Last week, an item by Hazel Larkin about parents having to resort to crowdfunding to pay for their children’s health needs provoked much discussion with criticism levelled at the motives of its author.
Oh Lordy! There have been some weird things said about me in the comments here, and elsewhere. For quite some time now, I have had a policy of not reading the comments on things I write.
Everyone knows the comments section of the Interwebz is where the crackpots and conspiracy theorists hang out. When, however, I got the heads-up that the comments had turned from just nasty to actually defamatory, I reckoned it might be an idea to read the comments and address the nonsense therein.
I did speak with a solicitor, and – while I have a case, there is no point in suing people who have no assets worth suing them for. It’s also mighty expensive and time-consuming. Most people who say ‘just sue them’ have either no idea of the justice system, and how it works, or they are multi-millionaires who can afford to indulge themselves.
The piece that’s managed to get everyone in a flap was a simple enough article written on foot of a few campaigns I’d seen where parents were trying to raise funds for their children’s housing, educational, and medical needs.
I included links to these campaigns to illustrate my point. You know, fuelled on caffeine, and wielding my social justice warrior’s sword.
One of these was a fundraiser for a child whose family is struggling to pay for this child’s exceptional educational needs. It was set up by someone I know because he felt it was in the best interests of the family to protect them from the kind of vitriol that has been directed at other people (like Tara Flynn and Tracy McGinnis).
That is his call, and I completely understand where he’s coming from. Given some of the nastiness unleashed, then it seems he was right. What he didn’t expect was to have keyboard warriors cast aspersions on his excellent character.
Yes, he’s a friend of mine. Yes, I know the family involved, yes they wish to retain their privacy. No, I don’t blame them. Adults are not just cruel to other adults online, they are cruel to children, too.
John has many friends, both on and offline. As have I. He’s so upset by the things that have been said about him, however, that he has closed the fund and returned the money that has already been sent. I can’t say I blame him.
His professional reputation was being questioned and – even though he has done nothing wrong – he doesn’t have time to firefight. Nor should he be expected to. For that matter, neither do, or should, I.
As far as these funding campaigns are concerned, guess what? You get to decide what is, and is not, a worthy cause. You get to decide what to do with your time and money.
Some people think that collecting money to send flowers to a rape victim is a worthy cause, some people think that collecting money to fund the retirement of greyhounds is a worthy cause, some people think that collecting money to send someone on holidays is a worthy cause.
People can decide for themselves what resonates, and what doesn’t. GFM campaigns are set up every day.
Throw a few bob at them, or don’t – that’s entirely your own decision – but stop attacking men, women, and children because they don’t match up to what your idea of a person in need looks like.
Seriously, I thought we had learnt from the recent referendum campaign that one person’s difficulty is not the same as another’s, that we need to be less judgemental; that compassion goes a long way; that we are not entitled to every tiny detail of a person’s life, that some things are private. Clearly, I was wrong.
What strikes me, however, is the gendered element of the comments. By that I mean, the difficulty people have in this country with mothers trying to provide for their children. In Ireland, there is still a notion abroad that mothers raising children alone should be shamed. Including shamed for doing their best – even if that ‘best’ doesn’t look like what other people think it should look like.
If some young fella set up a GFM campaign because he wanted money to go to the World Cup in Russia and get some beers while he’s there, what would the reaction be? I’d be willing to bet that there would be a bit of annoyance, but also a lot of admiration for the sheer brass neckery of it.
People would think he was ‘gas’ and would be keen to know how he got on. That’s okay for a bloke – who would affectionately be called a ‘chancer’. But women, raising children on their own, and doing their best for those children? They get an entirely different shake of the stick. I find that interesting.
That aside, there are a few factual errors referred to in the comments, and they do need to be addressed:
1. There is no provision, in Ireland, for the special educational needs of children who are gifted. There hasn’t been since 2004. So these children can’t get access to the education they need through the state system.
2. Ireland is a signatory of the UNCRC, Article 29 of which states: ‘1. States Parties agree that the education of the child shall be directed to: (a) The development of the child’s personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential;’
3. Clearly, the government is violating the rights of these children by not affording them the opportunity to develop their mental abilities to their fullest potential. Giftedness is hugely mis-understood and seen as some kind of ‘win’ for kids who are this smart. I thought it was worth challenging that misconception. I still think it’s worth challenging, but probably in an article just devoted to that subject.
