Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Youngest starting school - what to do??

My youngest child is starting school in 2010. I've spent almost ten years as a stay at home mum, so I've been thinking a lot about what I'm going to do.

I'm not going to be doing a paid job. It just wouldn't be worth it for our family, in a lot of ways (financial, food, stress, the children's activities), so that's off the list.

But there are lots of other things on the list. So many that I made a chart and asked each member of the family to mark a tick or cross alongside each suggestion, with interesting results.

All agreed that I should concentrate on being a better housekeeper, with the inclusion of mending and making clothes. I feel like I have ten years of cleaning up to do, and it isn't going to be done in a week alone. I'm not surprised that this one was unaminous. I've been saying for years that I'll clean up the house properly when the youngest starts school.

All agreed I should do an art class once a week when the kids are at school. I haven't done an art class since I was pregnant with the child who is now five. This is what the old man who lives next door says I should be doing - he likes my artwork.

All are happy for me to exercise, which for me means swimming, dancing or going to the gym. They know the importance of being healthy, although the kids have some reservations about the possibility of me performing at their dance concert!

And all agreed they want me to help out at school - that is really important for them. Perhaps helping out at sport, and going to the special assemblies etc. Maybe helping with reading, but I'm not sure about being in the classroom - I have an aversion to that!. But I'll definitely keep going to the P&C meetings.

They all support my future efforts to write for money.

They think it is important that I help out my aging parents - their health and mobility are deteriorating and I'm thinking next year might be the one they move into a nursing home, which means cleaning out the house nine of us lived in, my parents for more than fifty years.

They want us to do more entertaining as a family, ie, hosting Sunday lunches or afternoon teas, which is work for me, but very enjoyable, and I like bringing people together.

The kids also want more excursions. Sadly, when my 7 year old was in the public speaking competition the topic was the zoo - she went once when she was two. My older daughter had to write in a journal each Monday, saying what she did on the weekend - one time she said she went to the laundromat. At the end of the year she had to write a poem on a place of significant she had been to. Other pupils in the class wrote about Uluru or Perisher or the Gold Coast - she wrote about Olympic Park pool. She had been there twice. We have a stay at home policy for a few reasons. My partner likes to stay home. Catching the train to work on weekdays is enough outing for him. I don't like to drive unfamiliar places and I hate motorways, so we stay close to home. And I figure if the kids are happy at the local park and pool, or in the backyard, then they wouldn't be more happy playing somewhere further away. If you're happy, you're happy, right? Also, I think children don't need to have done everything and been everywhere before they are ten. Perhaps I'm deliberately swimming against the tide, and I've swum too far, so it is time for more outings.

They don't mind that I plan to do a fundraiser for Women for Women International, which means making craft items, and organising other people to help.

No-one in the family wants me to continue being on the executive for the local community centre. It is a voluntary position and has taken up a lot of time, phone calls, emails and I've had to bring the children with me to the centre at times. They don't like it. Too intrusive. I'm committed to remain in my position until October 2010, so there is nothing I can do about it now, but promise them I won't be on the executive next year.

None of the kids want me to go to New York for the conference. I can understand. My partner supports me going if I give a paper. Instead I can plan to give a paper at the ones in Australia, which make the kids sad enough.

The younger kids basically object to anything that takes me away from them, or takes me to the computer. They don't want me to run the community bookgroups, because it means going to meetings and writing on the computer. They want me to be with them, and pay attention to them. Fair enough. I'm trying to do as much preparation as possible during these school holidays, so I'm ready as the months roll by. I'm hoping to put all my work into a blog, and see what happens.

The other prospect I was looking at was doing an MA in English, part time, externally, which I know I could manage. But I'm doubting I could manage it with all the other commitments. Perhaps I could start mid year or in 2011. I have friends who suggest I should just jump in - start out as I mean to carry on, or fill up the time to avoid the possibility of being pulled into other things, but at the moment I can see stress, and yelling at children, and me being overcommitted, so I'd better hold off. When I first suggested this to my family they were horrified. My nine year old said 'Mum, can you just cook, clean and make sure our clothes don't have holes?' She later suggested I should try having some fun. I know where she stands. She's a sensible girl.

