I have a vivid memory, the contextual details of which are quite vague, of being in the dusty garage of a really old person with my best friend from primary school. We had both entered the garage while her parents attended to the old person who lived in the house with anticipation because we had been told that one of the old person’s cats had had kittens.

I’m sure it suited the adults for the two of us to be out of the way and being entertained in the garage. I wouldn’t have thought that at the time. At the time it was like a magical mystical opportunity to find a baby kitten, hold it and bond with it, love it and be loved by it forever, make it my own.

Imagine a movie set, where the prototypical dusty garage has been constructed. There is probably a penny farthing cycle in a corner, or at least an old sewing machine, everything is the same color, a dusty beigy grey, scant light comes through a moldy window and cobwebs garner corners and window frames. This is the scene Cathy and I entered. We should have been holding hands. That’s how it would have been done if it were a movie.

She spotted the kittens first. They were all in a group on a ledge by the window. We were instantly besotted. They were snuggled together for warmth. It was like a little kitten mosaic. How fortunate we were to be able to enter and choose a little kitten, a disadvantaged kitten, who had never been loved by any person before us. Poor little kitties, lonely little kitties in need of a child to claim them. I could hardly contain my rapture.

We approached the kittens quietly. I can’t remember who reached for their kitten first. We may have reached simultaneously. Upon noticing the extended hand of a grade six girl, the kitten mosaic became a snarling, hissing mass of little teeth and claws. We pulled our hands quickly back. This was not how we had expected it to be.

Together in the garage, Cathy and I reflected upon how the kittens had never known a human from the beginning of their lives and were therefore wild. We didn’t attempt to pick one up. They were pretty bloody scary actually. No one likes to be hissed at. Anyway we didn’t want to contribute to the little kitten anxiety that was clearly being demonstrated. We watched them for awhile, made no headway in being accepted by them and returned to the adults when called without words to voice our collective, unspoken disappointment.

This morning I went to my 19 year old daughter’s shared house to drop off her phone. She’d left it at my place. I’d suffered a bit of abuse from her the previous night but we had sorted it out and I had reassured her that she was loved. She tamed as she sobered up effectively. Anyway, they’d had a house worming party that night. I knocked on the front door and entered when I found the door was unlocked. I tapped on my daughter’s room and left her phone on her bed. She was still in bed closely packed in with another unidentifiable party goer. I’m sure there were heaps of sleeping teenagers and early twenty something’s scattered around the house asleep in clumps (like the feral kittens). There were signs of party everywhere, scores of P-plated cars parked randomly on the front lawn and in the driveway, cigarette butts scattered all over the porch and front yard, an empty bottle.

The feral kittens came to me as a flash back on the drive home. Teenagers are just like feral kittens.

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A Parent’s Lament

October 23, 2011

When the light mist lifted this morning in Melbourne I had already been riding for half an hour. I’d met two girlfriends and we were cycling a route that one of them had discovered through Balwyn and Lower Plenty. The morning slowly warmed up and before we knew it we were riding in perfect conditions.

We cycled for two hours. I hadn’t ridden since last Sunday’s Around the Bay in a Day. In fact I hadn’t done any exercise other than the odd walk instead of drive. Around the Bay was a 210 km ride and I’d been too tired afterwards to get straight back into running and swimming.

It felt good. There was a pinch of a hill just over the half way mark that got my heart pumping. The endorphins kicked in and I finished the ride feeling pumped.

I arrived home at 10.30am. I don’t think my daughters were even aware that I’d been out. I had a shower and was standing there naked in my bathroom when Kat called out to me,

“Muuum?”

“Yep I’m in here but don’t come in I’m naked – just hopped out of the shower.”

“Oh, okay. Have you got any money?”

I only had two fifty dollar notes. I’d taken them out yesterday doing the “cash out” option at Target, and it was nice to have some money in my purse. Her boyfriend was visiting from Brisbane and they were heading out for the day. She spent too much money for a uni student, but I’d rather her have fun than be too restricted because of cash problems. Take one of the fifties out of my purse I said to her.

Still naked in my bathroom I was cleaning my teeth when Emma barged in and quickly back tracked saying, “Arg, I wish I hadn’t seen that! MUM Close your bathroom door!”

She waited while I threw on a summer dress and some knickers.

“What did you want to talk about Emma?”

“Can you drive me down to Foodworks? I said I’d meet Shari fifteen minutes ago and I can’t ring her because my phone’s busted”.

“Okay”

“And can I have some money to buy lunch with?”

“Um, all I have is this fifty dollar note”

“Well, I have a twenty”, Emma said, “Give me the fifty and I’ll give you the twenty. If I have change from lunch I’ll give it back to you later”.

