It’s been pretty appalling to hear the way some people dismiss the value of our elderly at the moment. This is what happens to equal rights in the face of a crisis. And while I understand the theory behind “survival of the fittest”, I’ll be the first to admit that it never crossed my mind that I’d experience the personal implications of it in my lifetime.
But worse is the sneaking suspicion that our parents and grandparents – many of whom survived world wars – aren’t taking this Coronavirus thing very seriously at all. Which means that while the majority of us are doing everything in our power to alleviate their risk, they’ve putting their own lives and ours in further jeopardy.
Only this morning as a threatening tribe of heaving shopping trollies (stacked to the ceiling with the sort of rations you would normally only associate with wartime) cornered me into the sweet section of the supermarket, an elderly lady tapped me on the back and pointed to my basket – containing tonic water and dog food because for this crisis I’ve got my priorities right.
‘It’s so surprising to see anyone still using a basket at the moment,’ she commented.
‘I suppose so,’ I replied vaguely, eager not to have to admit to my early morning raid of Aldi or to have an unnecessary conversation – that was definitely more than 1.5m apart – which might put her at risk from the light cold I’m still recovering from, (which is one of the downsides of working with children).
‘I’ve just come back from holiday and my children are worrying about me,’ she went on, as my brain imploded with the implications of this information. I put my hand over my mouth without thinking. ‘They told me not to leave the house. It’s quite ridiculous, isn’t it?’
‘Maybe,’ I replied, lying.
I mean, I get that there’s an admirable stoicism that comes from surviving wars, but it’s no excuse for naivety. We need to listen to what the experts are telling us. If we are to learn anything from Italy’s experience of the spread of this virus, that sort of “fight them on the beaches” bravado is not going to help lovely old ladies like this one when it takes down millions and she finds the value of her life measured against the life of someone half her age in the ER, is it?
Educate your parents. If you think you’re confused by the advice coming from the government and the media, imagine how they feel. Offer to do their shopping for them, visit them more to help alleviate the loneliness that self-isolation may cause, value their contribution to all of our lives.
We’ve reached a time in our lives where many of us are losing our parents to natural causes – and none of us have any control over that. But we can reduce their risk to the exposure of this virus. And while they may be stubborn old fools, they’re stubborn old fools we want to keep in our lives for as long as we can.
The old man opened the vault last week. Last month was the first time he didn’t lose a ton of our money since he became an investor and it triggered un uncharacteristically generous response. Of course, I leapt at the opportunityto spend.
I’m sure I must have mentioned that we’ve owned our current sofas for almost twenty-two years? Or that our television is so old it doesn’t fit through modern doors and has to be turned off manually? And that our dining set is from IKEA, circa 1800, and I bought it with my first pay after Kurt was born?
According to the old man’s philosophy, the money we spend is about making my life as miserable as possible “financial choices” i.e.nothing to do with an appreciation for antiques or sentimentality, although I believe that it also has something to do with the old man’s natural parsimony, his complete disinterest in what our house looks like, and my uselessness with money – as in saving money. That’s why – and I am embarrassed to admit this – I relinquished joint control of our bank account a long time ago.
I know…bad feminist!
Anyway, unsurprisingly, furniture has never featured highly on his list of priorities (unlike top-of-the-range golf clubs and wasted memberships at gyms), so the deal he offered me last week – to purchase two sofas, some dining chairs, and a new tv for him – could have knocked me down with a feather.
There were a few conditions, OBVS: I had to pick the furniture within an hour; it had to meet the practicalities he deems important ie. the color had to be a practical shade of neutral because of the Princess’s habit of wiping her bum and her spaghetti mouth on them; and I was NOT TO GO OVER BUDGET.
Sometimes, it really is like he doesn’t even know me!
And, honestly, I can’t describe to you the anticipation both of us felt as we travelled to the mall like a proper, grown up couple going furniture shopping. Although, then again, this grown up business does seem to be becoming a bit of a habit, if you remember here.
Of course, his generosity in terms of patience in the furniture stores didn’t extend as far as the family wallet. He lasted all of five minutes in the first shop before he had his first tanty and I had to send him packing to the tv store, which brought back horrible memories of Hawaii and our lifetime ban from Avis. Which left me an hour – negotiated up from half an hour – to find the furniture we will most likely wee and die on, before he changed his mind.
And I did it. The furniture had been ordered and is due to arrive before Christmas, and I am …well …not nearly as excited about it as I thought I would be, as I admitted to Tightarse the other night.
‘So if what would excite you if you could buy anything?’ he asked me, stifling a yawn.
Well… not the material stuff, anymore. We are lucky, we have everything we need. No, these days what gets me really excited is the thought of giving, having new experiences, learning about new stuff, the luxury of time (if I have the option), being a part of social change, and er…food. The prospect of taking the kids out to dinner and giving them free range to pick what they want from the menu – even dessert; shoving $50 in their hand when they need it – because I remember how much we appreciated the gesture from my in-laws when we were hard up; travel, education, and the freedom to do exactly what I want. All of those things excite me more than plush new sofas that someone will spill red wine on the minute I’ve unwrapped them – although, needless to say, I still made sure they will arrive before Christmas, in time for the family visit from the UK.