I plan to keep blogging. I have lots of pieces in draft form that I park here, waiting for me to have time to develop and post them. The family gave mixed support, but I'll carry on.

I do realise that I don't have to do anything really, beyond basic cooking and cleaning and driving them around. Perhaps catch up on some reading. As my mother says, my first job is to look after myself and my family. But I like having projects, being involved with the community and testing myself. I feel like there is a lot to catch up on.

I'm glad I've asked them what they want of me. I need to keep it in mind as I take on tasks. Now I just need to remind them what I expect of them. Perhaps another chart?

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The courage to give up a dream

Most parents teach their children to dream, and to dream big. 'You can be anything you want to be'. I notice the trend in children's clothing with the slogans of Princess or Popstar. The message is, from so many movies and songs and other sources, anybody can be a star.

This is something I've been thinking about a lot lately, because the truth is that not everybody can be a star. In fact, most people who aspire to great heights, be they creative or sporting or academic, or in any career, will have their hopes dashed. Most people live ordinary lives. Most people who dream big at some point give up those dreams to live a normal life, a life of stability and responsibility. Does that make for happiness? I'd say that it depends on how graciously you can give up your dream.

One of the ways of being happy is to want what you already have. Dreamers don't do that - they want more, or something else, which is kind of insulting the people around them, who are content to be doing what they're doing and being ordinary. One of the ways to be happy is to be where you are, to be present. Dreamers don't do that either - they are somewhere else.

Now I should say here that I've just read the works of Salinger, who talks a lot about spirituality and how to be happy. Of course, we know, in his own life he shunned fame, and I admire him for that. A theme of his work is how the little incidental observed moment of innocence can motivate a person to keep on going, to feel humbled and able to continue. (And it is the clever, the intellectual and the high achievers who see the injustices and the inconsistencies and that life/art etc could be so much better. Those insights don't make for happiness.) It is the same kind of message mothers often talk about, or are told, that although it is difficult it all seems worthwhile when you see your child sleeping or when your child gives you a kiss etc. I'm not sure how realistic this is, or if it is just pat sentimentality and what is expected of mothers.

Then I happened upon these messages from the GROW group - a support group for people with mental health issues. Reading their brochure they have a few sayings that could be helpful.

'The Overall Key to Mental Health and Happiness: Settle for disorder in lesser things for the sake of order in greater things; and therefore be content to be discontent in many things.'

And another: 'I can be ordinary. I can do whatever ordinary good people do, and avoid whatever ordinary good people avoid. My special abilities will develop in harmony only if my foremost aim is to be a good ordinary human being.'

I'm thinking about this in the context of seeing people who I knew had creative ambitions, as I did. I trained as an actor, I knew writers, artists, musicians. Of all the people I spent time with, perhaps one has made it big, a few have had fleeting success. Some can periodically earn money from their talent. The people who succeeded weren't the more talented, or more determined, or in any way more deserving. They were just luckier. For others, they found personal happiness and didn't need their dream anymore. Still others took a practical route of a stable job and responsibilities. Some never give on their dream, to their detriment.

And I'm thinking about it in the context of mothers, who may have their own aspirations and desires that they can't pursue due to the demands of raising children, and I might add, the endless menial tasks involved in caring for children and running a household. If you do that work with a 'why me?' attitude, I'm afraid you're sunk. If you do it graciously, believing that it is OK to live a little life, an ordinary life filled with ordinary moments, there is a kind of greatness in that.