4. I have had precisely one GFM campaign ever set up for my benefit. It has been referred to several times in the comments, and was set up to pay for my therapy as well as a final installment of my fees. The therapy element – which was the larger portion – has been ignored by every commentator. I had expected that my settlement would cover these expenses, but it hasn’t yet been paid. Sadly, my legal team never informed me of the fees and expenses involved in pursing recovery of the settlement (€10k+) until afterwards (refer to my earlier comment about accessing the law in Ireland).
5. It has been erroneously claimed that the Open University doesn’t admit students under the age of 18. In fact, it does. There is no lower age limit, but those under 18 must go through an additional set of processes for what they refer to as ‘young learners’.
My ‘gap year’ wasn’t nearly as glamourous or as expensive as it would appear people think. I lived in Asia for many years, and still have friends there, so when I returned to pursue my ex for child support (long, difficult, drawn out, involving many jurisdictions, still not resolved), I stayed with people I’d known for nearly 20 years. So, no accommodation costs.
When we flew to Copenhagen we paid the grand total of €1.80 for the three of us. Ryanair. You really can’t beat them (in fairness, it was a one-off to celebrate the launch of the new route: Three thousand tickets, sold over a three-hour period, for €0.30 each). Google it. Or check their Twitter feed. We stayed with friends there and in Sweden, too. Ditto the UK and the Netherlands – we got there as cheaply as possible, and stayed with friends. On occasion, we were treated to our fares, like when we went to the UK, and stayed with an old friend who needed help. Later, another friend saw I was suicidal because of the abuse my ‘family’ was putting me through in advance of my brothers’ trials. She reached out to me – with the keys to her spare house in a village in France. It was a mental health break, because it was either that or a psych unit. And if I took the latter option, where would my kids have gone? Into ‘care’? We all know what that’s like in Ireland. (Abusive family, remember, couldn’t leave the kids with them).
Laid bare like that, it’s not really very glamorous, or exciting, is it? And that’s without detailing the panic attacks, the constant anxiety, etc. etc. Yes, I have a lot of good friends. Probably because I am a good friend.
6. There have been allegations that I am not a PhD candidate in DCU. Well, I am. My supervisors are Dr Mel Duffy and Dr Eileen Courtney.
7. Aspersions have also been cast on the credibility of the course I’m offering for midwives and other birth workers, with the insinuation that there’s something dodgy about it. I don’t know what more would be expected than approval from An Bord Altranais agus Cnáimhsceachais na hÉireann.
8. Then there were suggestions that I’m workshy. Sadly, that line we were all sold about working hard at your education so you’d get a job? It’s a crock. The dynamics are very, very, different. (Hmm, might be another article in it). If, however, you have a job that you’d like to consider me for – I’d be delighted to hear from you. Also, I think it’s important to note that there is a difference between work and a job. I’ve picked up quite a few bits of work since I got back to Ireland, some paid (most unpaid) but securing a job is a different kettle of fish.
8a. It was interesting to note that there were plenty of commentators saying that I was
workshy, and then others actively, deliberately, and maliciously trying to scupper my attempts to earn. So – which is it? Which trope suits your idea of what a lone mother should look like? Can we get a consensus?
9. Then there’s the allegations of child trafficking. They are so bizarre, I don’t know where to start. For the record, I have never trafficked a child. Now, there’s a sentence I never thought I’d have to write.
10. There was also a lot of concern about my bowels. I’d like to categorically state that, as far as I am aware, my bowels are fine.
11. If you’d like more intimate details of my life, feel free to pick up a copy of my book – it’s got a quote from Kate Holmquist on the front, which she is perfectly happy about:
No matter how good a Googler you are, Google doesn’t have all the answers.
I hope that was entertaining for you – I have nothing more to say on the subject – except that I have work to do, kids to raise, a PhD to keep working on, cats to feed, a few social justice campaigns to work on, and lots of coffee to drink.
Hazel Katherine Larkin is a ‘caffeine-fuelled social justice campaigner’. Follow Haxel on Twitter @HazelKLarkin.
Previously: Go Fund Yourself