I have written before about friendship and how lucky I am to still have friends from a hundred years ago when we were pig-tailed girls in school but friendship can be a delicate construct. I started thinking about this after reading a recent post by a friend about how friendships are maintained and our expectations of them which is how I ended up writing about forgiveness – or not. As I’m writing this on Good Friday, the topic is a timely one. With all the hoo-ha surrounding it, non-believers probably think Christmas is the biggest event in the Christian calendar but it isn’t. Easter is the big kahuna because without Christ’s Resurrection, there would be no reason to follow Jesus as he would have been just another dead rebel. The whole point is that God sent his Son to forgive our sins and ensure our redemption so the whole concept of forgiveness is a ‘big thing’ and not only in Christianity. Buddhists believe that forgiveness is a critical step towards achieving a peaceful state of being and the Qur’an teaches that forgiveness is a superior moral trait. “Turn the other cheek.” is the yellow brick road. “Forgive and forget.” But what if you can’t. Forgive. Or forget.
In 2010 I severed a friendship and even five years later I can still feel the disappointment and anger as though it were yesterday. We don’t do things for our friends expecting to be repaid but I think it’s OK to consider any equal relationship a two-way street. My friend’s life was always in turmoil. When she discovered her husband cheating, I consoled her by phone from America, where I was living at the time. Her next partner had a vengeful, bitter ex-wife so I was a sounding board for her frustrations and copywriter and editor for mountains of correspondence. Despite having a son together, that relationship ended and it was more commiserating and letter-writing as the miserable sod tried shirking his financial responsibilities in any way he could. I suppose the rot started setting in when, as her son’s godmother, I was asked to be his sponsor at his Confirmation. To reflect the importance of the occasion and because his mother had mentioned he was becoming interested in photography, I gave him a digital camera. And this was years ago, before you could get them out of vending machines. I certainly wasn’t expecting a gilt-edged letter of gratitude but I thought I might at least get a phone call…. Nothing, nought, nada, zip, zilch, zero. Am I belabouring the point? Not even a bloody cup of tea after the ceremony. Her choice in men was appalling and the next one was a certified narcissist. More listening, more commiserating. Then my father died. And she sent me a text message. Some of you will understand exactly why that was the straw that broke the camel’s back while others will wonder why it was such a big deal. It’s hard to put into words how totally let down I felt but there was now a trench in the sand that swallowed forgiveness whole and was never likely to throw it back up.
On the other hand, I have a girlfriend I have known since Kindergarten and I have forgiven her a myriad of transgressions, big and small. When I became engaged, many moons ago, my American husband’s lawyer recommended that we get married as quickly as possible to start all the paperwork for my move to the U.S. and application for my Green Card so my first wedding was an intimate affair of only 10 people in a divine little stone church. (We had the bigger, glitzier ceremony two months later so I have two wedding anniversaries – both of which I now manage to forget…..) S. was supposed to be my bridesmaid and witness but not only was she late, thus missing the entire thing, she had the audacity to be upset because we didn’t wait. My best gay friend ended up being my bridesman and I was as happy as a pig in mud. But my husband was furious and where I laughed it off as a memorable part of the day, he did not forgive her for years after finally accepting that I really hadn’t cared and I wasn’t just saying that because we had been friends for so long. And I think therein lies the difference. By that time, S. and I had 29 years invested in our friendship. That’s a lot of secrets and memories and laughter to lose. It would be like excising great chunks of your past with nothing to fill the holes.
People suffer the most tremendous losses due to violence and yet extend forgiveness to the perpetrators. They are obviously in some state of grace that I can’t begin to imagine. The generally accepted position is that without forgiveness, you can’t truly “move on” but in my totally unprofessional yet totally eloquent opinion, I think that’s a load of horse manure. I believe you can feel sadness, anger, disappointment and a kaleidoscope of other emotions and still lead a “whole” life. Sometimes not “letting it go” is fuel for a fire that changes everything.
It’s complicated. I’m sure everyone has a story. Wait, is that the time? Forgive me, I have to run.