Now, I know there is a lot more to say. That we want to give our children hope. That we want them to be happy. And that we want to be happy ourselves. And while I'm no Martha Stewart, and certainly don't want to raise my housework to an artform, I do want everyone, not just mothers, but men and children and everyone, to see the honour and the value in all the little menial tasks that make up our ordinary lives. And that it takes courage to give up a dream to do these ordinary things.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Naomi Wolf on Carrie Bradshaw

Naomi Wolf writes in the Guardian that Carrie Bradshaw is a feminist icon who did ' as much to shift the culture around certain women's issues as real-life feminist groundbreakers'.

I'm not so sure.

Yes, it was radical that a series be based around four female friends rather than a couple.

Carrie had a column writing about herself - what would now most likely be a blog - not the higher level of art in our culture. She wrote about her relationships in New York - I can't recall her interest in any greater social or political issues. Writing about oneself means you do no research. Your world is very small. Strangely, there was never any mention of the people around her getting upset that they were used in her column. We know that this is what happens in real life. People who writers write about feel betrayed when their lives are made public (Helen Garner and, Lionel Shriver spring to mind.) There are issues there.

Also, there was no way Carrie could afford to live in NY and wear what she does from her earnings writing a weekly column. She didn't seem to have any other options for earning money. A menial job would have been beneath her. She had no qualifications. At least her friends had professions and some job security. She couldn't afford to buy her apartment because she had spent all her money on shoes, remember? And she couldn't cook for herself at all. She ended up with a wealthy man who looked after her - otherwise she would be on a pension in her old age. Not a very accomplished person. She could dress, write, quip, be a friend and a lover. That's about it.

Wolf says Carrie was a writer in NY in the tradition of F Scott Fitzgerald or JD Salinger or Philip Roth. Certainly, her writing is not on that level. I would argue she is the inheritor of Dorothy Parker's and Mae West's legacy - women I much admire. Their work is in a different category though, from those named by Wolf.

'Carrie, for better or worse, was our first pop-culture philosopher', Wolf says. That's a big call. I'm not so sure.

Wolf says of Samantha 'when Samantha first says frankly that she likes to have sex without emotion, to "fuck like a man", it was bitingly fresh for women to speak these aphorisms out loud, in public, and in fabulous heels.'

Women were 'fucking like men' ie, having casual sex for the sake of it with no expectations, before her. Again, see Mae West. In my twenties and thirties I knew plenty of women who engaged in casual sex without expectations. Women would accept an offer, or initiate the offer, and enjoy the deed and then go back to their office/thesis/studio and get to work without another thought. And that's all well and good, especially when you value your independence end freedom, and aren't looking to be in a relationship. You can do it discreetly. It is nobody's else's business. But it does raise other issues. It means you never know if a person is really interested in you, or if the man in question is simply accepting the opportunities presented to him, (and fair enough). It also means that you clock up the partners - three one night stands a year for ten years equals thirty partners. Women are still discreet about proclaiming a number of partners. Most women would still think thirty over a lifetime is something to be judged harshly.

It is nobody's business who or how many partners you have sex with - that's why we have the title Ms. As I said in my letter to the Herald re Susan Boyle being called a virgin, it is a little more complicated. 'Would a man be called a virgin? Does being a virgin suggest she can't sing? Or shouldn't be on TV? If she was the opposite, what word would you use? Until recently, it was expected that unmarried women be virgins. It was respected. Is it now shameful? If someone isn't a virgin and isn't married, does that suggest that person knows real love and is cherished, or could it mean they have been abused or disappointed?'

And Wolf says, 'Did not thousands of young women eager to explore their sexuality, but scared of being labeled sluts by their peers, breathe a sigh of relief or even liberation watching Samantha down another tequila, unrepentantly ogle the sex god at the end of the bar, and get richer and more beautiful with age, with no STDs or furies pursuing her?'