Foodworks is only a 2 minute drive. I turned around and drove back to our home in less than ten minutes. As I opened the garage I found Sally waiting for me. She gestured with her hand, a stop gesture, to indicate don’t bother driving in.

“Mum, can you drive me down to the local shops. Beck is meeting me there and I’m running late”.

“Its just straight down the hill Sally. Why don’t you scoot?”

“I’m running late. Can you just drive me?”

“Okay”. We pulled out of the driveway.

“Can I have some money to do kid things with?”

“What sort of kid things? and why do you need money to be a kid?” (Sally is twelve at the end of this week).

“I might get a soft drink or icy pole”.

“Oh okay, but I only have this twenty dollar note”.

“Well give that to me and I’ll give you fifteen dollars change”.

This morning I had one hundred dollars. I now only have fifteen. This is my lament.

I’m sitting down now, munching on fruit and nuts, drinking formosan tea and reclining in my comfy chair by the window. The house is very quiet. But Rosie is still upstairs. I haven’t seen her yet today. I’m wondering whether she might need fifteen dollars before she steps out this morning…

Ah here she is! “What are you doing today Rosie?”

“Homework, but I’m going to go for a run first. Its beautiful out there!”

I feel love and pride for all of my daughters.

And I get to keep the 15 ūüôā

the snow is calling

June 12, 2011

Its mid June. First semester at uni is over, the mornings are getting foggy and I’m thinking about the snow. We don’t get snow in our cities but for the first time in many years, the opening of the ski season has begun with skiable mountains.

Before I had my children, going up to the snow fields on Queens Birthday weekend was a given. These years were followed by years of pressing parental duties with babies, which were followed by years of ignoring the snow while the drought took hold and snow in time for the opening became a thing of the past. Those years of ignoring the snow were spent in the Grampians with friends who we would have skied with in the old days. Instead we tramped the Grampians by day: one group on a child-friendly walk and another doing a more challenging walk for adults-only.  The adult walkers would often return well after dark feeling as though they had survived an expedition. Evenso, the day walks ended in comfort, which was very unlike the trips we all used to do hauling tents to remote places for a taste of wilderness and snow camping. Our accommodation in the Grampians was a large farmhouse that felt roomy even with four families staying together and it was a working sheep farm. There we regrouped in the evenings over the massive dining table and shared tales from the day while the kids ran amok in the corridoors or played in one of the large unused rooms. It became a tradition that the kids would plan a show and put it on for the adults in the sitting room on the last day of the weekend.

The weekends at the farmhouse in the Grampians ended for us when our children became teenagers. The drought continued and the long weekend passed by unremarkably. Even this year we planned a weekend of rest. Rosie is studying for exams. Emma has returned from a 3 week choir tour of the US. Kat has been nightclubbing. I’ve been out with friends and doing the night club run at the end of the evening. But the snow fell early and I can feel the mountains calling!

Emma took up cross country skiing with a passion last year. She competed in the schools’ XC ski championships. I spent a weekend up on Buller with her and found my ski legs again. This year I’ve been caught by surprise. ¬†But next Queens Birthday weekend you know where you’ll find me !

Dirty Dancing

March 21, 2011

My daughters and I settled in to our home cinema to continue our Patrick Swayzee marathon. The Patrick Swayzee marathon began for the purpose of their cultural education, and in particular to rectify their ignorance concerning references to Patrick Swayzee’s ghost (made by the comedian Ross Nobel in an hilarious send-up of the movie Ghost), and the origins of “Time of My Life (dirty bits)” by the Black Eyed Peas.

It’s an entertaining exercise to ponder over the re-emergence of retro-, popular film and television, and the shape that the re-emergence takes. Why do some scenes in movies become iconic? Is it possible to tell which scenes from modern cinema will become iconic in their turn? Isn’t it funny that children use lines from movies that have become iconic without having experienced the original scene! I think Bakhtin had something to say about the propensity of language to re-emerge with new meaning. One does not have to have seen Dirty Harry before being entitled to use the phrase, “Make my day!” It has been appropriated within modern vernacular. A speaker who appropriates the phrase, “Make my day”, will notice its social force upon the listener, and in turn the effect upon him or herself. The phrase has a cultural “weight”. The speaker is signified ¬†as cool or in control or somehow cleverer than the person it is addressed to because its iconic (and because there is no come-back!)

I hadn’t seen Dirty Dancing since it came out in the eighties and was sceptical as to whether it would measure up to my children’s exacting standards. My children are now 18, 16, 14 and 11. To my delight, they and I enjoyed the movie. My daughters thought Jennifer Grey played a delightful¬†‘Baby’.