Isn’t it funny how our priorities change with age?
We caught up with some friends at the weekend and when the husband and the old man did that awkward shuffle as they greeted each other, our male friend launched into the story of how he had tried to hug his elderly father once, who froze and brushed it off.
‘I’m not much of a man-hugger,’ he admitted to him.
‘But did you like it?’ my friend pushed.
‘It was surprisingly quite nice,’ his dad responded.
What a truly sad world we live in when there are men out there that have never been hugged by their fathers, sons or close friends?
And then, we wonder why they are so emotionally ill-equipped.
Upon further discussion, it turns out that there are rules of etiquette when it comes to man-hugging. Both the old man and our friend agreed that while they hug their inner circle of close friends, they don’t hug the next tier of their friendship group.
‘But I hug everyone,’ I admitted, because I think that women do, in general, once they’ve met once or twice.
But the boys were adamant that it was only their tight circle of friends that got the special treatment. So – obviously – we made them man-hug on the spot, in front of us, which was when we witnessed something truly beautiful happen.
Of course, I’m generalising here. I’m sure that some men are massive huggers, but there is still that stigma associated with men hugging men.
In her book, Boys Will Be Boys,Clementine Ford claims it has to do with the stigma of what the show of affection implied in the past, and the need to prove “compulsive heterosexuality” – one of the issues of “toxic masculinity”.
And she’s right. If we don’t teach our boys how to share respectful, caring relationships with each other, how can we expect them to do the same with women?
She says: “It breaks my heart to know that men – and young men especially – are conditioned against embracing the pleasures of a physically-expressed platonic love for each other for fear that the authenticity of their man-hood may be challenged.”
So let’s change that right now. Any men out there – give your father a big, fat man-hug the next time you see him. And fathers – remember to hug your sons as well as your daughters. Finally, men – for God’s sake, hug your goddamn friends. It’s not a sign that you’re weak or that you fancy them, it’s a sign that you value them.
I’ve reached a point where I hardly dare open the news apps on my phone each morning. Not because it is necessarily bad, but because of the increasing number of stories about men murdering, belittling and shaming women (or others that oppose their views).
I dread to think how this news is impacting our kids. Cross that: I know exactly how it is affecting our kids.
I believe wholeheartedly in freedom of speech – obviously – but like so many of life’s more obscure areas, I also believe that its parameters can’t be set in stone – particularly when it comes to a democracy in which each of us (supposedly) has a voice.
For example, there is a level and a tone of speech that is acceptable to me when it comes to the personal opinions of others. Let’s call it a tolerance level – where Israel Folau and white supremacists don’t register, and Alan Jones is maybe a 1 – purely so we can analyse and ridicule his verbal twattery.
I write a lot of op-eds, so it would be wrong for me to judge people for having and voicing their opinions, but even I draw a line in the sand when it comes to my moral code when writing. I would like to believe that others will show a similar respect. I’ll give you an analogy: In the same way that no one is forcing devout Christians and Catholics to have abortions once the law in NSW is updated, I do not condemn them for their outdated opinions.
Sadly, that gene or part of the brain is missing in many men in the public eye, who like the sound of their own voices and appear to have forgotten the weight of responsibility they carry. Even worse is the number of media channels that condone their vile hate speech by using the freedom of speech argument – when we all know that what it is really about is clickbait and money.
Like children who misbehave for attention, the vitriolic words of these men who get off on bulling a sixteen-year-old for her views on climate change, who insinuate that a sex worker is somehow deserving of her murder, or who suggest putting a towel down the throat of a woman to shut her up – and a respected, female world leader at that – are not ones that we should be endorsing in these progressive times, in much the same way that we don’t sensationalise the murderers of women by disclosing their names.
I am watching the SBS series, “The Hunting” at the moment – a chilling awakening about the power of social media in the wrong hands, particularly in relation to the shaming of women. Frankly, the ramifications of such abuse are quite terrifying and this series highlights again the need for this growing sense of entitlement among SOME of our young men to be addressed, or the number of murders of women, such as Michaela Dunn’s, will continue to increase.
As the mother of young adults, I know a thing or two about the shaming and hounding of girls in school and afterwards, and at the root of the problem is often privilege – and primarily, the privilege of being a man, (and more often than not) being white and middle-class.
As this series points out, it is not the girls that we should be teaching how to behave, it is the boys and their mentors who need to be taught how to respect them. By endorsing men like Alan Jones, there is very little chance of that ever happening.
An article in “The Times” last weekend and my coming birthday inspired me to think seriously once again about what I’ve learned during my half-century. I’ve written posts in the past on the topic of the wisdom gained in middle age – mainly in relation to the advice I’d give NC, my daughter, but amazingly I have “grown up” some more since then, (as has the place of women in the world) – so I think it’s time for a re-evaluation.
I envy NC and the support her generation receives from the multitude of inspiring female mentors in the media, at work, and within her social group, as well as the government and independent services they have for their mental health etc. And I hope that with more awareness about women’s rights, the majority of our young women are now finally aware of what exactly is within their grasp. But the success of their future – and I use the word “success” with an implicit meaning of personal goals – still comes down to getting the fundamentals right.