Ok, there area few problems here. Someone, somewhere is getting hurt. If sex were not serious, we would let children do it. Sex is serious. Sure, it can be fun, but while people have other emotions and investments mixed up in it - the expectation of monogamy in marriage, for instance, and while it can transfer serious diseases, then there is the need for some caution and responsibility. I once had a very liberal flatmate. The morning after she brought home a man whose footsteps I did not recognise we talked. She said she didn't have sex with him - she passed out. From what I heard, he had sex with her. Not behaviour which is safe, responsible or fun.

The statement is unrealistic in another way. Samantha is aging. Will we still celebrate her at the bar ogling men when she is 80? Do her friends really celebrate her behaviour? Or do they love her in spite of it?

Now we see women and girls presenting themselves as overtly sexual, even though they may not be having sex. They may not even be having fun. They think it is empowering. It could be that embracing raunch culture is simply demeaning.

If we find men talking about women as sexual objects to be demeaning, then it isn't behaviour we want women to copy. Don't we want both genders to be treated with respect?

So, whilst I can appreciate the characterisations of Carrie and Samantha, and I enjoy the show, I certainly don't want my daughters to grow up to be like them. They're pretty shallow. Wolf didn't mention her expectations for her own daughter.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

I've been nominated for Australia Day award

To my surprise, I've been nominated for our local council Australia Day award. This award is to honour outstanding personal achievement and service to the community.

The librarian who I work with on the community bookgroups nominated me. I don't know if she mentioned any other voluntary work I do (my work at the community centre takes up much more time and energy; being involved in school P&C and uniform shop, being on the preschool committee, are not difficult). It is nice to be acknowledged. And I must say I love running the bookgroups - I'm being useful and using my degree.

There will be a brunch on the day and I invite four guests - my parents have said they'll come. Should be good.

ARM Conference New York in May - I wanna go!

Representing Motherhood:

Mothers in the Arts, Literature, Media and Popular Culture

May 20-22, 2010, Nola Studios, New York City

We welcome submissions from scholars, students, activists, artists, community agencies, service providers, journalists, mothers and others who work or research in this area. Cross-cultural, historical, and comparative work is encouraged. We encourage a variety of types of submissions including academic papers from all disciplines, workshops, creative submissions, performances, storytelling, visual arts, and other alternative formats.

Topics can include (but are not limited to):

Representing the Maternal in Film, Video, Art, Music, and Theater; Theorizing Motherhood and Representation; Race, Representation and Motherhood; Maternal Ambivalence in visual culture; Countering Media Discourses on Motherhood; Maternal Loss, Depression, and Domestic Violence; Performing Feminist Mothering in Practice and Expression; Mother Writer: Writing Motherhood; Creating Outlaw Children; Imaging LGBT Mothers and Maternity; “Late bloomers”: Post-Maternal Mother Artists; Representing Motherhood on the Internet; The Politics of Motherhood and Spirituality in Music and Visual Culture; Motherhood, Art, and Creativity; Healing and Creativity; The Performance of the Maternal or Performing Motherhood; Mothering and Disability: Producing New Paradigms of Normal; Motherhood in the News: Mothers as Newsmaker; Documenting Motherhood: Maternal Documentaries; Mothers, Motherhood and Photography; Behind the Camera: Mothers as Filmmakers, Directors, Producers; Mother Musicians across Musical Genres: Rock, Rap, Folk, Blues, Jazz, Country Narratives of Creative Mothers: Moms who “Rock,” Expressing: Imaging Breastfeeding Mothers, Mommy Bloggers: Re-Writing Motherhood, etc.; Dealing with (Post-partum) Depression by Making Creative Work; Pregnant moms; Celebrity mothers; How images of fathers impact motherhood representation; News media coverage of foster moms; Moms in politics; teen mothers in film or television; advertising as aimed at pregnant/new Moms; Mothers as consumers; Mothering and the representation of Class


Meredith Michaels, author of The Mommy Myth


*Please email 250 word presentation abstract (including title) and 50 word bio

to by January 5, 2010

Lets see if I can submit an abstract and organise a fundraiser so I can go! Wish me luck!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Some things change. Some are normalised.

