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Archive for the ‘growing up’ Category

“Wear sunscreen.

If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience. I will dispense this advice now.” – Mary Schmich

wilmaIn the mission brown suburbia of my youth I know my parents did the best they could to protect me. But one summer that didn’t include sunscreen.

And it didn’t include Dad not leaving his porno mags in the loo.

And it didn’t include closing my bedroom door fully when Prisoner was on…well at least it didn’t until my mum figured out my secret.

*—–*—–*

Before I had turned double digits it had become quite the game to crane my neck origami like so I could stare at the penthouse or playboy dad had left furled on the toilet floor. Now I realise he’d been somewhat careful…in his own way. I was rarely confronted with giant heaving breasts or dark nether regions staring at me, he always left the flesh mags with the wordy-articles facing up. 

But, you see, reading was my thing. 

I’d sit trying to decipher the strange words and codes of adults. It seemed to me that they played games too.

And… it seemed to me that the games they played could be quite cruel.

*—–*—–*

On a particular night of every week Mum would tuck me into the top bed of the lime coloured bunk I shared with my sister. She’d shut our rainbow curtains, kiss our pink cheeks and close the door over so that only a thin line of light spilled onto the bedroom floor. Then she’d settle in for a night of telly watching, sitting next to dad on the modular lounge.

When I’d hear the haunting theme song “…he used to bring me rozzeeessss…’ I’d slither down to the other end of my bed and, from under my sheets and blanket, stare through the door crack and watch “Prisoner” over my parents’ shoulders.

The late seventies drama was set in a women’s detention centre and was cutting edge, for back then, in dealing with women’s issues. It was all power struggles, domestic problems, sexuality and violence. Most of the feminist plot went right over my head but the aggression would make my eyes round with fear. 

I made a secret promise that I would always be a good girl and never, ever go to jail. 

*—–*—–*

Our family took a long vacation driving from Melbourne up the east coast of Australia to the favoured destination for all middle class families…Queensland. We stayed at a holiday park, which is code for caravans and communal toilets and bbq dinners and mosquitoes. Absolute Australian childhood bliss. On a day trip to the beach the sun reflected off the foamy white waves bouncing onto the white sands and landing directly on my shoulders. My fair skin crackled like the top layer of pork in an inferno oven.

In hospital that afternoon mum beat herself up that I had a degree of  burns that was classifiable. The nurse dressed the wounds with mounds of salve and gauze and dad gave me one of his giant tshirts to wear.

I spent the rest of our holiday resembling a sad grid iron player decked out for the game, but sidelined to the bench.

*—–*—–*

I awoke one Sunday morning to the sound of snores coming from my parent’s bedroom.

The lounge still showed the signs of a party from the night before. A few shelled peanuts sitting in a smoky glass bowl. Some jatz crackers with cheese that had curled at the edges. A few empty glasses stained red, sitting near the granite ashtray.

And…fun…there was a comic book lying innocently on the pine kitchen table.

It was The Flintstones. I picked it up and started reading. But knew something was wrong straight away. That didn’t seem to be a club in Fred’s hand and he was doing things to white-pearled-Wilma I never imagined he would. I put the comic back down, hoping my parents didn’t notice that I had touched it. 

*—–*—–*

That week Prisoner aired a now iconic scene in which the head bitch inmate, Bea, places the hands of another prisoner, a sweet blonde girl mistakenly accused of child murder, into the ironing press. As she slams the burning press down upon the woman’s hands a burst of steam wafts up and another prisoner cackles. I tried to stifle my childish scream, but my parents heard and whipped their heads around to see if I was okay. They quickly worked out that I’d been watching the adults-only-television show right along with them. 

*—–*—–*

Protecting our children is a three dimensional task.

Sunscreen can only ever protect  their outer layer.

*—–*—–*

Mum never let me go out into the sun without slipslopslap from that summer on.

The porno magazines disappeared from the toilet, relegated to a cardboard rosella tomato sauce box under Dad’s side of the bed.

And our bedroom door was always, always closed on Prisoner night. 

In the narrative of their lives, a hefty volume on parenting, I think they named that chapter our little girl is growing up.

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men ancholy

There was a little boy in my life.