Yesterday I went to a funeral. A friend’s mother. She was 88, frail, with dementia. It’s a bitter pill we have to swallow, aging, but, as the cliché goes, it’s better than the alternative – although perhaps less so towards the end. As is the way now, there was a slide show of her life. She was gorgeous – model gorgeous and very fond of dancing – when Sydney still had dance halls. So hard to pay tribute to a life in half an hour. My own mother died at 85, frail, with dementia. She was gorgeous – model gorgeous – with a gap between her front teeth like Lauren Hutton. When she died I would fall asleep clutching her wedding ring and when my father died three years later, I had his wedding ring fused with hers so I have something visible to hold the invisible.
Most eulogies are a timeline of someone’s life – facts, figures – the skeleton of our years here. It was a torment deciding what to write about my mother because those final words circle the universe forever and I didn’t want to talk about the skeleton, I wanted to talk about the flesh and bones. So, once more for you mum because love never ends.
” The danger in writing a eulogy, especially for someone like mum who had such a long life and whom you so love, is that you feel you need to cover everything in their lives to somehow “do them justice” and it can’t be done – not even if you had hours to say what is supposed to be said in these 5 or 10 minutes so I thought to myself, how would I respond if a stranger asked me to describe my mother and only gave me one sentence in which to do it”.
And the amazing thing is, I didn’t even hesitate. I would simply say, “She was a good woman”. At face value, you might think it a rather old-fashioned, almost mediocre description but sometimes it is the small, common words that we use all the time – and not always with much thought – that carry the most meaning.
So, here are some definitions from the dictionary for that one seemingly simple word and when you hear them, you will appreciate why it is such a fitting tribute to my mum:
Of high or superior quality Worthy of respect, honourable, admirable
Attractive Competent, skilled
Reliable Genuine, true
Pleasant, agreeable Of moral excellence, upright
Loyal, sympathetic Dependable
Warm-hearted, considerate Kind, gentle, gracious
Now before I make her sound too saintly, I must say, she did have a temper but children tend to bring that out in you. I know this will come as a shock to some of you but I have been known to be a little stubborn and headstrong and for a few years of my life, I thought my name had been changed to “asina”. For those of you without the benefit of Italian, it means “donkey” or “mule”.
My husband’s favourite memory of my mother is her rather brutally honest observation to him before we got married: “Daniela’s wonderful as long as she gets her own way and when she doesn’t, she turns into a viper”. I guess she thought that forewarned was forearmed.
She laughed, loudly and often. She had a dry, wicked sense of humour. She sang as she did the housework. She hated cooking. She loved my father faithfully and unwaveringly for over 52 years and had that love returned. She was, the most amazing mother, and in her honour, I would like to read a poem entitled, “A Mother’s Love”
A mother’s love determines how We love ourselves and others.
There is no sky we’ll ever see Not lit by that first love.
Stripped of love, the universe Would drive us mad with pain;
But we are born into a world That greets our cries with joy.
How much I owe you for the kiss That told me who I was!
The greatest gift–a love of life– Lay laughing in your eyes.
Because of you my world still has The soft grace of your smile;
And every wind of fortune bears The scent of your caress. ”
One day, someone will be talking like this about our lives – make sure you give them a wealth of material to work with.
As we hurtle headlong towards St Valentine’s Day – named after the Patron Saint of florists and Hallmark cards – I was struck by a particular radio ad urging men to spend vast amounts of money on something (obviously not a very effective ad) because “flowers are boring and poetry is lame“. Poetry is lame? Hello? Are you kidding me? A young ‘suitor’ wrote me a poem in Year 12 and I still have it tucked away. It didn’t do him any good but that didn’t mean I wasn’t impressed with the gesture! Writing to and about the person you love has been a romantic staple from time immemorial and given a choice between a poem written especially for me or a stuffed teddy bear embroidered with “Be My Valentine” or a dinner shared with dozens of other couples staring soulfully into each other’s eyes, I know which I would choose. His dedication began, “You are a new colour in my rainbow, a different shade of me I have never seen before.” A little schmaltzy, maybe but lame – never. (Unless it’s along the lines of “Roses are red, Violets are blue, Nobody loves you like I do”, in which case it had better be accompanied by some serious jewellery….) And obviously I am not alone in my thinking. Just out of interest, I googled “poetry sites” and was rewarded with 67,300,000 results.