Middle age is a funny old time. We joke about still feeling seventeen or eighteen, and yet it would be ignorant to believe that experience and the power of time have not played some part in influencing our perspective from then to now. If I’m honest, I’m not certain I thought about anything very much in my teens, beyond meeting the education goals set by my parents, getting a boyfriend, and securing a job, but then we didn’t have as much insight into what was happening on the world stage back then.
So here’s what I would advise my younger self if I had my time again:
Don’t assume that education is the only means to an end. Further education is a massive decision for a young brain and, these days, a huge financial commitment. One size doesn’t fit all, and many of our most successful entrepreneurs never finished school. Follow your heart when it comes to your career. You can always return to education at a later date.
Trust your instinctsmore. Sure, there is a stereotype/Instagram version of success that we are pressured to aspire to, but if you have any niggling doubt inside you, you don’t have to be a sheep. It is unlikely that your doubt will disappear, and ignoring it may cause you and the people that love you a lot of pain in the long term. Listen to your body is something else I’d like to add here – and not just the physical signs that something isn’t quite right, but the mental ones as well.
Value yourself. People will tell you that you are too young to make big decisions, too fat to wear those jeans, not good enough at such and such to follow your dream, but you are your own person and this is your life. Worst case scenario – you will learn from your mistakes. Remove anyone who doesn’t value you or respect your decisions from your life.
Never trust or stay with a partner who doesn’t treat you as an equal. Nothing to add.
Always take responsibility for your own finances. Even if you take time out of work, make sure that you don’t compromise your financial independence by that decision.
Be assertive. Women are known as the “gentler sex” – and it’s true that we make great carers – but in the business world that can be seen as a weakness. One reason that women earn less is because they don’t ask for a pay rise. So be assertive about what you are entitled to.
Don’t be scared to voice your opinion. Time and time again I hear women say that they can’t communicate with their partner. If that’s the case, you are not in an equal relationship and it’s not working.
Accept your body for what it is. There are some things diet and exercise can’t change, so stop wasting your time trying to achieve the impossible. Live a healthy lifestyle, but don’t get sucked in by the unrealistic expectations of models in magazines or social media. You have so much more to give.
If you have to chase a friendship, let it go. They don’t value you.
You will have to fake it to make it and that’s okay because everyone’s doing the same thing. Don’t allow yourself to feel like an imposter just because you’ve pushed yourself to take on a new challenge. Take a leap of faith. Imagine if you succeed!
Compliment other women. In fact, compliment everyone – those few words have the power to change someone’s day.
Tell those closest to you how much you love them, more often.
Move forwards not backwards. Regrets can be useful as a learning tool but demotivating if you focus on them.
Don’t be afraid to say sorry. In particular to your partner and kids.
Exercise self-compassion. Don’t be so hard on yourself. There will always be someone with more and life will feel tough at times, but no one is perfect.
Don’t be judgy. Instead, be empathetic – you have no idea what someone else’s life really looks like from the inside out.
Take a greater interest in politics. I know that they’re boring when you are still ignorant about your own mortality, but you can change the world if you want to. And if not for yourself, for your kids. That’s what living in a democracy is all about, and it’s a privilege denied to many. It infuriates me when I hear of young people who haven’t voted and then moan about how the system never changes.
Dreams can come true, but they take hard work, resilience and commitment. (Taken from GreenGlobalTravel). And to get there, you will most likely need to take some risks.
Don’t grow up too soon. There’s plenty of time for that.
“Travel – as often as you can.” “After a life-changing trip, Jennifer Hill realized the importance of getting out of your comfort zone. As she’d tell her younger self, there are always reasons you can find not to experience new things—but the benefits of doing it anyway can be amazing.” (The Muse)
Many of you won’t be aware of this, but quite a large chunk of my career has been spent in education – working with kids with special needs. At the beginning of this year, I returned to the field to become the co-ordinator of a new after-school care facility.
Last week, we completed our first week of vacation care. For reasons of confidentiality, I can’t tell you too much about what happens on the job, but what I can share is the wonderful experience of working in a progressive school, ie. the type of school that encourages the type of childhood that most of us Generation Xers experienced – with its focus on outdoor play and exploration, and the inherent dangers therein.
While I try not to waste too much time reflecting back on my own parenting fails these days, it’s hard to ignore the ongoing evidence of the relationship between our kids’ deteriorating mental health and “helicopter parenting”. The link has made me think about how I would do things differently if I had my time again.
The school in which I work is a green, progressive school, set in beautiful, lush grounds in the bush where the kids spend much of their day, with the option not to wear shoes – apart from during funnel web season, when (obviously) I wear full body armour. And the focus is on learning through exploration and play, using nature as the primary resource for teaching. Technology is used minimally and the culture of the school is based is on kindness and respect.
I have never seen happier, more fulfilled children. Perhaps, because there are fewer rules, but most likely because they have the freedom to explore and take control of their own learning. That approach makes it the perfect setting for kids of different abilities and the responsibility it encourages boosts their self-esteem and confidence in their own abilities. It is such a privilege to watch them make up their own games and then extend them, and to work out their own problems. During after-school care, they sit together and play board, construction and card games, they colour in, they play together outdoors, they craft out of recycled materials, and even help cook their afternoon tea. Some of them are happy to simply sit and read a book.