“Oh she is soooo sweet”, they crooned.

Baby is very cute when she first enters the dirty dancing room carrying a watermelon, when she rehearses the dance steps by herself all day and when she stands up to her father. Patrick is hot! and the older girls appreciated that.¬†There was enough of a build up throughout the movie, to be absolutely blown away by the final dance. It’s totally a feel-good movie!

It affected Rosie (my 16 year old) the most. She has downloaded the original sound track and wants her own copy of the movie to show all of her girlfriends. Her favorite scene was the “Baby, Oh Baby” song when they are rehearsing together and miming to each other. I’d forgotten this bit. It’s girly fantasy in its essence and Rosie is at the right age to dream.

Emma (the 14 year old) identified another cultural reference to add to my growing list of points towards their cultural education:

Patrick’s character said, “Nobody puts Baby in a corner!”

“OMG”, said Emma, “That’s something you say! I never knew where it came from”. Emma was delighted to have been enlightened (and also thoroughly amused that she had heard the phrase often without knowing its origins). She laughed.

I hadn’t heard the phase used in a modern context. In a reciprocal sense,¬†Emma was educating me.

Another reverse-educative consequence of the whole project has been my appreciation of The Black Eyed Pea’s version of the song. Since my children have understood and appreciated its origins there was no need for me to stay on my high horse. Now occasionally Rosie appropriates my kitchen ipod speakers and plays the original sound track; Sally plays her Black Eyed peas album including the cover version; and we dance and sing around the kitchen to both. (Sally has a particular skill in doing hilarious moves to the rap bits. She has us all in stitches!)

To my surprise the children and I enjoyed Ghost. I had forgotten that it was full of intrigue, suspense and comedy!

The highlight of the movie for my children was overwhelmingly Whoopie Goldberg’s performance. Watching it through their eyes and experiencing their reactions made me appreciate Whoopie more than I did when I watched it way back on its release. My memory of her in Ghost had been scant, and condensed into the scene when Patrick commands her body. I had awkwardly been anticipating this scene but it was pulled off as credible in the context of the movie.

Another highlight for my children was the pottery scene before his death.

“OMG”, said Kat, “they do that scene on Family Guy!” Apparently on Family Guy there is a scene where Peter gets a massage by Demi and Patrick and his back turns into pottery…

“Very good”, said I feeling as though I was adequately performing my parental role as custodian of cultural knowledge, “more cultural references that you now understand!” I added Peter’s pottery massage to the comedian Ross Noble’s on-stage encounter with Patrick Swayzee’s ghost on my growing list of points towards their cultural education. The next one had to be an appreciation of the original sound track ahead of the cover version of Time of My Life.

Before discussing their reactions to Dirty Dancing, I would like to reflect a little more on Ghost, and in particular, the young Demi Moore. My reaction to seeing young Demi on the home screen was of instant familiarity. Not only did I remember loving her in the movie the first time I saw it, but I also remembered having my hair short back in the day, wearing baggy high-waisted trousers and vests, and being relatively flat chested. Demi in that movie represented a femininity of the eighties: independent, without make-up, without breast enhancement, creative, spontaneous. She represented the young eighties woman’s psyche, and I had lived it. It was slightly confronting, suddenly facing the caricature of my young-self’s aspirations. As well as shocking me with familiarity, and provoking reflexive consideration of who I was back then, I was confronted with the immediate capacity to compare my teenage world to the world offered as iconic to my own and other teenaged girls today. How different is young Demi in Ghost to modern representations of girl-power!

Whether movie characters reflect or set societal trends, young Demi’s influence on me (or her reflection of the world I inhabited as a teenager) was inescapable evidence of the power of the trend. I was not as individual as I thought I was! Messages filtering into my daughters’ psyches about what it means to be a girl differ greatly from those of my youth, but we have all been subjected to them. I sympathised with my daughters. Living up to the world’s expectations these days would be tough.

To be continued (next up, Dirty Dancing)…

Inspired when my daughters all sang along to the Black-Eyed Pea’s ‘Time of My Life (dirty bit)” on the car radio, I hired “Dirty Dancing” on DVD. And thus began our Patrick Swayzee marathon.