I've noticed lately that some things do, indeed, change.

I'm quite shocked when a see that a person's skin is sunburned. As a child it was a regular part of life.

I'm surprised now when I see someone smoking. My children are quite shocked. They hardly ever see smokers. I mostly hang out with other parents, and they don't smoke.

For me to do something naughty these days means I put something in the garbage when it could be composted or recycled. Or I eat food from McDonalds when the kids aren't around. Or pop a piece of Fair Trade Organic Dark Chocolate into my mouth. The other night I drank TWO glasses of champagne. TWO!. That takes the alcohol consumption for the year up to maybe seven units, including the glass at our last P&C. That's way more than previous years. Wild times indeed!

And this is from a person whose average weekend at the age of twenty involved alcohol, smoking, sunbaking and lots of other activities I wouldn't want my children engaging in. We had no boundaries. It just wasn't cool amongst my peergroup to rein each other in. It wasn't cool to care. Most of us came through it OK. Some didn't. I'm very glad no-one was taking photos to post on the internet.

The other thing I've noticed is that the mood altering substances are now mainstream. Why bother paying for illegal drugs when you could go on antidepressants and drink Red Bull? So much easier. Accessible. Cheaper. No need to hang out with criminals. But that means you need to move a little farther away from normal to engage in the taboo and be a real rebel.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Letter in Sydney's Child

I have a letter in Sydney's Child this month.

In 'Too Many Toys?' Rachel Paisley wonders if buying too many toys for her child will spoil him. The main consideration we think about in our household was not mentioned; the environmental impact. Everything we buy is made, packaged and transported using the earth's resources and will probably end up in landfill. The long term consequences are just as important as whether or not a child is 'spoilt'.

Now I just have to try to live by what I said!

Monday, December 07, 2009

Tearing up and weeping in public - what's that about?

Since becoming a mum, this is what makes me cry, or at least makes me tear up, and I have to take control of myself.

I'm not covering the normal things that people usually cry over - the death of a close friend, having a fight with your boyfriend etc. The crying I'm talking about is new to me since becoming a mother. I should add that I'm not normally a crier. I don't cry when I see the children sleeping peacefully or when I get hurt. I don't care if people say bad things about me. I don't consider myself the most sensitive of souls, so all this is puzzling to me.

- certain songs, even songs I don't particularly like. I know I cry when I hear Tenterfield Saddler - it is a great song - I wish I wrote it. But at the kids' dance concert, I was tearing up while reading the list of songs the kids were about to dance to. What's that about?

- live performances. Even the kids' shows at the mall. I've been known to blubber when hearing adults singing in character costumes. Is it because I know they probably spent their whole lives studying singing, dance and Shakespeare? Is it because I know how much work goes into putting on any performance? Is it because I miss performing? I don't know. I hope it isn't because I spent most of my adult life pursuing adult interests and here I am at the lame show, but I don't think so - I cried at the Play School Concert and at Hi-5 (the originals, who could sing) as well.

- seeing the kids at school doing sport or playing games. The sports carnival. The swimming carnival. Not necessarily my kids, just any kids.

- school assemblies where kids perform or even when sing the National Anthem, and I'm not particularly patriotic. Ok, that Anzac dance was pretty powerful - seeing kids as soldiers, nurses, welcoming home the soldiers etc to the sound of Oxygene (a strong Gallipoli trigger there - I bawled through that film the second time I saw it when I was about 14 - so I've got one precedent there) and 'I Was only 19' - I dare anyone not to cry through that!

- Sharing great movies with the kids. I cried while watching 'Singing in the Rain' with the kids, aware that it has been familiar to me for so long, but is new to them. A first, that I think is relevant. And it is just so great. And don't even mention 'It's a Wonderful Life'.