While it is a child-centred environment – there are still expectations in terms of behaviour and respect for our resources, of course, but most of the time the kids sort out their own issues among themselves because they are encouraged to problem-solve at every stage of their learning.
As you can imagine, I was horrified in my interview for the job when I found out that the children were encouraged to climb trees and retrieve balls from snake-infested bushes. Hence, I have been forced to learn how to keep my own anxiety in check. As my supervisor explained to me, if a kids falls out of a tree and breaks their arm, they won’t climb as high the next time.
Raising my own kids, I know that I was guilty of the type of “helicopter parenting” that educator and author, John Marsden, talks about in his new book, The Art of Growing Up, so with this new responsibility I have been mindful of my need to relax and let go more. John worries about the effects of this parenting on the resilience of our children. ‘When I hear parents say ‘I want my children to enjoy their childhood; there’ll be time when they’re older to learn about those things’, I hear the voices of those who are scared of the vastness of the universe. These adults have a view of childhood as some kind of discrete interval, rather than just a few years from the continuum of life. How fortunate that the spirit, courage and curiosity of many young people remain largely undefeated by such adults.‘
One of the points he raises is the danger of putting our kids in a bubble to “protect” them from outside influences, which means that once they grow up and enter the real world they are unable to cope with its demands. Worryingly, when he interviewed a group of children and asked them what they wanted to be when they grew up, many said that they didn’t want to grow up at all.
Of course, backing off and letting children with special needs like Kurt fail isn’t quite as straightforward. It is important to advocate for them at every step of their education, but towards the end of Kurt’s schooling I had learned not to sweat the small stuff and to pick my battles in relation to homework and lost uniform, a change that has stood me in good stead for this job – particularly on the days the kids make slime and potions, or when I catch one of them at the top of a tree!!!
But, perhaps, my enjoyment of this more relaxed approach to childcare has something to do with my appreciation for less drama in my own life right now, as well as my personal appreciation of nature and mindfulness that has developed with middle age. This new simplicity to how I live my life, boosted by my greater respect for nature, is empowering. And it is so much more fulfilling than the exhausting drive of my thirties and forties that I see evident in modern parenting, where parents are continually striving to turn their kids into something they’re not.
A few weeks ago we went to a fundraiser. It was a black tie event to raise money for the family of an old colleague of the old man’s whose son broke his neck and damaged his spinal cord in a freak rugby accident recently.
Alex Noble is their son’s name, and if anyone feels like funding a real cause, as opposed to other, less noble causes, please feel free – here is the link to his GoFundMe page.
At one point in the evening, Alex’s parents stood up on stage to tell us a little about his story, his progress, and their plans for the future – should they reach their target that night to secure the funds they need to renovate their house, meaning he can eventually come home.
“There’s not a lot of joy in my life right now, but there’s a lot of love,’ his mother said.
It was a comment that hit me hard, because albeit that in terms of bums on seats that night, there was a wonderful level of support in the room, as a mum who is also a part-time carer of an adult dependent, (as well as being a professional cynic), I did wonder how many guests would be there for the long-haul of Alex’s journey, once the glitter is swept away.
Many of the guests were close friends of the couple or friends of their son, so in some ways it felt almost voyeuristic to be there, to witness the pain and rawness caused by such a cruel twist of fate; to sense the fears that his family feel in terms of the uncertainty of Alex’s and their future.
When we plan our children, we never anticipate for one moment that things won’t work out like the parenting manuals told us they will, so I understand what Alex’s Mum was trying to say. I’ve felt that way many times with Kurt – because let’s not underestimate the devastation caused by mental illness or disability, either. Indeed, it was only a week before that I thought that we had lost our son?
Scratch the surface and there is heartache in every family. I can’t tell you the number of times people open up to me about siblings or relatives with mental health issues who have been hidden, the skeletons in their cupboards.
But Alex’s Mum was right about how adversity cultivates love. Because in return for the pain caused by our son’s neuro-diversity, we have been given an education in love, compassion and empathy, and we are better people for that. We are as proud of him as we are of NC – much to her horror. While his steps forward have been slower, they have been celebrated with the same enthusiasm as hers, and his progress has provided us with an invaluable insight into how society should be measuring success.
Admittedly, there have been times when there’s not been a lot of joy in caring for someone who may never get better, and I wouldn’t wish our experience or that of Alex and his parents on anyone. Before his accident, they would have been looking forward to the last chapter of their lives as independent once again, but the ramifications of his physical disability may be lifelong, and they will affect not only them, but his siblings, and possibly future generations of their family.
I’m glad that they feel loved and supported. I hate cliches, but shit like this does make you stronger, because you have no choice but to be strong. But as I said, there are hidden benefits to life’s knocks such as this. While they will have to reset their expectations of Alex, his milestones will be as meaningful as those of his siblings – if not more so. And though it may feel painful at the time, this tragedy will draw a line in the sand between their true friends and their fair weather friends, because they won’t have time for games.
But they will be tired all of the time and there will be days when they feel like they can’t go on and will question why me? So I suppose what I really want to say to all those parents battling through each day with kids with disabilities or dependencies, is that your joy may well be diminished, but like a flower in summer, your heart will be opened to maximum capacity.
