Children

Sleep Well Woody Allen

In 1997’s Deconstructing Harry, Woody Allen’s central character said “all people know the same truth; our lives consist of how we choose to distort it.” There are other standouts from that movie – “baseball’s easy because it has rules” and “I’m a guy who can’t function well in life but can in art.” Now that the proverbial has hit the fan for old Woody, it’s hard not read more into them than I had before. I wonder if he’s been mulling them over as much as I have in the last week. I don’t suppose I’ll ever know how he’s really feeling, but I do know this: I don’t want him to have done what he’s accused of. I don’t want him to be a paedophile.

You’d have to be living in a parallel universe not to know that allegations he molested his daughter Dylan Farrow have resurfaced, 20 years after they were originally made public. Everyone seems to have an opinion, despite none of us being there to know exactly what happened, but it’s not looking good for him is it? Then again he doesn’t exactly make it easy for himself – the awkwardness of his demeanour, both onscreen and in real life; his reclusiveness; his obsessive need to focus on his sexual inadequacies in explicit detail in almost every screenplay; not to mention the marriage and children to a woman who was once his stepdaughter. These are things that are at first glance a little startling; with concentrated effort they can quickly be seen as totally freakish behaviour. The more you think about it, the more suspect it becomes. So did he do it? Well, I guess so. I will always believe the victim, that’s what we must do.

And yet there is a little part of me that’s holding back. Not because I disbelieve Dylan Farrow or because I’m a Woody Allen fan and don’t want to see an idol disgraced, but because we live in a world that is already so suspicious of the motives of men and I don’t want yet another story confirming that suspicion is justified. I have men in my life who are wonderful, kind and honest men who would never hurt a child, yet every time a paedophile is discovered they too are judged. And they know it.

It is particularly apparent in the way we view older men. I have a father about the same age as Woody Allen who is fascinated by little children. Where my mother is disinterested in the offspring of anyone unrelated to her, my father can watch children for hours delighting in their company. He is not creepy, he is not predatory, and he’s absolutely not interested in them for any sinister motives. He does however live in the moment, have an incorrigible mischievous streak, and is a big fan of play. He lights up around tiny people and always has. He loves observing how they interact with the world; it is something he has passed on to me. The difference is that as a woman I am fairly free to interact with children without causing alarm, whereas my father – my kind, genuine, gentle father who children gravitate toward – keeps his distance. He’s respectful, cautious and aware. He wouldn’t dream of approaching a child unless he knew both the parents and the child themselves were okay with his presence – after all he was once the protective father of a little girl watching out for bad men. He still is.

But as his daughter, it makes me sad. It makes me sad that my father has to modify his behaviour because we live in a world where men and children are a suspicious combination. It makes me sad that the children themselves don’t get to benefit from the wisdom of his years and the silliness of his humour. It makes me sad that I can’t make him a grandfather when he’d be such a very good one.

So back to Woody, and another of his quotes: “It seemed the world was divided into good and bad people. The good ones slept better while the bad ones seemed to enjoy the waking hours much more.”

I really hope for the sake of my father that Woody Allen gets a good night’s sleep every night.

This is NOT Woody Allen!

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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Semi-Precious Moments

I owe a few people an apology. Actually it’s probably quite a few people, so I’m just going to go with a blanket “I’m sorry” to anyone I’ve ever accused of over sharing and be done with it. Turns out whatever the reason was for me attacking your need to disseminate all aspects of your private life in public was nothing compared to my latest discovery on YouTube.

This morning as I was making my usual way through procrastination central, I stumbled across videos of women telling their partners they’re pregnant and…well…I’m kind of horrified. I’m not talking Maury Povich-style “you ARE the father” videos. I’m talking sweet, loving moments between couples who are ultimately pleased about becoming parents. Videos like this:

There are thousands of them, the majority of which have titles like Telling My Husband I’m Pregnant – *Emotional* or Jake Finds out He’s Going to Be a Daddy – Beautiful!!!  I sat through a few, my heart unmoved by what I was watching, and all I could think was “what are you people doing?”

I’ve never been ‘with child’ so maybe I am totally romanticising the whole concept of pregnancy, but there’s something about this I just can’t handle. I understand being excited about being pregnant, and I understand wanting to share that joy. I even get filming the moment you tell the rest of the family you’re pregnant, because some of the grandparents’-to-be reactions are genuinely laugh out loud funny. But that very first time you share the news with your partner, before the pregnancy becomes something that belongs to everyone else, don’t you want five minutes together to say “this might be happening to us” that no one else gets to share? Isn’t that one of the few moments of pregnancy that belongs just to the two of you? If you’re going to let everyone in at that point, why not just invite them to the conception as well?

For those who want children, then this is arguably the moment between a couple; the point at which they realise they may well be bringing another human into the world. Discounting intervention from fertility specialists and pressure from the mother-in-law to give her grandchildren, no one else is actually involved. So why are they stopping to film it for the internet? Is it a competition between females to see whose bloke will prove himself the better man?

