Hilary Clinton used it in a book title and every time someone brings it up, everyone else (and by “everyone else” I’m talking almost exclusively about women because men would never be having this type of conversation) becomes misty-eyed, nods their head wistfully, gazes into the distance and agrees whole-heartedly about how wonderful and ideal and lovely that indeed would be…. Are you guessing wage equality? World peace? Thin thighs? No, no and no – nothing quite so uncomplicated – it is the adage that “It takes a village to raise a child”. Well what a splendid idea and if you lived with your tribe in the remote highlands of Papua New Guinea or the middle of the Amazon or built yourself a time machine and found yourself back in the 1950s, it would work like a charm. Why? Because you have the advantage of an ancient cultural mindset, that’s why. Everyone is doing the same thing, “on the same page”, with no inclination to think “outside the box” because everyone’s pretty bloody happy inside the box. There is no-one saying “Is that bone sterilised before you stick it through Junior’s nose?”, “You can’t take her spear-fishing today, the water’s too cold!”, “Put a GPS tracker on him before he cycles to the shops.”
Raising a child today is a completely different kettle of mash because now the village has to take into account so many parental ‘philosophies’, demands and variations you need an Excel Spreadsheet to keep track of them all, to say nothing of those parents who believe the village is comprised solely of village idiots who could never be entrusted with their offspring. We all do it – we all look at what other mothers or fathers are doing and form a passing judgement that they are crazy/ lazy/ too easy/ too strict/ food Nazis/ over-protective/ under-protective/ old-fashioned or common-sense-challenged but at the end of the day we’re all exhausted and just trying to raise a half-way decent human being. If ever there was a perfect example of “many paths up the mountain”, child-rearing is it.
The idea for this blog sprang from the fact that my girlfriend and I took our 14 year old sons to the musical, “Book of Mormon” whilst we were in New York on a school Drama trip last June. Although I didn’t scrutinise the audience too closely, I would say they were two of only a handful of teenagers there. For anyone unfamiliar with the show, it’s written by the creators of ‘South Park’ which tells you pretty much all you need to know. For anyone also unfamiliar with ‘South Park’, it’s an animated series which satirizes even the most taboo of subjects with surreal and sometimes very dark humour and language that would make your grandmother’s hair stand on end. “Book of Mormon”, set in Uganda, is the same, ranging over topics such as warlords, poverty, rape, genital mutilation and AIDS, set to fabulous music but with completely subversive and confronting lyrics – and language that would make your grandmother’s hair stand on end. We loved it and have been playing the soundtrack non-stop since we got back. One of my friends who loves the show equally told me she “was not game” to take her children – who are older than mine. Likewise the Canadian couple who sat next to me in the theatre and who have seen the show several times but have never taken their older children. I personally, don’t get it. The ‘bad’ language is only sporadic throughout the show and is nothing worse than they would have heard their first day on a High School playground. The issues come up frequently, sometimes daily, in today’s media so I’m not quite sure what these kids are being shielded from. But you know what – not my call.
I have raised my son to be extremely worldly and I can’t expect or blame other people for not doing the same. My husband loves to tell the story of my “birds and the bees” talk when our boy was about 9 or 10. Not content with the basics, we discussed sexually transmitted diseases, homosexuality (his godfather is gay) and unwanted pregnancies. He asked some incredibly thoughtful questions and came to the conclusion that “he was never having sex” and I SO look forward to reminding him of that when the time comes! (As if he’s going to tell me….) Part of my reasoning was that he goes to an all-boys school and I wanted to nip any misinformation or negative attitudes in the bud. I wanted to create an atmosphere in which no question was off-limits and which has led to some, let’s say ‘interesting’ conversations about issues like pornography and prostitution. Some boys wouldn’t give two hoots about any of this stuff and some parents would rather dig their own eyes out with a spoon than talk about sex in anything but the most basic terms and that’s why we have the phrase “each to his own”.
Some expert in something was recently quoted as saying mothers have lost confidence in their ability to mother because of all the conflicting advice they get from books, blogs, magazines, friends, family and social media. This echoes the comment made by Benjamin Spock (Dr not Mr), the one-time baby and child care guru who said, ““Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do.” Everyone and everything seems to have an opinion on how best to raise children. In my case, I didn’t read anything and did stuff that would make some people faint. When he was young, my son was allowed to have ice-cream for breakfast. As his beloved grandfather would say, in his heavy Italian accent, “Why not? It’s dairy.” Chocolate was freely available. My mum was a screamer and I inherited the gene. There were days it was a miracle he didn’t bleed from the ears but even as a toddler, he would just look at me until it was over and continue on with his life. When he was in Kindergarten, one of the mothers commented how upset her son would get when the teacher yelled and all I could do was laugh because for my son, it would have been water off a duck’s back – in fact he would have felt like he was home. Who knew my ranting and raving was perfect preparation for the future!?