I am slowly educating myself about my personal impact on the environment. It helps when you have a daughter who works in climate science, and who helpfully reminds you each time you forget your recycled bags at the supermarket about how many turtles you’ve just killed.
I admit that, (for my sins), I am still using wipes. Responsibility is a permanent battle between turning your back on the wonders of modern invention for the sake of something that still doesn’t feel quite real – at least for some. And what a bloody fantastic invention cleansing wipes are!
Needless to say, my education about how to respect the environment has been an embarrassing slow burn for my daughter The reef dying and the ice-caps melting doesn’t mean a lot until you are directly affected by it, and if I’m honest, (being somewhat set in my ways), I am only just coming to grips with my phone’s secret updates.
However, when you read articles like The Wasteland by Stephanie Wood in last weekend’s SMH, there’s no ignoring what’s happening.
While NC has done a great job of educating me about recycling, conserving energy, and sustainability, the issue of food wastage hasn’t come up yet – probably because it’s never been an issue in our house. Which is why the work of organisations such as Ozharvest (that Stephanie mentions) – a company that collects the food waste from supermarkets and hospitality to recycle it for the homeless and others in need – was such an eye-opener.
Interestingly, a friend and I had a similar idea (on a much smaller scale) a few months back, when we considered extending the idea of Kurt’s care packages, (ie. the several meals a week I deliver him to help him survive the days between one pay day to the next), to a batch for the homeless each month. Sadly, however, our idea was met by such a horrified response from our friends – who worried about the legal ramifications if we killed someone – we were forced to rethink.
What a very sad world we live in?
So while I may not be able to check which of the homeless are gluten-free, what I can do in my mission to become a middle-aged eco-warrior, is reduce the amount of plastic I use and increase awareness about the damage done by excess packaging. I was pondering over this very thing when I was in Woolworths the other day and I spotted these bags of fruit.
Yes, look again – your eyes do not deceive you. For these are indeed individually packaged bags of sliced apple for kids lunch boxes, helpfully contained in another package.
Now, my husband will verify that I can be a wasteful person and I am also fully aware that more and more parents work full time and don’t have the time to carve flowers out of carrots – hence, I will try not to cast stones – BUT WTF IS GOING ON? Our kids are marching in the streets, telling us how scared they are about climate change, and we can’t even slice an apple now?
Why do we need to package our fruit in plastic trays and then wrap it again in a second layer of plastic? Doesn’t it seem a little crazy that that we march happily around the supermarket feeling all smug about our recyclable canvas bags, when we’re carrying enough plastic inside them to cancel any benefit? In the old days – as in the Medieval times when I was a child – our parents took one bag to the market for their fruit and veg, which was poured directly into it from the scale. It was probably how I learned my basic maths skills. And in countries where diet is based on a farm-to-table principle, people continue to manage to cope with that system.
Aside from the addition of unnecessary landfill, the threat to wildlife and the environment, and the fact that the planet may self-combust in a few years, what does such a blatant lack of responsibility say to our kids about our privilege and our priorities?
I suspect that it’s that the world has gone fucking mad.
As, once again, we compile the memories of twenty-five years together into boxes ahead of our next move, it seems appropriate to have a discussion about them.
Because I’ve noticed how good society is at putting people into them, as NC reminded me the other day when we were discussing the assumptions people make about her personal choice to become a vegetarian.
Whenever you choose to veer off the straight and narrow or do something different, it seems to encourage the more cynical to shout louder from their soapbox. To use the example of NC, she is often criticised for those rare occasions she indulges in fish, even though her vegetarianism is nothing to do with animal cruelty. Sometimes her body craves fish, and she can’t resist tuna and salmon Sashimi and my smoked salmon and cream canapes at Christmas. As she is a vegetarian for sustainability reasons, she doesn’t see a problem with this. Her detractors, however, suggest that she isn’t a “proper” vegetarian.
Haters gonna hate.
It’s the same with feminism. The uneducated like to put feminists in the box for people that stand against inequality between the sexes, grow out their body hair, and hate men. I wax… and I don’t hate men because of their gender.
In the same way that not all Muslims are radical terrorists, not all feminists hate men.
Making assumptions and boxing people into a group is a lazy path to take. It is also naive and potentially dangerous. For those who don’t bother to look more carefully at a person’s reasons for their beliefs and behaviour, their premature judgment can have have life-long repercussions.
Society – and the old man and I must take some responsibility as well – has tried to fit Kurt into a box for most of his life – an expectation that has made him miserable. The sad truth is that society only provides one box for everyone to fit into and so those that can’t fit comfortably in it risk being ostracised and isolation. The laws of society have limited tolerance for “difference”, which means that there is not enough “give” in the box for the neuro-diverse, the traumatised, or the outward thinkers.
Anyone who has made a profession out of moving house and packing – like the old man and myself – will know that some things don’t fit in standard-sized boxes.
Women, in particular, have always struggled to fit comfortably in the box, because it was designed for men. Meghan Markle is experiencing the claustrophobia of that situation right now. A bi-racial, divorced woman, she is attempting to fit into a box of privilege that has little desire to move with the times. Hers was never going to to be a smooth transition – a plight that Nikki Gemmell summed up in her brilliant piece, “The Audacity of Meghan Markle”, in The Australian last week.