Anyway, after hearing the ad, it occurred to me that over the past couple of weeks, poetry and its various incarnations had been bobbing up and down in my line of vision as if to say, “Talk about me! Talk about me!”. So, to honour its persistence, I will.
Its push for attention started when I recently found an old exercise book of mine from 1972 when I was all of 14. Not only was it full of my own brilliant, adolescent poetic creations (Please visit my last post at) but also those of ‘real’ poets. Obviously my teenage hormones had commandeered my brain as most of them, predictably, involved love and longing except for one notable exception by the wonderful Dorothy Parker which showed the take-over hadn’t been complete. I don’t know if it would be considered ‘proper’ poetry but it must have tickled my fancy at the time as it still does:
By the time you say you’re his, Shivering and sighing
And he vows his passion is Infinite, undying –
Lady, make a note of this, One of you is lying.
When I visited the sites of bloggers who had liked “Back to the Future”, I was surprised and delighted, in equal parts, to find poetry very much alive and kicking in the blogosphere which shouldn’t really have been a surprise as poetry has been around since those party animals, the Babylonians, when the Epic of Gilgamesh was written in about 2000BC. For some of us, our only contact with poetry would have been in High School or University and having breathed a sigh of relief when those were over, moved on without so much as a backward glance. For others, it becomes a life-long companion. Whilst easy to technically define, its attraction is less so but one of the best attempts I can offer is, “Poetry is like taking a blindfold off and starting a new world.” Indeed — whether it be creating your own or immersing yourself in someone else’s.
I’m sure a great many of you have seen “Four Weddings and a Funeral”. It caused a frenzy, not over Hugh Grant (as if) but W.H. Auden, whose poem “Funeral Blues” was read during the eulogy. Read it and weep. From the first , the sorrowful imagery of each line compounds that of the one before until, in the span of four short stanzas, you are left with a world decimated by grief. And its impact never diminishes, no matter how many times you read it. http://allpoetry.com/Funeral-Blues
The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
Then I heard that Rod McKuen had died. Poet, author, song-writer, he was a staple of my adolescence and his words took up most of the pages in that exercise book. His poems were about love, nature and spirituality. Some would label him a little “mass market” but his poems were uncomplicated and accessible but I imagine these are the very reasons he had such great appeal.
Love I wear
As open as a wound,
a mad mistake I know
but love, like Lent
only comes to those of us
who still believe.
On top of all this, my son is doing his poetry module in English so you can see how the universe was prodding me in a particular direction! And for those of you still not convinced of poetry’s value, I give you this. And Happy Valentine’s day. I hope you get a poem.
Oh—-my—-God. I’m in the process of a MASSIVE clean-out of BIBLICAL proportions and I came across one of my English books from 1972. So…. I’m 14 years old – the same age as my son is now – and have written a poem. It’s a corker. You will understand why when you read it but in its innocence, it also sadly underlines how far the world has come in these 40 years or so when sexting and oral sex by kids as young as 13 is neither uncommon nor infrequent. With your indulgence, I present:
Beware of boys with wandering hands,
give them a good slap.
Beware of a boy with a long, dirty tongue,
he’s just a great big sap.
Beware of boys who take a mile
when all you’ve offered is but a smile.
You can put them in their place –
slow and steady wins the race.
Sure, go out and have some fun.
If it’s with a boy, there’s no harm done.
The nice ones brighten up your day.
They make you happy, content and gay.
But even so – be on your guard
’cause if you fall, you’ll fall hard.
But you know what? At its core, it’s bloody good advice. Have a great weekend everyone.
Well, as one alcoholic said to the other, “It’s been a long time between drinks.” Since my last post in August, I’ve had lots of ideas and done absolutely nothing about them so I thought I had better redeem myself and get scribbling … so before I get to the point of the whole exercise, a little background information.