He reached up to hold my hand. He was terrible at tying his shoe laces. His best friend at kinder was a girl named Alex. He played with matchbox cars.

 

We took a walk together down the bike track, close to the creek. He watched the trickles of water. Looked at the trees, the bark, the leaves, touched a washed rock, stared at a blade of grass.

He asked “How was this world made?”

He wasn’t interested in who, he was interested in how.

He was three. And he already knew there was a bigger picture.

 

If I close my eyes I can see him now. He hasn’t gone anywhere. But he’s not here anymore.

Tonight I feel off-balance. The axis of my earth has shifted. Slightly. Perhaps no one else notices. The changes have been gradual. Daily infinitesimal.

 

I now look up to see this little boy.

He puts his arm across me, protectively, before we cross the road.

He mows the lawn because he is saving for his first car. Or a play station three, whichever comes first.

He plays his guitar with his best mate at school. His best mate is Jase, an enthusiast of Queen and ACDC.

But he likes to play Sunshine of your love because he knows I like the sound of the first few bars.

 

He reminds me to take my vitamins. Every day.

 

He’s learning how to swear. But he never says anything rude in front of girls.

He’s learning how to cook. And he teaches me about renewable food sources.

He shows me the pumpkins he has planted. He demonstrates the male to female pollination process. He’s rigged the garden so the pumpkins have a soft place to form. So they don’t hang themselves and wither. The vines twist up the back fence and down past the tree he grew from pits we spat out three summers ago.

 

He needs new shoes. I push my toes into them, ready to squeeze, but I realise that they are roomy on me now.

 

I tell him that when he falls in love, he should find someone who doesn’t want to change him.

I tell him that when he falls in love, he should find someone whom he can respect.

He sighs and rolls his eyes. But his ears are paying attention.

 

I watch him when he’s sleeping. One hand squashed under chin and cheek. I’m staring. Trying, trying to find the little boy. He’s there somewhere. Enveloped in this man-child.

I understand now,

One cannot pine for something they have not lost.

But the axis of my earth has shifted.

And I’m standing in his shoes,

trying to find my feet.

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Does he wash up?

 

helpingdaddy

Driving the kids home from school lately is a chore.

For at least a month there have been road works at a busy intersection I need to cross. At peak times it takes five or six turns of the traffic lights to get through. Annoying. Much.

So this afternoon instead of watching the snails slime by I flicked on the radio in an effort to keep the kids amused. There was a song playing that sounded snappy so I turned the volume up- nice and loud.

“Why’d ya do that?” my son (11) said.

“Because it’s catchy.” I replied.

“That song is sexist.” he stated.

I paid a bit more attention to the lyrics. There didn’t seem to be anything wrong.

“Why?” I asked him “Is the film clip rude?”

“No mum” he said mildly annoyed at my dumbness “it makes boys look bad.”

 Oh. Sexist.

Against men.

 Does he wash up? Never wash up
Does he clean up? No, he never cleans up
Does he brush up? Never brushed up
He does nothing the boy does nothing

He was right. Although I suspect the song is more about dancing moves than heavy-handed-man-bashing. But nevertheless it’s true- it does mambo-tunefully paint the ‘boy’ in a not so grand a light.

That got me thinking about the world I’m bringing my son up in.

As a woman it’s important to stand up for what is right and perhaps even more so for what is wrong. But does that mean we need to swing the power all the way to one side before it lands in a sensible middle?

It’s okay to teach our girls that they deserve equal wages and equal rights and equal consideration when paying for a dinner bill, but have we have also taught them that it’s not okay to put down women but it is okay to put down men?

Isn’t that a strange hypocrisy?

I don’t want my son living in a world where he is discriminated against because he is a male just as much as I don’t want my daughter growing up in a world where she is discriminated against because she is a female.

“Why do you think it’s sexist?” I asked him

“Well,” he pondered for a second “she’s singing how useless ‘the boy’ is.” And then like most conversations with eleven year old boys we were suddenly off on a tangent, albeit a related one- “And you know what everyone thinks-‘ he said “men want a wife that can cook.”

“And what do you think of that?” I asked him.

“It’s true you know [and he listed of several men in our family who actually do act that way] I don’t know why- it’s just the way they think.”

“No,” I repeated “ I asked you what you thought about that?”