I came home from the Video shop with weekly-hire copies of Dirty Dancing and Ghost. The kids chose Ghost to watch first. I think the reason for their choice was curiosity. I’d taken them to see Ross Nobel (the comedian) live at the Palace Theatre in St. Kilda during Melbourne’s Comedy Festival last year. One of Ross’ themes during his act was Patrick Swayzee’s ghost and I remember laughing but also feeling slightly guilty. It’s not that the scene on Ghost doesn’t need to be sent up, and that Ross’ miming of on-stage affection with Patrick’s ghost was not the perfect way to do it… it’s just that poor Patrick himself is now really a ghost, and that’s a sad thing in any individual’s life.¬†¬†Thus my laughter was tempered. It was also tempered by the thought that my children would not have understood the references. The question on all of their lips was, Who is Patrick Swayzee? And the question on the younger one’s lips could possibly have been, Why is Ross gyrating?

As we set up Ghost on our home cinema and lay back in our red recliner chairs I was sceptical as to whether a movie from the eighties (which I could hardly remember) would entertain these children of mine, born into the modern era. They have high expectations. They don’t like films that moralize (when I grew up I had no choice). They are fussy about special effects and general cinematography (such as appropriate camera angles and whether the director has panned or zoomed in appropriately). They don’t like cheesy. They do like ‘random’ (as in ‘Hot Rod’). They do like suspense. And they do like genuinely sentimental (such as in ‘Up’).

If you haven’t seen Ghost in awhile, I’ll give you the opportunity to view it for yourself before I continue with their reactions and my reflections…

(To be continued).

Stand By Me

March 12, 2011

March 11th 2011 (yesterday) was my first post for a year! My eldest daughter has had anorexia. She is stable now. She passed her final year at high school with flying colours and has begun an arts course at university. She still has not fully recovered but is in recovery. Its been a tough road but together we’re getting through it. I’ve learnt that to survive your child’s mental illness its best to forget your dreams, your guilt, and love the child before you, illness and all. I’ve also seen how much my four daughters care for each other. Family therapy has been a large factor in her recovery.

During 2010 I worked full time on my dissertation, taking leave to look after Kat. I published my first article in a professional journal and met some new and interesting colleagues in Helsinki. This year I have changed my tenure to part time, and already I’ve experienced less pressure and more creativity.

For one year I have not blogged, read a novel or convened our book club. Finally I’ve picked up a novel (Stieg Laarson’s first, and looking for the second. Although I have started on Dorris Lessing’s The Cleft, until I find it), reconvened book club and have conferences in the pipeline: April in New Orleans, July in Adelaide, August in Exeter, September in Lyon, December in Hobart. I’m looking forward to charging up my camera and posting on my travels. It feels good to be back ūüôā

Both Sides Now

March 8, 2010

I’m going through a Joni Mitchell phase. I bought one of her albums on CD and it has been my doing-everything-by music since the start of the year. I hadn’t realised ‘Yellow Taxi’ had an excellent percussion backing until I listened to it through my ipod earphones one evening whilst running. I came home from my run, played the song through speakers and picked up my djembe trying to emulate the background beat.

I cried when I listened to ‘Both Sides Now’ the first few times and printed off the words from the internet to learn them. I also left them around the kitchen bench hoping to inspire my daughters to sing to it. (They have lovely voices).

I blue-toothed ‘Both Sides Now’ to my mobile phone and made it my ringtone. The only problem with this is that I enjoy listening to the song so much that I have missed a few calls, subconsciously choosing to hear the song over pressing the answer key.

I’ve been cooking to Joni at dinner time, cycling and running and driving with Joni. I have now gained an appreciation for the songs I didn’t know before, like ‘Woodstock’, and ‘Carey’. The kids are getting used to Joni as background music. Can I borrow your Joni CD mum? Asked Kat, my 17 year old. Sure! Do you like her music? Yeah, it’s really relaxing and she has great lyrics.

I was pleased that Kat was enjoying Joni’s music too.¬†And Kat was right, her lyrics are great. Not only that, Joni sings them with compelling emotion.¬†She is a genius!

Last night I drove down to our holiday house for the Labor Day Long Weekend. We arrived in a rain storm that was relief from the warm humidity of the preceding day. The streets around our place had been flooded slightly with the downpour although the rain had eased as we approached our seaside neighbourhood. In the headlights of the car I saw little frogs leaping in tens across the road – tiny little frogs no more than 2-3cm in length. They were recognisable as little frogs because of the way they leapt. It was too late for me to slow down. I just prayed I hadn’t run any over. ¬†I alerted Emma and Sally to the strange phenomenon. They were sitting in the car listening to music from their ipods. They pulled off their headphones and stared out of the window hoping to see what I had seen. They had missed the frog-crossing enmasse, but as we rounded another corner a solitary frog hopped into the beam of my headlights. Emma saw it and I slowed. Sally didn’t see it straight away but I slowed to stopping so we could point it out. She wanted to get out of the car for a closer look and I encouraged her to do so. She laughed as she tried to catch it and it hopped randomly to avoid her. Eventually she succeeded. She held it for a short time before releasing it to continue its journey. We spotted another solitary frog just before we crossed into our drive way. It seems that the rain had brought them all out. More frogs than I had ever seen were all out looking for a mate or a place to lay their eggs now that conditions were right. Today I drove back to where I’d seen them. I couldn’t see any signs of flattened frogs on the road and I breathed a sigh of relief.