I know we live in a world where the line between private and public is fuzzy, enough has been written about how we overshare our lives. But this seems to be a very clear example of where we’ve got our priorities all arse about face, and I’m starting to feel a queasy sadness about what we’ve lost. Perhaps you could call it mourning sickness.

This is more than just sentimentally holding on to keepsakes that have special meaning. Mementos are different. My home is full of little knick knacks that hold value for no one other than me (although I’d probably draw the line at turning the urine covered pregnancy test into a framed wall décor like quite a lot of these women seem intent on doing). Aside from these videos being pretty boring viewing given they’re mostly of guys dumbfounded by both impending fatherhood and the fact that they’re looking into an iPhone rather than their partner’s face, the moment being recorded is actually being altered by the presence of the camera. If you’re busy concentrating on the Director’s Cut, making sure you’ve pressed record, worrying whether the sound is okay, that you’ve got your script ready and you’re both in frame, you’re not exactly giving the father your undivided attention. And he’s not giving the moment his undivided attention either based on how many videos include the line “are you filming this?” All you’ve ended up with is footage of two people dealing with life changing news, aware that their behaviour is being recorded for probable mass consumption. Way to ensure the reaction is anything but natural.

The thing is we don’t actually need permanent reminders of everything that happens to us. We have memories and the ability to tell stories – and a whole lot more can be evoked by a loving retelling than can ever be gleaned by sitting through a home movie. Consider it the real life version of ‘the book was better’. And okay one day you may forget that memory due to age or brain function, but at that point no YouTube video is really going to help you. If you are experiencing something that means so much to you that you want to remember every single second, then participate in it without the distraction of the viewfinder. Be present for the moment itself, not just the instant replay, because right now you’re somewhere between participant and audience and that kind of sucks.

Frankly I can’t help thinking we’d all be better off putting down our phones and just enjoying the experience of making memories we’d hate to forget, rather than footage of what might have been.

ANZAC Day Dawn Service 2013

The first thing you notice at an ANZAC Day Dawn Service is the quiet. Whether out of reverie or just disbelief that they’re up and awake at such an early hour, thousands of people move together in a hush through the empty streets. You also notice the colour of your surroundings. Everything is an eerie, misty grey. The sun is nowhere near rising, but it’s no longer night. A lighter shade of dark has broken through.

And you notice how gentle everyone is with each other. There is no pushing or shoving, no jostling for a better position. People make sure the elderly are comfortable; that they can see and hear. Big TV screens ensure everyone gets a good view, but it wouldn’t matter if you didn’t. We aren’t really here for the spectacle.

The smell of coffee floats through the air as a mobile barista helps tired people pull themselves together.  Service men and women weave through the crowd in full uniform, turning heads as the crowd acknowledge their presence. Everyone allows them a clear passage, they are thrilling to watch.

My first dawn service was under sufferance; I was three months from completing my journalism degree and had been tasked with covering ANZAC Day. I dragged my sorry arse there expecting to resent every minute of being awake so soon after going to sleep the night before, but I didn’t. I loved it. I loved the peacefulness, the gentle rumble of the drums as the veterans marched towards the Eternal Flame, and the sense of respect within the community. I didn’t even mind the dreary hymns, because I loved how proud I felt to be there. And I loved watching the children.

Families with sleepy-eyed kids are everywhere at the service. Mothers hug or place a protective arm around their offspring, while fathers show their sons how to stand. Older children sit on the ground, leaning against light posts and trees, or hang their bodies over railings, eyes still closed. The really young ones observe everything with bewilderment as they wake up to their surroundings. You can see every thought run across their little faces.

Why are we here with all these people at night time?

Why are we standing on the road with no cars?

Why are there so many police? Is someone in trouble?

Why is everyone quiet?

They watch with fascination as adults around them wipe away tears, and get spooked by the footsteps of the diggers marching into position. Their eyes always widen when they see the old men with medals on their chest, like they instinctively know to be awed by them. And the reaction when an occasional child walks past wearing medals from a long gone relative is priceless. It’s a wonderfully comic combination of jealousy and admiration, and it fills me with ridiculous joy.

They may not be old enough to fully grasp the gravitas attached to the Dawn Service, but they understand that something of importance is occurring. Even the whiniest kid seems to be mollified by the sound of the bugle. Children aren’t stupid; they sense the emotions around them. This morning, a newborn cried as the final strains of The Last Post died away. It was perfect.

I love that the Dawn Service is becoming a family ritual. I love that we are teaching children about sacrifice, and the pain of war, in such a heartfelt caring way. I hope they grow up to remember the thrill of being woken up in the middle of the night and taken into the centre of town, and how fascinated they were by the ceremony. I hope the lasting legacy of the 60,000 who died and the 156,000 who were wounded during World War 1 is a legacy of peace. I want to believe these children are growing up with an awareness of how long sadness lasts after a tragedy. Maybe then we’ll start seeing a world run by people who think with their hearts first and egos second.

I want to believe it, but maybe I’m just crazy.

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