He started accumulating an arsenal of weapons very early in the piece. We had plastic swords of varying lengths, knives, nunchucks (Mutant Ninja Turtles), cap guns, machine guns, light sabers and Nerf Guns up the wazoo. His friends LOVED coming for playdates! No-one ever said anything but I’m sure some tut-tutting and quiet disapproval was going on somewhere. Not that I cared but I was at least heartened by the Director of his Daycare Centre who told me that boys, irrespective of whether they were allowed toy weapons at home, would pick up anything and turn it into a gun – sticks, spades, basically anything they could hold and point! And if nothing else was available, fingers worked just as well.
He was playing MA15 games on his consoles and computer when he was 12 and would delight in telling me how many kills he had made. At the same time, he was playing Pokémon and Mario Bros and whatever else happened to be the rage at the time. He has seen movies that some would consider wildly inappropriate for his age – and yet what do I have? A child who is unfailingly polite; who is empathetic, compassionate and kind; who loves animals; who is not overweight or cavity-ridden and has the most wonderfully droll sense of humour. He has been hugged, kissed and told he was loved every day of his life. He has never needed much discipline but he is very clear on what behaviour is expected of him. The way we raise our children can be influenced by so many factors: how we, ourselves, were raised; religion, group pressure, our partner’s attitudes, where we live. our careers and to a greater extent than we possibly imagined – our child’s nature.
We all have the same delusion – that we think we know what we’ll be like as parents which is why I love this quote from the esteemed John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester (thank you again Google):
“Before I got married I had six theories about raising children; now, I have six children and no theories.”
I’m the happiest person you’ll ever meet. Really. Sunshine and light. The funny one. The eternal optimist (married, ironically, to the world’s greatest ‘don’t-trust-anyone-ist’). My girlfriend says my opinion on people is rubbish because I like everybody. That’s not strictly true but I do tend to give people the benefit of the doubt. Fortunately, the disappointments who have crossed my path have been few and far between. Unfortunately, incompetents and the inconsiderate are another matter entirely. Especially on the road.
As we enjoyed four days of almost empty roads because half of Sydney cleared out for the Easter break, allow me to enumerate the many and wondrous ways you can improve not only my, but your fellow travellers’, experience on our narrow and congested highways and byways.
1. Re-acquaint yourself with your blinkers. (Indicators, for any American readers.) One ‘blink’ when you’re already three quarters of the way into my lane, two inches from my bumper bar doesn’t cut it. They are supposed to indicate intention. I would have let you in, honest. Now I’m just peeved.
b. If you want to turn right (left, in America), how about you let me know more than two seconds before you stop or before I pull up behind you at traffic lights. When this happens, I guarantee you, that person you see gripping the steering wheel and mouthing something is not singing along to the radio. If expletives could be magically transformed into electricity, this scenario would power the entire east coast.
c. Like pimples on an adolescent’s face, roundabouts appear seemingly overnight in this city. Since they are placed at intersections and since I am not clairvoyant, I don’t actually know which way it is you intend to go. Left? Right? Straight ahead? Could a blinking light on the outside of the car give me a clue? While we’re here, I may as well point out something else. The rule is to give way to traffic already in the roundabout and proceed when there is a gap in said traffic. It does not say stop and give way to the car on your right which is still in the next suburb, just heading your way. (Hello? Husband?)
2. Clearway times are not flexible. Surprisingly, if the sign says 9.00am, the expectation of The Roads and Traffic Authority, along with your fellow drivers, is that you NOT PARK there before that time. There is no small print on the sign that says “Oh, by all means, if you’re running late for your train, feel free to park here at 8.50.” You will also not find an exception made for those people desperate for their skinny lattes who “should feel free to just stop for a few minutes to duck in and get their coffees.” at 8.45. Same applies at the other end of the day when clearways commence at 3.30 to ease that great seething mass of automobilia known as the school pick-up. Clearways are our only pitiful defense against peak hour because we get two miserable lanes instead of one. So please stop stuffing it up.
3. Learn how to park. Honestly, if there is a line of cars waiting (not by choice) to see whether your eighth attempt at reversing into that Westfields car space is successful, may I humbly suggest you just bite the bullet, find another one and go in nose first. Truly, there’s no shame in it.
b. Marked car spaces. Those lines that delineate car spaces are not a suggestion. You are supposed to park in between them – not over them, not across them. You are lucky we live in a reasonably civilised society otherwise people would stab your tyres.
c. Even in the suburbs, on-street parking can sometimes be difficult to find so when you see someone who has taken up two car spaces, your first instinct is to buy a crane, lift their car and drop it into the nearest body of water. Well, maybe not but you get my drift. Unless you are driving a limousine or a Hummer, there is no excuse.
4. Green means Go. Most people understand that when the light turns green you put your foot on the accelerator and move…..forward…preferably, immediately. There is nothing more frustrating than watching from bumper to bumper traffic as the first car in line waits for a particular shade of green then those following leave a couple of car lengths before deciding to head off. This eventuates in a grand total of four or five cars getting through the lights before they again turn red. When this happens at Right Turn Arrows which only last a millisecond at the best of times, it makes the rest of us want to curse your first-born children.
I’m sure everyone has their own pet peeve to add to the list. A mass exercise in grumpiness! Even with the Easter weekend over, school holidays are still bringing some relief on our roads so enjoy while you can. The chaos will be back soon enough.