childhood

On Hate

When I was ten, I had pretty regular ten year old interests. I loved Whitney Houston, books about fairies, and The Golden Girls. I swapped Hello Kitty writing paper with my friends, and took a weekly class called ‘Mime & Dance’. I won the acting awards, but sucked at tap dancing. I played with Barbie dolls, adored my grandmother, and slept every night with a stuffed white bunny tucked under my chin.

Yesterday in Nigeria, a ten year old girl walked into a market place in Maiduguri with a bomb strapped to her tiny body that killed 20 people and injured roughly 20 more. The Islamic militant group Boko Haram, known for their increasing use of women and children as human bombs, are suspected to be behind the carnage. News reports haven’t mentioned the little girl’s name, but I imagine it was something pretty and lyrical in that lovely rhythmic way of African languages.

On any other day this might be front page news, provided nothing too dramatic happened in Australian sport. But this hasn’t been an easy week for the world. Collectively we’re all still reeling from the shootings in Paris, and unfortunately an innocent little soul used as a weapon of mass murder in a notoriously dangerous area doesn’t have quite the same shock value as an unexpected attack in the City of Love. Like a shooting in America, we’ve come to expect it. With a shrug of our shoulders and a shake of our head, we put our palms up in despair and resign ourselves to the world being a crazy place.

But the world isn’t crazy. Crazy is uncontrollable and unpredictable. What is happening right now is neither of those things. The Charlie Hebdo shootings were shocking, but not altogether unexpected in a city that has always pulsated with barely contained cultural divides. You can hardly say that France deserved to be attacked but in a country that has laws restricting a Muslim woman’s right to wear her burqa or hijab as she sees fit, it’s not surprising that fundamentalists would seize the chance to exploit any simmering resentment.

I don’t suppose the grandfathers of the internet could have foreseen how their invention would shrink the planet to the extent that the web has become a matchmaking site for third generation immigrant kids full of inherited resentment, and evil despots from organisations they’ve never heard of. Where Hitler rallied the troops at Nuremberg, today’s tyrannical leaders connect globally via secret chatrooms and social media.  Clichéd as it sounds, disenfranchised youth are ripe for the picking, and ancient cultural ties, however tenuous, still bind.

This ‘war on terror’ we keep hearing about is a festering, man-made mess of tyranny and hate and fear, with religious fanaticism the volatile end result.  There is so much hate behind this shit in Paris. Lunatics hating ‘the West’ on behalf of Islam, idiots hating the Jews on behalf of the Palestinians, the French blowing up mosques in an eye for an eye retaliation…maybe it’s just that I’m lucky, but I can’t fathom living with that much anger inside me. How can anyone hate anything that much? I don’t even hate cane toads or the Westboro Baptist Church that much, despite both being out to get me. Where does it all end?

Ever since news broke of the shooting in Paris, I’ve had on my mind something I remember Desmond Tutu saying on, of all things, an episode of Donahue about 20 years ago. I might not have it exactly right, but it was along the lines of “the only way to be human is to be human together; and the only way to survive is to survive together.” It’s a good quote.

I haven’t felt this unsettled by world events since the aftermath of 9/11, and I mean that sincerely. I don’t know how we realistically go about fixing these problems, but I do know this: if ever there was proof that hate is a stupid unproductive emotion, this week is it. Hate is lazy and ignorant and easy.

Trying to understand and respect each other might be harder, but there’s less dead bodies at the end of it.

Yoko Ono Endangered Species

Yoko Ono
Endangered Species

When In Doubt, Lewis Carroll

I can’t remember my Cabbage Patch Kid’s name. Should I be worried about that? I know this is a weird thing to suddenly start obsessing about in my late 30s, but the thought struck me today and I can’t shake it.

I remember all sorts of things about childhood. I remember the names of the couple who owned the corner store and sold me lollies in paper bags; I remember every one of my pets names, including the goldfish my uncle won me at the Brisbane Ekka that died on the drive home; and I even remember what we ate for dinner the night my younger brother was born 32 years ago. But for the life of me, I can NOT remember the name of this doll.

To be fair I don’t remember having names for any of my toys except two – my stuffed bunny, ingeniously called Bunny; and a doll I named Louie after my imaginary friend when I realized I was too old to be talking to an apparition. But Cabbage Patch Kids were different. They arrived already named. They had birth certificates and adoption papers and a whole backstory on how they came to exist in the world – and everyone except me seems to remember the name of their charge.

I do remember that I changed her name. I even did it through the official channels so that Hasbro would issue me with a new birth certificate, but that name escapes me too. Her original name, like all Cabbage Patch Kids names, was something long and old-fashioned and impossible for a six year old to spell, and knowing what appealed to me at that age I fancy I renamed her something awful like Cindy, but I honestly don’t know. I also recall that I was desperate to go to the Babyland General Hospital in Cleveland Ohio to get poor little No-Name a sibling, though sadly it never happened.

Cabbage Patch Kids are pretty much the weirdest dolls ever created. They’re creepy looking, knobbly-kneed, and have some dude called Xavier’s name signed on their arse. God knows how they ever became so coveted. There are urban legends about owners sending dolls in for repairs and being issued death certificates when they were beyond salvation; and a persistent rumour of the 1980s suggested that the dolls were originally designed to desensitize the public to the appearance of mutated children born in the aftermath of nuclear war – which is probably not a bad description of their big plastic faces and oddly proportioned bodies really. In grade four, I slapped a boy called Stephen when he told me I had the same legs as his sister’s Cabbage Patch Doll. It was not the compliment he’d intended it to be.

Yet like real mothers, we loved and obsessed over them despite their looks. Clearly with their bottles and nappies and feeding routines, Cabbage Patch Kids were preparing us for a life of maternal joy, but by forgetting the damn thing’s name I’ve failed the very first test haven’t I? At worst it shows I’m a shitty adoptive parent who didn’t uphold my half of the adoption contract between Hasbro and me. I guess I should take comfort in the fact that I’m unlikely to ever be a mother to a real human being and the chances of this translating to anything meaningful are slim. Besides, my dog is ten and I’ve never forgotten his name.

But there is a nagging bother that is refusing to leave me. I don’t really like the idea of my childhood memories slowly eroding, and this decidedly weird looking doll has become the embodiment of that fear. I wonder if I’ve killed too many brain cells with alcohol since becoming a grown up. Is the stress of juggling adult life causing bits of childhood to start escaping? It’s not a thought I want to entertain. As the saying goes, being an adult is the dumbest thing I’ve ever done.

I miss the time where my existence was 99% play and 1% worrying that mum would catch me wearing one of her bras so I could make the act of breast feeding seem more real (from what I’d observed of her feeding my brothers, it was all in the way you subtly flopped your tit out into the baby’s mouth without anyone actually seeing your nipple – what can I say? I was a weird kid). I miss that part of life where being lost in your own world was not only completely acceptable, but actively encouraged. I miss feeling sorry for Alice that she ever had to leave Wonderland. And I miss having the time to be fascinated by all the little things around me.

So now my Cabbage Patch Kid is sitting in my lap as I write this silly piece, wearing her ridiculous satin wedding gown and crushed veil, and I’ve realized she smells exactly as she did when I got her over 30 years ago – and then it hits me. Constantine Danica. Her name is Constantine Danica, and I renamed her Kate Jane after two of my school friends.

It’s such a relief to know I can still find my way down the rabbit hole.

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