“Oh” he said “Well I’ll cook when I get married.” he looked me and then added “I’ll cook sometimes…Okay I’ll cook a lot, no…I’ll cook always. Errr,’ he grumbled “I’ll cook whenever she wants me too.”

 The traffic lights were still red. I turned off the radio.

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42-15350445Was just reading a funny blog on Obama’s recent controversial speech delivered to all the kidlets of America (well at least to the ones whose mommas and poppas didn’t protest and keep them home in the trailer park that day- but ahem-I digress….) It evoked a memory of my own physical scareducation back in the good ole days of high school- circa the 80’s.

 

Our PE teacher was a tall bloke with a head of early-onset silver hair and a startling ginger beard. He’d be called a ranga-face these days- but back then we only had one name for him and that was >insert dramatic pause here< …Mr Blood. 

Well it was appropriate- because, after all, it was his actual name. 

Mr Blood had a penchant for interesting ways of promoting fitness. I was convinced that every night he must have cackled himself to sleep as he thought of another ingenious way to torture us without the aid of traditional evil implements. Under his churlish command orange dimpled basket balls and innocent looking skipping ropes somehow became weapons of mass humiliation. 

The most wicked of all his games was his own special version of Dodge-ball.

To give you a clue- we secretly called it Butt-ball. 

On the day that he introduced this charming game Mr Blood told us to line up around the perimeter of the gym. As we trudged into place he demonstrated a neat waist bend- touching his toes. Pointing to his own trim behind he said loudly “this will be the target”.  He then explained that the student at the other end of the gym had to throw the ball at the ‘target’, then snake back into the line for their turn at bending over. 

Sounds like fun huh? 

After most kids had failed to even get the ball down to the other end of the gym it was my turn to throw. The kid who sauntered into target position gave me one cool look as he slowly touched his toes. I nearly wet my navy bog-catcher-bloomers. My target was the one boy at school who really made my life miserable. For the purpose of this story I shall call him Sean. 

Sean was the master of the snide comment. He had a quick wit and knew no bounds when it came to emotional torment. He was so good at it that he rarely had to say anything at all. The mere thought of a class with him made me break out in a sweat that dripped down into my Berlei-sports-training-bra. 

I picked up the ball without any desire for revenge. My exact wish was just to get it over with as soon as possible. I hurled it across the gym floor –in an ungraceful lob. The class watched its high arc. Time stopped. The ball landed fair and square on his arse. 

Mr Blood applauded loudly as I slunk back into line.  I tried to hide, but Mr Blood had a different idea. He told us that I now had to be Sean’s target. I should have known I wouldn’t get off that easily. Revenge was Mr Blood’s game plan. Sean raced into position bouncing the ball loudly stretching out my agony as long as he could. Bounce. Bounce.     Bounce.           Bounce. I waited, my flaming face resting on my thighs. There was stillness and then the echoes of laughter bouncing off the concrete walls. His throw had landed short. A fitting end to the game. 

 

In case you are wondering- this event didn’t change my days at school.

It didn’t make me feel empowered to stand up to the bully, and it didn’t humble him in any way. We continued on as usual. He pointed out my flaws and I cowered. 

 

But just for the record- Sean was his real name.

You see- you big turd- I’m not scared of you anymore.

 

 

 

Credit where it is due:

This is the great blog I mentioned earlier – his hatred was for the pommel horse- another evil implement of physical education destined to deny generations of men from ever receiving Father’s Day cards…

go ahead read it… I’m sure you’ll love it.

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Last night our son left our loungeroom- upset with something his Dad had told him to do and stormed to his bedroom. He slammed his door so hard that the house rattled and a blast of his hormones assaulted us in the jetstream.

Dad, not one for warnings, took his DS console, which son had left on the couch, and hid it. 

Dad then hollered out- “and that’s the last you’ll see of your DS for a while young man!” to which we heard a low growl emit from said bedroom.

For a nano-second (and having watched too many eps of True Blood) it crossed my mind that our son had turned werewolf on us. But no- of course it was just the forces of impending teen-age-hood and the hormones involved. Hormones which will evolve my son from happy-go-lucky-boy into hairy-intense-man. 

 They didn’t call it puberty-blues for nothing you know.

Within fifteen minutes good natured son had returned and we received a hug and a kiss goodnight.

