know I’m not the only one. The Internets and my social media feeds are full of angry, tired and frustrated mums who have HAD IT with unwanted advice from friends, family and strangers. They have angry tshirts, memes and slogans.

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And, of course it’s not just the mums on the Internets. I’m ashamed to admit it, but I have found myself silently recoiling whenever people tell me how I should, or shouldn’t be raising my daughter.

Why am I ashamed to admit it? Because I’m so aware that it takes a village to raise a child. And I want my village to help me raise my child.

But sometimes, even the most well-intentioned advice can sting like a smack across the face. It feels like a personal attack, a resounding judgment on who I am as a person. It feels like a criticism on the immense effort, thought and focus I apply to my most important job I’ve ever had.

But I think this says more about me, and our culture of individualism, than it does about the people offering advice.
It exposes us as a culture that rejects the wisdom and experience of our elders.
It paints a picture of an ugly, self righteous people who only want to be told they are right. Who only want positive reinforcement instead of constructive criticism.

I don’t want to be that person. I want to be open to rebuke and advice and encouragement.
If I’m going to be angry, I don’t want it to be about well-intentioned advice, but to be about injustice or oppression of the vulnerable.
I want to be open minded, to try new ideas. I don’t want to be so precious that no one can give input to how I live.
I want to be strong enough in my person to know that I’m doing my best, and no one can take that away from me – in fact they can only add to it.
I want my LittleGirl to grow up valuing community, investing in community, and cherishing the role others play in her life.

I want my village to help me raise my child.

Things I love. Eighteen months.

Things I love about LittleGirl.

– That there will never be enough chicken in the world to satisfy her.
– How she delicately spoon feeds herself.
– That she loves old men but doesn’t have the time of day for old women.
– She’s always happy to share. And she always expects me to share!
– How her little feet pitter-patter down the hallway when she’s looking for me.
– How she always initiates making up after I’ve gotten her in trouble.
– When she says “hugs!!” and puts her two little hands around my neck.
– The way she looks at her Dad in admiration.
– How whenever I count “one, two” she follows with “weeee!”
– When I say, “come with Mum” and her little hand reaches for mine.
– How she walks, with one arm crooked in and the other swinging free.

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– How she throws her head back when she laughs.
– How she laughs at everything when we’re at home.
– That she is so serious and suppresses smiles when we are with our extended family.
– How she attacks our veggie garden everyday, trying to uproot what we’ve planted.
– How she pulls the red mulberries off the tree.
– That she yells “hey!” when she wants my attention, and “hey me!” when she wants stuff.
– That she punches Bison in the face every time she sees him.
– How she can sense me pouring a drink, even if I’m in another room, and comes running to have some.
– That she always follows a high five with a fist bump.
– How she dances whenever she hears music.
– How she sings along whenever I sing.

Love her guts!

Three generations

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This is my mulberry tree. She is big and tall and her leaves are large and her fruit is great.
Dad planted the tree when Mum was pregnant with me – she was craving mulberries – and despite receiving little care over the last 29 years, she has really flourished.

I’ve always loved this tree. When I was little I used to climb it’s branches and rest in them with a book. She housed my snail collection, my worm collection (I don’t know why I put worms in the tree. I’m sorry, worms.) and my diary until it got rained on.

I would always be the first one to know when the mulberries would be ready to pick. Not only because I kept a close eye on her, but because of my birth mark. I have a mulberry on my right thigh. It’s pretty pale pink all year round, but for one week in spring, it turns red. I kid you not, my birth mark gets it right every year. Mum used to call it my “toota” (mulberry in Arabic), and we’d stand at the tree picking berries for much of the Spring holidays. True story.

I loved my tree so much, I always hoped my children would have a mulberry tree to enjoy. And guess what’s in the backyard of the manse?
A mulberry tree.

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She’s not as big as my mulberry tree at Dad’s – her trunk is skinny, her leaves are pale and her fruit isn’t as sweet and juicy. But mulberries are mulberries and sentimental memories can still be as sweet in inferior realities.

Little Girl loves our tree. She sees it through the window of our sunroom, and waits at the door (not always patiently) for us to let her out and pick berries. It’s still too early in Spring, and we’ve only been able to reach a few ripe ones (not enough!) so she nibbled on the green ones.