- explaining to my kids major movements in history and what's going on in the world, eg, the history of feminism, the story of how Africans were taken to America as slaves, the history of unions, child labour, the shame that is the Indigenous problem, third world poverty, how our consumption impacts on people in poor countries, climate change and the big issues of the day. Any story that involves a child being hurt. Even dramatisations that illustrate these issues. I think I cry about these things because I want them to inherit a world that doesn't have these problems, and that has progressed further along the path to equality, integrity, sustainability, and wellbeing for all.

Perhaps it is because for the longest time I never expected to have kids. I was never very maternal - my independence and freedom were of foremost importance. I never even considering having children until I was 28. I hope it isn't because I subconsciously want to be somewhere else. Perhaps I'm happy that kids get so many opportunities and that I love seeing them doing the things that I loved as a kid. I don't know.

My friend who is a yoga teacher says that when you have a child your heart chakra opens. Like that quote about how having a child means that your heart is walking around, exposed and vulnerable.

So, I'm wondering. Should I explore this further to find out what my sub-conscious is doing? Or do I just accept that this is what I do and try not to feel silly about it.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Mothers who leave

Mothers who leave their children. This is still a taboo in our society. Certainly it is more acceptable for a man to leave his family than for a woman.

There is controversy about this in the US at the moment due to this story by the writer, Rahna Reiko Rizzuto.

Remember in The Hours the character played by Julianne Moore who left her husband and child? I read a reviewer say twice that she left because she liked to read books. That comment made me angry about the reviewer’s lack of understanding.

I've lived in a lot of share houses and three of my flat mates, at different times, have been mothers who left their children. One left to pursue music, and two to pursue visual arts. Neither had much contact with their kids. They'd all put a lot of distance between them. They basically drew a line under the mothering part of their lives and started again. All were on the dole. One was in love with another man, but wasn't with him. She did eventually, and after some dramas, end up with him.

At the time it made me ask if a creative life is really so incompatible with mothering? (The answer is probably yes.)

We all hear mothers say they have days when they feel like leaving, but they don't leave. It seems fathers can leave without too much disruption (or at least the mothers try to make it seem that way), but for a mother to leave is tantamount to willingly causing your children psychological stress that is irreparable.

Also, I've noticed that when fathers leave a single mother is expected to keep all the balls in the air: keep a clean house, pay the bills, and give the children every opportunity in life, all on her own. When a mother leaves, however, a single father receives sympathy, offers of help, and is applauded for putting food on the table regularly, but isn't expected to keep a clean house and remember what day is sports day.

I’ve thought about this over the last eleven years. The most vocal people I’ve found on the topic are grown children of mothers who have left. I’ve known women who haven’t had children themselves, and talk, with great sadness and some confusion, about their own mother leaving. One told me her mother left the day her father came back from the war. Especially in situations where the mother left, repartnered, and went on to have another family, the leaving is personal.

Do you know any families in which the mother has left? What has become of the mother? Has she kept in contact with the family? How did everyone react? Have the kids coped? What is the story when a mother leaves her family?

Is it possible to know how you will feel as a mother before you do it? Yes, we give up something of ourselves, but for some people, it is too much. We rarely hear from the mothers. We rarely hear their side of the story. Surely leaving your kids isn't a step taken lightly?

What about when it isn't so simple as meeting another man or just wanting to have fun? For some mothers, isn't it a matter of survival? I’m not taking about mothers who have drug addictions or real mental health issues. I’m talking about normal, healthy mums who leave their children.

I understand a mother leaving her kids, but I don't understand leaving one family to start another. Is the new situation really so different from the old?

Perhaps some mums keep thinking that they'll get used to motherhood, but they never do. Maybe they feel that they're faking it, and their kids are better off without them. Maybe we have too narrow an acceptance of what a mother is and if you feel you don't fit the image, then you're not doing it right. Maybe we're too judgemental and have too many pressures on mums. I've not spoken to any mum who has left her family since I've become one (and I don't really remember asking the women I knew years ago). I'm just interested in finding out what mums are thinking when they leave, and what happens then.