A birthday on the ward

January 7, 2010

Kat spent her seventeenth birthday in hospital. Christmas time was her undoing. We had established a routine at home since her previous admission. She was eating each meal and staying out of the bathroom for thirty minutes afterwards and putting on tiny amounts of weight each week.

Our family’s tradition is to head for the beach for Christmas. Our beach house has a reputation as a place where people can drop in anytime and join in with whatever activity our family is up to, whether it be sailing, surfing, beach combing, snorkeling, cooking, barbecuing, watching a movie… This Christmas was no exception. My brother-in-law and his family rented the place next door as they did last year. Cousins were often in our kitchen before anyone was up for breakfast. Tents were erected on our back lawn in preparation for New Years Eve, where we planned to do the usual – open house barbeque and a walk in along the beach to watch the fireworks on the pier. We accumulated a loose group of around 25 children and 15 or so adults. We decorated the children in glow sticks so we could find them on the beach walk in the dark. We counted down and danced after midnight.

This we have done every year for a decade. A decade ago leading up to New Year’s Eve the media worried us about the Y2K bug, Sally was three months old and Kat was six going on seven. This New Years Eve, Sally was ten and three months and Kat was sixteen going on seventeen – her birthday is on the 2nd of January.

The chaos of our life at the beach left Kat anxious and unable to maintain her health. Too many people and too much food. She lost two and a half kilos in the week beginning on Christmas eve. Her blood pressure dropped. Her heart rate soared. She ended up back in hospital on December 30th.

Rosie and I drove back to Melbourne to visit Kat in hospital for her birthday. We had given Kat her birthday present early – a pandora charm bracelet. All the relatives knew this and by the end of christmas and her birthday she had eight charms. With nothing to give her on the day, Rosie and I decided to buy some helium balloons.

We went to the party shop on the morning of Kat’s birthday. Hung above the entry to the shop were dozens of brightly coloured pinatas.

“Oh a pinata!” exclaimed Rosie.

“Yeah. Good idea”, I immediately agreed. Memories of stringing up pinatas for our children over the years flashed through my head and it felt like the right thing to buy. Something fun. Something a bit ‘out there’ for a hospital ward. “You choose which one”.

Rosie chose the orange stegasaurus:

We ordered seventeen helium balloons as well. I paid for the pinata and the balloons. For the balloons we had to wait half an hour.

“Hey we need to buy lollies to go in the pinata!” Rosie exclaimed.

“Oh yeah!” I said, “I forgot about that but there’s a supermarket just up the hill. Lets go while we’re waiting”.

“Good idea”.

Taking the pinata out of the shop to put it in the car, I queried the need to buy lollies because I couldn’t see a hole to put them through. I enlisted Rosie’s help. It had been so long since we’d had a pinata I could hardly remember.

“There’s a hole at the top” said Rosie confidently. Together Rosie and I located the hole. I was reassured that it was indeed empty and that lollies were needed.

“We need the type that come individually wrapped”, Rosie added.

“Yeah. I do remember now. And maybe lollipops”.

We schemed as we walked to the supermarket, charged with the excitement of giving and fun of surprising. We were halfway up the hill and in mid conversation before we both suddenly stopped, looked at eachother and in a moment of realisation, almost unspoken, but I think one of us did say something like “Oh god, hang on. Its a ward of anorexics”, but both of us began to laugh and laugh on the street almost doubling over with tears of mirth springing into my eyes. “What were we thinking!” A pinata for anorexics! It was suddenly the most absurd idea in the world and the more we thought about it, the more we laughed. Partly at the idea we laughed, and partly at ourselves for not thinking it through earlier.

In the end we found one packet of low joule sweets, two boxes of confetti and some novelty erasers. We kept the sweets packet so Kat and the other anorexic teenagers could check the contents and calorific value if they had the need to do so.

Kat adored her pinata! She adored her balloons. She peeked into the hole which we had roughly covered over to see confetti ready to burst underneath and with a laugh decided not to crack it in hospital.¬†She was only in hospital for a week. I picked her up yesterday and she is doing well. Yesterday evening she said, “I didn’t mind having my birthday in hospital. I felt happy and we had fun anyway”.