As we spend our afternoons picking berries, I tell her about my Mum, and her love of mulberries, and one day, I’ll show her my birthmark when it turns red and drive down to Sydney to pick mulberries off the tree at Dad’s.
All we’re doing is writing a new page of family history which has etched on it the memories of the past.

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Heart Song

As I awkwardly settled in to my hospital bed, and Husbandsylv kissed LittleGirl and I “goodbye”, I suddenly panicked. Here I was, with this baby, just a few hours old who was staring at me, and I was meant to… What?
I buzzed and the midwife came running. “Are you ok?” She asked.
“I don’t know what to do with her” I said.
I felt ridiculous. I had just been through sixteen hours of labour, I was tired, and suddenly there was this baby I had to care for.
She picked up LittleGirl out of the bassinet and laid her next to me. “Pull down your top.” It sounds like a clinical command, but this midwife was gentle and patient. She rolled me onto my side and then brought LittleGirl closer. “She might decide she wants to try to feed again. Just see how it goes, I’ll check in on you in a little while.”
I looked at LittleGirl and she hungrily looked at me. She wasn’t hungry for food though, she was hungry for knowing me. Her eyes bore into my soul.
I opened my mouth but no words came out. What do I say to her? What will she understand?
She didn’t shift her gaze, just kept staring into my eyes.
And then I started to sing.

It surprised me, that my first words to my LittleGirl were sung, in Arabic. I know that music is in my heart, I sing often much to the annoyance of my family, but I had never acknowledged Arabic as my heart language. My command of the language is poor, and unless I’m talking to Dad, it doesn’t get used.

I sang maybe 2 or 3 songs, and then LittleGirl began to drop her gaze. She found my nipples, and began to suckle. After a few moments, she pulled herself of, looked me deep in the eyes as if to say “thanks”, and then closed her eyes to sleep.

At some point, I also drifted off to sleep. The midwife came in and tapped me on my shoulder. “Did she eat?” I nodded, sleepily.
“You two look so peaceful there, but I can’t leave her in the bed with you while you’re sleeping. Can I move her into the bassinet?”
I nodded again.
Before she left the room, she elevated my bed and draped my hand over the bassinet. “This way you can still feel her”. We held hands all night long.

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LittleGirl, 1st day.

A letter to my Girl

My dear Little Girl,

I watched you sleep last night. It’s not the first time I did, and it won’t be the last. You’re better to watch than anything on TV, even Offspring.
I love watching your long eyelashes flutter. You have beautiful eyes -‘they are a window into your soul when you are awake, but when you sleep, they are calm. Pretty. Peaceful.
I love watching your little chest rise and fall with each breath of air. Air that fills your lungs, gives you life. I pray they will continue to do so for many, many more years to come.
I love watching your perfect lips quiver. Sometimes, you are dream sucking. You think your dummy is still in your mouth and your lips purse in and out. Other times, I think you’re on the verge of saying something. You talk in your sleep often. Sometimes you clap, other times you laugh.

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Little Girl, 2 weeks old. Photo: Brooke Evrard Photography

My dear Little Girl, we love you so much. When you’re asleep, right in between us, we miss you! We watch videos of you and tell each other stories about you. Your Daddy and I – we think you’re the best thing since Slice Bread; the funniest thing since Brooklyn Nine Nine; the cutest thing since Small Potatoes.

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I always tell people that you’re a bully, and you are, but I’m secretly enamoured by it. I think it’s adorable how you throw your toys when they don’t oblige, how you punch Bison in the face, and how you stick out your belly and march through the house. You act like you own this place, like you’re the boss, breadwinner and baker.

But those short three months we lived here, before you arrived, were dull and lifeless. I mean, they were fun at the time – we did what we wanted, when we wanted, but we didn’t realise how much more fun we could have.
What did we talk about before you arrived? What did we laugh at? What did we do with our time? It seems so long ago, like a distant memory.

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Little Girl, 12 months old. Photo: Brooke Evrard Photography

You’ve changed our lives, Little Girl. We love you, even with the tantrums and fevers and whining and laughter and tears. You’re our Little Girl and that’s why we love you.