Personally, I hope that Meghan doesn’t make a smooth transition. I hope that she lifts the lid off that bloody box and sets it alight with her critics inside.
We need more Meghans. We need more Kurts and NCs and people prepared to stand up for their beliefs, for those that don’t fit squarely into boxes – whom in many cases, are demonised by society. We should be encouraging society to think outside of the box, not closing the lid on it.
When I was growing up, I wish someone had told me to bury the past, to keep my eyes focused firmly on the road ahead, and to embrace the company of women.
An out-of-the-blue email from an old girlfriend prompted me to write this post. The first true girlfriend of my adulthood – ie. after kids – we were the only two mums in our parenting class with babies that refused to commit to the stepping stones of perfection outlined in the parenting manuals. Shamed by a smarmy group of other first-time mums whose kids were nailing them, we got through the shit show on wine, whinging and WTFs.
It took me a long time to connect with women. Raised through my teens by a single and unconventional father, it wasn’t until my late twenties and the births of my own children, that I was thrust among the fairer sex. Before that, the majority of my friends had been men. Sharing their black and white space, that felt devoid of emotional complications – other than those unfortunate misunderstandings about the status of our relationship – I felt calmer.
Since then, of course, I’ve come to terms with the bollocks to be found in the majority of self-help books about the search for happiness and personal fulfillment. Experience has shown me that the streets aren’t paved with gold, that life can be grossly unfair, and that the only way to make any sense of life is to make the best of what you have. And this newfound wisdom has helped me understand more about the differences between men and women, and the reason why friendships with men used to appear more attractive/straightforward. It’s because they have fewer layers.
Sounds derogatory, I know. Although, not as insulting as the word “depth,” which is the one I really wanted to use. But hear me out, because my employment of the word is not meant to be a judgment about men’s personality flaws or their shoddy housework skills (this time), I use it to champion women and the female experience of life.
I believe, that because the role of women requires so much more emotional labor and intelligence than theirs, (which I spoke about here), and we experience greater physical and emotional trauma – eg. during menstruation, childbirth, and menopause – we experience a more visceral understanding of ourselves as humans and our place in this world. You only have to look at the women who have experienced near-death experiences in childbirth, or from rape, or those whose husbands left them on the poverty line, with nothing but the kids, for examples.
Whereas, men – and I’m generalizing here because this is not a discussion about the mental health of men or the stress some experience as sole earners of their family etc – seem more transparent, more easy-going, (dare I say) less judgemental than women. (Obviously, what I’d really like to say is “simple” – in the nicest possible way.) And while there are no doubt evolutionary and physiological explanations to why one gender carries the burden of more emotional baggage than the other, it is nevertheless impossible to ignore the societal influence of male privilege. Perhaps, that’s why, (on a social level), men seem less confrontational than women – who are judged throughout their lives, making them complicated creatures.
While I’ll admit that many of my closest female friends have always secretly terrified me, fortunately for women, kids are a glue that draws us together. The uncanny ability of our offspring to extract emotion from the most determinedly cold hearts, to frazzle nerves, to provoke self-doubt and tears, and to force us to question just about everything as they chip away relentlessly at our resilience and turn our brains to pulp, are the main reason the coffee morning was invented.
In spite of the suspicions of certain men, the purpose of the coffee morning is (generally) not to discuss the latest fashions, the most energy-efficient washing machine, or the last time we had an orgasm. Coffee mornings are about support, about building resilience and sharing experiences. Men should try it, sometime.
Women are there for women on those days the dam bursts. When all those tantrums in the supermarket have finally worn you down; when the barrage of abuse at dinner time (each time you force their kids to eat peas) becomes too much; when you lose your job; or when you burst into tears in the vegetable section of Coles because someone took the last ripe avocado.
Who better to rely upon in those situations than someone who has got the tee-shirt, on those days you’re sobbing into your phone, wine in one hand, and the scalp of your third child in the other? The truth is, your girlfriends are the only ones who can help you make sense of the new, terrifying vulnerability that comes from having your emotions and hormones put through a spiralizer.
Because THEY’VE BEEN THERE.
Personally, I’m a pretty rubbish girlfriend. Over the years, my attempts to feign the habits of a worthy friend have improved, but alas, for the main part they remain superficial. I try to be better than the sub-standard set of female instincts that nature provided me with – to remember birthdays, special events, cards etc – however, an unhealthy obsession to overthink, a possible case of early onset dementia, and a natural scattiness have determined that I will never be that thoughtful, perfect friend that some of us are lucky to have in our lives. I can only hope that those friends who always make the first call or send the first text understand that my silence is unrelated to their worth.
Sadly – and yes, here comes the excuse – some people travel through life with the baggage of their past stuck as firmly to their shoulders as a backpack. And it has been easy to blame my detachment issues on any number of things – and I do. I am what they call an Olympian “victim”. The divorce of my parents, the loss of my mother (and some things that even I’m not ready to share) have been assimilated (rather than dealt with), to protect myself – a self-defensive mechanism that has had some unfair repercussions for our kids, in particular, our daughter.