In the morning our son sat with me while he was eating his tub of breakky yoghurt . He stopped mid-mouthful and looked at me.

“Mum…” he said “I’ve really learnt something from last night…”

I felt a surge of pride bubble up inside.

“What’s that son?” I said

“If I ever have another tantrum I should take my DS with me.”

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This afternoon we trolled through the garage (otherwise known as the repository for everything other than the car) looking for a case suitable for Miss 8’s impending camp.

Her first camp.

I finally found the one I was looking for, a snazzy-surfy one that her big brother had used on his first camp. I was elated. Phew! I never thought I would find it in all that junk. “But Mum…” Miss 8 said incredulously “it’s a boy’s suitcase.” I looked at it.

Yes.

She’s right it is a boy’s suitcase.

When her big brother went to camp he didn’t mind taking the old red sheet that had the rip in the centre and the Frankenstein stitches. He didn’t even mind that he had a non matching pillowcase. But now I have a whole new ball game on my hands. Don’t get me wrong she’s pulled out her old jumpers and jeans…but I’ve been firmly instructed that the pyjamas must match (tick) and may I please have new volleys (tick-and fine with me- I don’t want her taking her good runners anyway) and was it possible if I had a girls suitcase- please Mum pretty please?

Boy oh boy girls are different.

Part of me can’t justify buying another case, and another part of me wants to get the coolest-grooviest-girly-case I can find.

I remember the day my Mum told me we were going shopping for my primary school camp. I was elated. We were going to the biggest Kmart in town (the one in Burwood) and I felt like the luckiest kid on the planet- I was getting new stuff! Driving along my dreamy thoughts of new sleeping bags and fluffy socks abruptly screeched to a halt as we detoured to the… doctor’s surgery. There waiting for me was a big-fat-juicy tetanus shot.

Tonight I’ve taken a picture of the snazzy-surfy-suitcase.

Tomorrow it’s going on e-bay.

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According to my weeping daughter, who had flung herself across her bed, two girls, (count them fingers sticking up at me) two girls in her jazz ballet class got a grade higher than she did in her dance exam.

I make her sit up. We wipe the trail of snot off her pillowcase and closely examine her new trophy.

“Wow.” I said.

“I think that’s real gold.” big brother said.

“Is that my dinner in the oven?” Dad said.

 

Back last year my daughter did not have such high expectations. I had chosen this new dance studio because I didn’t like the one she had been previously enrolled in (errr the owner brings in giant dog-unleashed- to watch wee-little children dance and then says- “oh but it’s a friendly dog’…). She sat the first exam with the new studio and we were all pleasantly surprised when she received a top grade. It was very exciting. But little did I know what enormous pressure this would put on her small rounded pink shoulders the following year.

 

Her disappointment is palpable.

 

We tell her she’s great/gorgeous/talented/marvelous all to no avail. Tears keep streaming. I remind her that just because someone did better than her doesn’t mean her result isn’t fantastic. Commended does after all sound pretty impressive to me and it’s much higher than fail or pass or credit. I ask her to tell me how everyone else did and her story wafts around, facts are blurry. Clearly her perceptions are more important than reality.

I hold her close and ask her if I can facebook how proud I am. She brightens instantly. She’s social networking savvy at eight. She knows grandma and aunts and uncles and cousins will see my comment and go to her (very restricted) page and leave lov-er-ley messages for her. I show her what I write. I tell everyone how proud I am.

 

Later I creep into her room and watch her sleeping for awhile.

The mother-part-of-me wants to tell her not to be so hard on herself.

But the preparing-my-kids-for-real-life-part-of-me is proud of her for a reason other than how well she actually did in the exam.

 

 I’m proud of her for wanting more.

Sure aiming high will land us with disappointments and many reasons to blow our noses into countless tissues over the years. But it also means we don’t settle for mediocrity.

 

Last week during some random conversation I asked my daughter (who is only in grade three) if she wanted to be the Gold House Captain when she gets into grade six? She immediately answered “no.”  I was very disappointed as she attends the same school as I did and we are all mad for our Gold House. She looked at my crestfallen face and said “I don’t want to be the house captain mummy- because I want to be the school captain.”

 Stay tuned for an update in three years.

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