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In years to come this boy of mine may ask “how old was I when I walked/grew teeth/spoke” or “what was my first word?” and be disappointed to hear that I was not a proper mother and I did not purchase, let alone fill in, a Baby Book. The Bloke and I had made a pact to treat him like second born, and anyway we figured if he met all those milestones before anyone worried about his development then it was all ok.
I don’t know what the average age for first composition is. I’m fairly sure I wrote my first song aged 8 to coincide with the visit of the Pope to Australia. I was keen to tackle the big themes. I don’t remember how it went, but I do remember being quite proud of myself for working away at it. I wrote my second song aged 28 when my baby wouldn’t stop crying. It’s not a show stopper, but it made me feel better, and he has grown to like it. I asked once if Daddy was allowed to sing it, he was most insistent that no one else was allowed. It is ours.
Yesterday morning, after the usual moaning and groaning and whining about tv and computer time and all the toys being boring, he went to the keyboard and wrote a song. It’s about how the brand of our tv matches the stereo. He filmed himself playing it and then wrote down the notes. Musicians will see his notation system is unique, I was asked to play this evening from his written version. I basically made it up, don’t tell him that.
My sister wrote her first song when she was 19, when she had recently been diagnosed with leukaemia. It was a country spoof, about the Quest for the Ultimate Housemate, it was for me in honour of the crazy housemate I’d just moved away from. It’s the best present I’ve ever been given.
Some months later, when she knew she wasn’t going to get better she wrote another song. It is called Red. While she was in hospital Cazz made friends with Pete Murray, who promised to record the song for her. The song was recorded and soon it will be released. If you fancy joining me in making paper cranes and being in the music video, and you’re free this Sunday, please come along.
I will be the one trying to console the small boy, who thought we would be making cranes, which you build things with, not birds.
13 November · 10:30 – 14:30
The Pioneer Womens Garden , Royal Botanical Gardens
Off Alexander Parade, up the the big grassy hill
We need at least 350 people to turn up to the Royal Botanical Gardens – at the Pioneers Women’s Memorial Garden to join in making RED PAPER CRANES. Please bring along plain red paper, double sided red, standard origami size or squares cut from a Standard A4, we will also supply some, and there will be people on hand to teach you. You can practice between now and then on various You Tube’ How to make paper crane’ videos. And bring along any red ones you make. We have a Facebook page Pete’s Promise, visit it for updates and to show your support for the filming day. Bring everyone you know.
We will be filming you making cranes and placing them in trees.
All ages welcome!
Dress casual but please dont wear RED, if it’s raining we will do it on the 20th Nov.
My aunty* and I have boys a few months apart. They live in Sydney these days so we went to visit. We thawed out, looked at the glittery water and got a little vitamin D while we were there.
At the National Maritime Museum her baby slept while we looked at the exhibition, then we sat in the cafe to feed her baby while the our four year old boys and their fathers explored the submarine and destroyer. While I was tempted to see just how ridiculous my very tall partner would look in a submarine (he couldn’t stand up straight anywhere in the sub) the possibility of an uninterrupted conversation with K won out.
We remembered our school holidays together and commiserated about babies who don’t sleep unless they’re touching you. We remembered that we were not always mothers, who will drink pretty much any coffee that’s going, that before those babies we had standards dammit. That there was once more Nick Cave than the Wiggles on the playlist. That this total immersion experience with babies and preschoolers is hilarious and wonderful and that there are times we don’t recognise ourselves. We spent an hour talking without anyone asking us WHY? It was great.
Then we caught the ferry back to her house, all seven of us, and let the children play with the cameras.
*yes my aunty, she’s just closer in age to me than her brother (my Dad)
He’s happy enough to keep pretending and playing this community role-playing “Santa” thing, but he’s adament he doesn’t believe it really. But he’s still not sure where the presents come from.
It doesn’t seem to have occurred to him for a second that it might be his tightarse parents who actually shell out for lego.
Why no, I don’t know why he’s talking about it in May.
He writes his letters with serifs. Pointy serifs that could take someone’s eye out.
He writes and writes and writes, copying everything he can lay his hands on, he picks out letters he recognises. He delivers the mail to us and knows who the letters are for. All these words make my heart sing. What is motherhood if not a licence to use and abuse a corny cliche?
A week or two of full time work is about to begin. The work pants are mended, the childcare arrangements altered, the kid prepped, and the Bloke is readying himself for a week or two of juggling and cooking. Now all I need to do is get my sock needles back so I have commute-knitting ready. Sometimes you just have to turn everything upside down for a bit to remember why you usually do things the other way.