NC has recently entered a phase of self-reflection. Like her mother, she has struggled to open the box fully on her emotions, but as she matures she is becoming more aware of the dangers of that choice. A bystander to the emotional carnage caused by the death of my mother, and our struggles with Kurt, she has inherited my need for control when it comes to her emotions. The concept of a free fall terrifies her, but she can’t ignore the logic of her scientist’s brain: that putting up barriers will prevent her development and thwart any positive relationships in her life – what she needs to reach her full potential.
Hence, there are two pieces of advice I wish to share with my daughter: the first is to surround herself and nurture relationships with a group of strong, intelligent, and diverse women who will challenge her and blow the wind in her sails when she needs it. The second is to put her heart on the line and to dare to love and trust.
I heard the word “curiosity” mentioned in two different contexts last week. The first time was at Clementine Ford’s book launch in Sydney, for her new book “Boys Will Be Boys;” and the second was in an article in The Guardian by Celia Dodd here, about retirement.
Inevitably, “retirement” is somewhat of a buzzword in my community at the moment, and I know that I must be secretly starting to get anxious about it from the way I furtively check out the fitness of old people on the bus.
Most of our friends are on the cusp of the transition, and they share similar concerns to us – which are mainly finance-related. Will we have enough money, or will we need to downsize to escape the rising cost of living in Sydney, seems to be the biggest question on most people’s lips. And then there’s that other fear – shared by some of the men – about how they will survive this next stage of change, with no fixed routine.
Research has shown us that there is a genuine danger that some men will sink into depression in retirement unless they find new purpose in their lives. It was something I worried about the old man when he began his semi-retirement, (as I mentioned in this post), until I realized that hitting a ball each day and the daily update of his guide to how to stack the dishwasher, would keep him busy.
In Celia’s article, she argues that to thrive in retirement, we don’t need to be a lawn bowls champion, but we do need the curiosity to try new activities or listen to new ideas – rather than “filling time on life’s scrap heap until you die.” We need to keep on growing as people. Interestingly, however, she does refute “the assumption that you have to be constantly busy to achieve anything.”
I, too, see a direct correlation between curiosity, growth and the continued enjoyment of a fulfilling life, no matter what our age.
Clementine’s use of the word “curiosity” was in relation to Trump’s blinkered vision when it comes to abused women, and the appalling lack of empathy, compassion, and (above all) curiosity, he showed last week for a man in his position of power. Several times, the US president has shown a disinterest in listening to public opinion or in the evolution of new ideas or change – in much the same way, (Celia says), that we latch so easily onto one of the biggest myths about retirement – which is that it is “a static phase during which nothing much changes.”
Not true. The curiosity that has come with aging has made me the woman I am today: a woman that strives to hear the voices of others in order to educate and improve myself; a woman who is aware of the gaps in her knowledge and experience, but keeps going, in the hope that someday she can use it to improve the lives of others with less privilege – whether that’s through writing or in the donation of her time.
Which is not to say that I always get it right. We are not a perfect race, and never will be – and we are certainly nothing like the narrow-minded white vision of fascism – thank God! And yet, I hope that I listen, absorb and am respectful of the opinions of others. I continue to be curious about this crazy world and its colorful range of inhabitants, and I am more aware now than ever about my responsibility as a small cog in the very large wheel of society.
Curiosity is the key to positive change, understanding others and finding purpose at every stage of our lives. Those that choose to switch it off, remain stagnant, as the world rotates around them, and we have seen over the past week how very dangerous that can be.
There has been a backlash recently against new mothers who share their birthing stories online. Some people don’t like this latest version of “oversharing” because they think it traumatizes pregnant women.
Although, not as much as the birth… I hasten to quip.
I have to admit that I always felt a bit cheated after the births of my children about the silent agreement among women not to discuss the absolute horror the nitty gritty of childbirth, except with your close friends – those that have seen you wee in public, puke on alcohol, or provide you with blow-by-blow accounts of sex with their husband.
But fortunately, we’re a lot more open these days about what was once considered to be women’s business. In fact, it might surprise you to know that it was men that instigated the change to be with their partners in the delivery room. Evidently, it was difficult to focus on the paper in the waiting room with the bloodcurdling screams of their wives in their ear. Although my father was lucky enough to be in the pub – a story that, (not being one to shy away from sexism or political correctness), he continues to recount with pride.
Perhaps, predictably, I dragged the old man into the torture chamber with me, although he did come kicking and screaming when I went into labor two weeks early, the morning after a very boozy farewell to life without real responsibility the night before. It is no exaggeration to say that he slept through most of my ordeal until NC was thrust into his arms so that the medical team could save me from bleeding out – and I believe from certain death, had I been in Outlander.
NC’s birth was a shock, but not as massive a shock as my naive interpretation of what a sleepless night meant. Both of my children were in a rush to get out, which meant short, sharp periods of the kind of intense agony that Cassie goes through each week on The Bachelor, rather than a prolonged ordeal. Aside from what felt like wall staples in place of stitches in my vagina – that I secretly hoped wouldn’t be removed for several years – my experiences could have been worse. (Okay, not much worse). In fact, I found the sight of blood on the bathroom floor of the hospital to be far more unsettling.
But should we share the grisly, bloody detail of this natural, yet savage ordeal of bringing children into the world?