I was a bit of a smart chicky-babe at school and earned a scholarship to University with a view to becoming a teacher but after completing my Bachelor’s Degree, I just couldn’t do it. The thought of another year of lectures, study, research and assignments made me ill whereas the thought of travelling the world did not. Serious money needed raising because although I have always been quite happy to go camping and poop in the woods, the idea of schlepping all the way to Europe with my own bed sheet and having to share a hostel room with assorted party animals and snorers was not quite the dream trip I had in mind. So, after three years of tertiary education at one of the State’s finest universities, I put my degree to good use and went off to learn how to be a secretary – or PA (Personal Assistant) if one wants to be PC (politically correct) – which nobody was back then. A little over nine months later I could take shorthand at 120 words a minute (how useful would THAT have been during lectures…) and type…umm…very fast! And that, my dear readers, is how I ended up at Grace Bros and the reunion that sparked this post because not only was it my first job, it was where I fell truly, madly, deeply, deliriously, fiercely in love for the first time.
To protect the not-so-innocent and for the sake of this post, let’s just call him Max. If someone had asked me to describe the complete opposite of what I found physically attractive about a man, he would have been it – shortish, baldish and pretty ‘meh’ in the looks department but he would walk into my office and I would flush hot like a Bunsen burner turned too high. He was a Manager and I worked for his boss so we kept the relationship a secret until one of us left. People were dumbfounded when they found out. Hilarious really, considering we ‘worked back’ almost every night and the occasional Saturday morning so the chances of being caught not actually working, on my boss’s sofa, were reasonably high but it never happened. The secrecy drove me mad but I had to acknowledge the position he was in and his concern that telling our workmates might put our interactions under a scrutiny that neither of us would have welcomed. And my God – all the hedging and evading when people asked what you did over the weekend! “Ohh, you know, movies, seeing friends, usual stuff.” I had ‘vague’ down to an art form. Our subterfuge was so seamless, even when we both requested leave at the same time (to go to Queensland for Expo 88), no-one suspected anything. Honestly, I should have quite the secretarial scene then and there and become a spy. I would have put Mata Hari in the shade.
I’m ashamed to admit that I cannot remember the first time my husband told me he loved me (although I’m fairly certain it would have been over the phone as we were conducting a ‘geographically undesirable’ relationship between Australia and America when the ideas for Skype and FaceTime were, as my late Italian father would so colourfully explain, “ancora nelle palle di San Francesco”…. which delightfully translates to “still up in the balls of St Francis”.) but the scene of Max’s declaration is still as clear as the glorious Sydney summer day on which it was made. We had been lying by the pool at his mother’s apartment. I was earning a little extra pocket-money by waitressing at a friend’s restaurant so needed to leave late afternoon to get home to shower and change. With the car in reverse, driver’s window down, he said goodbye with the usual “Drive carefully.” followed by the not-usual, “I love you”. To my credit, I did not lose control of the car or squeal or ask him to repeat himself and I have absolutely no recollection of how I responded but I can tell you my heart just about burst and we were heart-stoppingly happy. Three years later it was over and not because the relationship faltered or we stopped loving each other – but that is a post for another time.
That was 25 years ago. Now, schedules permitting, we catch up at the annual Grace Bros reunion which is where I saw him last Friday night and it absolutely astounds me, as it has each time we have seen each other, how I can look into his eyes, listen to his voice…. and thank the gods of every nation on earth that we didn’t stay together. I believe it’s described in the vernacular as having “dodged a bullet”. And it’s not that he has changed – it’s just that now I see how incredibly unsuited we were for any long-term commitment. The things that drove me a little crazy when we were dating would have driven me completely demented over the long haul. Characteristics I glossed over when we were living apart would have turned into major obstacles when we were living together. Had we married, I seriously doubt it would have lasted. It does freak me out a little though to feel so dispassionate about this man that I loved so wholeheartedly, so intensely. How can you feel absolutely nothing but a little residual fondness for the person who was your first great, all-consuming love? Truth be told, part of me is a little sad that our encounters don’t have even the teensiest hint of the Mills and Boon about them – no catch of breath, no short, sharp pang of the heart. Not only are there no embers, the fire has been well and truly stomped on and covered over with several thousand kilos of earth.
Just goes to show that Soren Kierkegaard knew what he was talking about when he said “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”
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.”