A little while ago Rachel Powers wrote a book called The Divided Heart: Art and Motherhood. I haven’t read it yet, because I’m yet to convince anyone to buy it for me, but I’ve read a few favourable reviews. Reviews from women who are grappling with the same issue: how the hell do you combine two all consuming and often mutually exlusive passions? How do mothers mark out time and space in their lives for creative work? Of course, all mothers in the western world think about paid work and childcare and mothering when so much of our paid work culture centres around childfree lifestyles, so there’s probably something there for non-artist mothers too. The thing about artist mothers is that they are likely to be doing a triple load – mothering, paid work and creative work – because creative work rarely pays the bills.
These are issues I was thinking about today when I skipped out of the car, leaving the Bloke and the Lad for a day of Boys Own Adventures (kicking leaves around the park, drinking babychinos, cooking dinner, that sort of thing) to attend my art class. This isn’t something I’ve done before, the art class that is (skipping out of the house is something I do reasonably regularly), spending money on improving my artistic skills isn’t something I’ve been able to swing for a long time. In preparation for the class, because I really really wanted to get my money’s worth out of being there with all the printing gear, I’ve been doing more drawing than usual. Trying to spend time with a few ideas and play with them after years of quickly sketching and then forgetting images all together. In the spirit of doing the art first, and the housework second, and perhaps more importantly, being honest about what that actually looks like in a real live house with a toddler, I took photos of the loungeroom that I wasn’t tidying before I started drawing. It has been tidied, and messed and tidied a bit since then, and not just by me, but for the record, sometimes it looks really messy and there’s nowhere to eat dinner.
It’s been worse too. And the table, which is out of view, was covered in painting things (the kid’s) and a ukelele. I could do a sort of illustrated version of A Room of One’s Own for the twenty-first century. My room of my own is also messy, but that’s my mess which is different and artistic and I wont hear a word against it. Not even from my Mum. She’s just jealous anyway. Ahem.
The product of all this wanton-ness? Wood engravings for the geek. Photographed, as is typical, at 11pm. The paper isn’t really yellow, it’s white.
When I’m sitting back watching my kid figure stuff out for himself, and he’s enjoying himself figuring stuff out for himself, don’t feel like you have to come over, take control and show us stupid people how it all works.
Although, the two and a half year old giving someone else’s grandfather the Look* was nearly worth it.
* you know, the one that says “you may be old but I’m clearly smarter”.
are the sort of people who will nag you to bake nuffins, cheerfully eat several of the nuffins, and then throw the remaining nuffins in the bin while you’re in the loo.
Then they’ll ask you why there are no nuffins left.
Studio Assistant to the Great Artist
Seriously, how do you resist a kid who wakes up saying “I love painting Mum”.
In which the author attempts to write about the show and sound a bit more intellectual and a bit less sweary.
We’ve watched the four episodes, we’ve read the blog posts, googled for British reviews and background info, talked to relatives and listened to Jon Faine and Debi Enker on the ABC talkback, and there’s one point people never seem to get to. Certainly the program itself didn’t explicitly get to it: parenting happens within a society. Individual parents make choices, but their choices are limited by social pressure and support. The scheduley Truby King supporters want a baby who fits in with society as it is by making themselves invisible. The Continuum Concept gang want to change society to fit in with what they see as essential for babies and mothers. The Spock crew wanted a baby that was cuddled and kissed when it was convenient but learned to sleep and stay outta the way the rest of the time.
This show could have brought up all kinds of interesting issues, but they stuck to the mainstream (Truby King inspired) assumption that baby un-friendly societies are normal and sensible. Discussing which theory will “make” your baby sleep is pointless. Babies don’t sleep well by adult Western standards. If you become a parent your sleep will be interrupted. The question shouldn’t be “how can we make babies sleep like adults?”, but “given that interrupted sleep is a normal part of life, how can we support parents when they’re dealing with extended periods of sleeplessness?”. The show wasn’t bad because it publicised a mad scheduler, it was hopeless because it didn’t question her basic assumption: babies shouldn’t get in the way of adult lives. The narrator was harping on about the parents “getting back their lives”, as if the newborn phase wasn’t a normal part of life, as if life with children is an aberration, and then they celebrated the end of filming at three months as if that was a reasonable time for the parents to reflect on their chosen book and declare it a success. Three month old babies aren’t finished projects, and their parents can expect to have many more challenges to their parenting strategies ahead. Three months is a period of time most people could stick to a behavioural program but, much like dieting, strict rulebooks (whatever the rules are) don’t last the longterm for most people. At three months you probably feel tired, but that your strategy is good and worth sticking too. At six months you may well feel it’s time to throw the book out the window and try something else.
This show didn’t question two of the mentor’s anti-breastfreeding statements, or highlight how seriously they undermined the prevalence of breastfeeding in the UK. They were also pretty choosy (like most religious people) about the rules they enforced and the ones they ignored. They didn’t mention that Dr Truby King and Dr Spock both recommend sleeping a baby on their belly, all of these babies were slept on their backs (so they conformed with modern SIDS guidelines). Dr Spock recommends both routine circumcision, and homebirth, but neither rated a mention on the show. Neither did ridiculously early toileting, boiling cloth nappies in a copper, or the DIY formulas doctors suggested before commercial formulas became available.* If those things can get out dated and be scrapped, why can’t the other stuff?