Absolutely. If you don’t want to know what really happens, don’t read about it or watch the videos. Obviously, I read everything that I could get my hands on at the time – because…anxiety – and in hindsight, I’m glad I did. I was more prepared and more aware of my options when it became evident that my birth plan was as useless as a knitted condom. Added to which, I knew that no one would bat an eyelid when I called the old man those names that even we have censored in our marriage.
There is no doubt that the derogatory comment Trevor Noah made five years ago about Aboriginal women was appalling and a foolish error of judgment. As an advocate for equal rights and a comedian of mixed race himself, who has himself admitted that ‘My mom used to get arrested for being with my dad. She would get fined. She would spend weekends in jail,’ I fail to understand the brain snap he must have experienced to take such a shockingly cruel potshot at this vulnerable and defenseless group, no matter how desperate he was for success at that time.
However, as Ben Pohble pointed out on Twitter, (in typical tongue and cheek fashion), by way of his response to the planned boycott of Noah’s upcoming Australian tour: “No, every single thing we have ever said and done in our lives should be held against us forever. Duh.”
Because if we were all held to account for every mistake we made, Prince Harry would have had a quiet wedding, Churchill would have been sacked several times over, and Trump would have never made President.
As it says in the Bible, ‘Let he that has not sinned cast the first stone.’
No, we are human and we all make mistakes, and as long as we learn from them, make our apologies to those concerned – or pay the consequences if required – we need to accept this fallibility of human nature, as just that.
We are learning all of the time; through each stage of our lives. That’s one of the best bits about our short time on earth, and new learning contributes to our growth and sense of purpose. Ten years ago, I wasn’t a vocal feminist, a writer or a potential influencer for wine companies – yet, like a fine wine, I have evolved with age. An avid desire to learn has had a direct influence on my personal growth – and if I’m honest, I’ve probably learned far more from my mistakes than my successes.
And to my mind, more change has happened to alter our social conscience over the past few years than in the decades before. The potency of the internet has given each and every one of us a voice to share our opinions, which means that what we say and do can be transported around the globe in a nano-second – quite a terrifying responsibility for people that rely on the medium to make a living and one that makes me think twice every time I put a word on a page.
While I can’t imagine that Trevor is quaking in his boots right now about the proposed boycott of his tour in Australia, I suspect that he will be ashamed that this video has been dredged up. He and his team will have gone into damage control to protect his reputation as a professional, a fighter of discrimination and a genuinely nice lad. No-one wants to be labeled a racist, least of all someone who has spoken so openly to leverage awareness about the problem.
Is it right to pull up a man with such talent and with such a prominent voice in the fight against racism, for a single performance, for one mistake that happened a long time ago, before many of us were fully educated about discrimination? Before Trump, before #metoo, before same-sex marriage.
Make a proper apology, Trevor, to the beautiful Aboriginal women of Australia who thought you were on their side, and learn from this experience.
The YouTube clip below has popped up on my newsfeeds a few times over the last week and refuses to be ignored. Trust me, you need to watch it with the sound on and then I want everyone to practice their tongue trills in front of the mirror – (see video at the bottom of the page for assistance).
I sent the video over to ‘the girls’ as a suggestion of a retro experience together, but the leotard part of it didn’t go down too well. But watching these women strut their stuff reminded me of year 11 and 12 at school – a new school that I’d moved to for my HSC and originally a single-sex boys school that had recently decided to take in girls to demonstrate to the boys that another sex existed in those year groups. Looking back, the school was definitely still in the teething stage of their new venture.
Being a public school (paying, in the UK), there was inevitably a strong focus on sport. The boys played traditional sports – cricket in summer, rugby and hockey in winter – and the girls played netball and hockey.
Or rather, that was the girls that could catch or whack a ball accurately at their opponent’s calves with a stick. For those girls that weren’t quite as handy with their ball skills – although, there are balls, and then there are balls – there was the option of badminton or Jane Fonda Workout.
It’s strange to look back on those times now – more than thirty years ago – when I used to laugh off my total ineptitude at sport with humor, even though it hurt like hell never to be good enough. Sport is, unfortunately, one of those areas in which you don’t necessarily improve with practice – because God knows, I tried to make a team, ANY TEAM!
I have a long list of proud sporting non-achievements I could share with you – such as getting caught on the bus at the end of the annual cross-country run (for charity, no-less), home-goals, running in the wrong direction in Netball – but only one really proud sporting achievement. It was a brief period in my sporting career when I was selected to play for my house rounders team because the girl I was substituting had broken BOTH her legs. I have chosen not to dwell on my secret suspicion that she would still have been selected to play had only one leg been in plaster.
Anyway, in spite of the loser connotations of being assigned to the “Jane Fonda” group with twenty similarly uncoordinated girls, my memories of those afternoons are fond. I can’t remember breaking out in too big a sweat, but I do remember lolling around the school hall, grateful to be out of the cold, waiting for the boys to finish rolling around like pigs in mud so that we could oggle them in their rugby shorts and inhale their Deep Heat. However, we must have learned something, because when my aqua-aerobics instructor shouted out to us to grapevine the other day, it was almost instinctive – I knew exactly what to do.
Any sporting non-achievements you’re particularly proud of?