Exposed (my internal dialogue)

As I read over the comments on my last post (both here and on Facebook) I suddenly felt very exposed. Not because I told everyone that my bum caught fire – that was funny and easy to share.
But as I read over my self-assessment, I realised just how harsh I am with myself. Cognitively, I know I’m not awkward. I know people enjoy my company; I know I engage well; I can share in joy and suffering; I can be vulnerable; I can be encouraging…

But I have this internal dialogue that deafens me when I’m in social situations. I might be walking down to the shops, and as I pass my reflection in the window, I hear “big butt. And bad hair today, buddy.”
And even that example is a cop out. To make it about the way I look – because I know that’s safe. I know most women have that inner voice, a rabid self criticism of their bodies. But my voice goes further. It would have no power if it only challenged my physical attributes, things I can change.
My voice attacks all of me.

Below are some thoughts that ran through my mind on Sunday while I sat through a planning meeting:

“You’re talking too loud. Talk quieter.”
“Oh my God, Sylv, why’d you say that?”
“You’re so full of it, think you know everything.”
“You have such an annoying laugh.”
“Man, you’re so clumsy, can’t take you anywhere.”
“Shut your face, buddy. No one wants to hear it.”
“Why do you keep talking?”
“Gosh. You’re just so awkward.”
“Everyone’s uncomfortable now. Look what you did.”
“You’re so selfish. Why’d you take that?”

It’s embarrassing to write these down.
They’re on the tame end of things I said to myself in that meeting, but they’re still so harsh.
I would never speak like say this to a stranger, let alone my friends or family. I don’t know why I think it’s okay to speak this way to myself, I hate that I do it.

I’ve done this for yonks. This isn’t a symptom of Post-Natal Depression, this self talk has followed me through childhood, to my teens, and now as I’m closing up on my 20s.
I know a lot of it has to do with my family of origin, and the importance we place on social appearance – but dwelling on that, at least in this forum, is not going to bring healing.

And I don’t know where to take it. Love myself more? Pfft. Not because I think I’m unlovable, but because I’m pretty sure I’ve got that one covered.
Respect myself? Maybe. I guess that leads me to question whether or not I have earned my own respect.
See myself as God sees me? This is the hardest. Because I know He loves me, just the way I am, that He created my innermost being, knit me together… And He still wants me to grow, and change, and mature. He’s not made me a slave to my nature, He empowers me to change my nature.

I think I’ve just found my answer. To give it to God. To trust Him in (and thank Him for) the way that He has made me. To rely on His strength to keep growing in His likeness. To stop listening to my dumb inner voice and listen to His.

That time the Minister’s wife’s but caught fire

One of the strangest things about being married to Husbandsylv is that I have become the “Minister’s Wife”. It is such an awkward hat to wear.
I don’t feel like I fit the persona. I am neither funny enough, nor sociable enough, I don’t play piano, I don’t ask good questions, I talk too much, I always forget names and I laugh at awkward moments. I feel like an imposter, and whenever I’m introduced as “the minister’s wife”, I always anticipate the response, “WHAT?? YOU??” and wait for the ground to swallow me up.

Last week, Husbandsylv was officiating a funeral, and the family had specifically asked I attend. So I did.
I felt like a fish out of water. I cried, like I always do at funerals, even though I’d never met the deceased and she’d lived a whole and happy life. The funeral was ok, though, because I stood on the periphery and no one really cared about me.

But then I accompanied him to the wake in the family home. I sat down next to one lady, and we chat for a while. She was really lovely, but I could see on her face the awkwardness when she realised she was sitting next to the minister’s wife.

When it was time to say “goodbye” to the family, I was confident that I couldn’t make things any more awkward. But then I made the daughter of the deceased cry. And then when she came to hug me, I stepped back and planted my big fat but on one of candles burning on the table behind me.

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It looked almost exactly like this.

While Husbandsylv fussed about me, and the lady was concerned I broke a family heirloom, I yelped “my bum is on fire!” And then proceeded to laugh hysterically as everyone turned to look at my big fat bum.
At least I stopped the lady from crying, right?

Despite my prayers that the ground would swallow me up, I still had to walk down the stairs and out the door while saying goodbye to other family members with some semblance of dignity.

Bleugh.