The dads in this series were all involved in birth and babycare (except in the single mother lead family), so the whole “lets test this historical babycare theory” idea was broken from the start. One of the problems with the Truby King and Spock style routines (and yeah, they didn’t really mention it in the show, but Spock assumes you’ll be gettin’ the kid in a routine and moving them into their own room when they’re a few months old) is that mothers were incredibly isolated and restricted by them. Mothers came home from hospital with a baby they’d hardly seen while they were in hospital, and they were left on their own to figure them out because their husbands were at work. If they were lucky they lived near their extended family, but in the mid-twentieth century social and town planning changed significantly as cars became more affordable, and young couples moved to the outer suburbs away from their parents and friends in the inner city. Still, those young mums in the burbs had each other, in the 5os and 60s they had a reasonable expectation that the mother next door or down the street was also at home fulltime and available for the occasional coffee. So did the show replicate that? Nope. There was no mention of social interraction for the Spock families, it was banned outright for the Truby King babies but their parents were expected to perform the success of the schedule by going out for dinner and hosting a party, the Continuum Concept parents had friends over and took their babies out with them. They were also encouraged to actively create the supportive community they would need to make the program work. The Truby King families managed to have a social life (and they seemed happy enough about it) so long as they were prepared to deal with a fair bit of crying and commit to a rigid schedule. The Continuum Concept parents were able to go anywhere baby friendly (certainly a more practical option if you don’t have babysitters on tap) and the Spockians took a bet each way and found themselves exhausted by paying attention to their babies and isolated by feeling unable to include the baby in adult activities. Being told they should breastfeed, but only in private, can’t have helped. The single mother, who chose the Spock method, also chose to bottle feed her baby from the start. Spock told her to trust her instincts, and her instinct said “bottle”. There was no discussion of how “instinct” is socially constructed. She’d wanted to bottle feed because it would be easier to get someone else to do sometimes, but very soon she was discovering that there was no one to hand the baby to. My instinct was to go round and cook her dinner, which is what my friends did when I was breastfeeding round the clock. The difference between us, and our instincts, is probably that I was raised surrounded by breastfeeding mothers and she wasn’t. She came across as a woman who could really have benefitted from an organised community who were committed to looking out for each other (although she may have gone screaming la la crazy if she’d been expected to carry the baby non-stop for six months).
So what could the show have been? Well we’ve been watching quite a bit of telly lately so I can tell you. Isn’t that handy? If this show had been produced and directed by the folks behind the (also British) Eataholics (which was available on ABC iView) it would have been far more civilised. Eataholics manages to talk to and about subjects who have freaky eating issues without calling the subjects freaky. They treat the subjects with dignity, they talk to them about the intensely personal circumstances that created the eating problem and prevent the subject from changing it without help. They encourage, inform and support subjects, but they don’t bully them into changing their diet. They ask subjects to set their own goals and help them to acheive it. Yesterday on ABC radio TV reviewer Debi Enker was suggesting the problems with Bringing Up Baby were the thing that made it fascinating television. Frankly, it was less fascinating than Survivor. It could have been fascinating. I kept waiting for it to be fascinating. But they spent so much time repeating themselves they didn’t have time to put the fascinating in. The closest they got to fascinating was in leaving out two of the families in the final episode and failing to explain what had happened to them. Did they just not fit in with the conclusion the director wanted? Eataholics is fascinating television, it’s real people with real problems, and it doesn’t leave you wondering how “those poor people got on later”. To which I can only repsond “more please!”
* Yeah you caught me. I got myself a 1959 edition of Dr Spock for entertainment purposes at the local CWA secondhand book sale.
I don’t think there can possibly be many people watching Brining Up Baby on Thursday nights who sees that crazy scheduler and thinks “there’s a woman I’d like to emulate”. Because I see it and think “there’s a woman who hates babies and hates women”.
Then the Spock follower, who I thought was mostly ok turns out to hate on women who breastfeed in public, so you know, do what feels right in your parenting unless it means feeding your kid when they need it or co-sleeping.
And it turns out the big warning by the ABC at the beginning about some of the advice not conforming to SIDS recommendations and not being safe? Yeah they didn’t mean leaving a newborn unattended for hours on end.
The hardcore attachment lady doesn’t annoy me anywhere near as much as I expected, by the way. Possibly because she’s actually helpful and nice to the mothers, which helps me to ignore how her rules are as inflexible as anyone elses.
I keep waiting for one of the mothers to show her ‘mentor’ the door, but I fear they’re all too tired and shattered to get the words out.
So if you’re having a baby, feel free to tell anyone who bosses you around, who talks about following their plan or rules at the expense of everything else, who deliberately undermines your confidence in yourself and your relationship with your baby, to fuck off.