Courts separate mother and child

THE SCENARIO: A woman’s seven-year-old son puts his hand inside his mum’s shirt in public. She is charged with indecent dealing with a minor. Community Services removes the boy. That was in December, 2008.

When the NewsMail reported the court case today, they expected the mother and son to be reunited in two to four weeks.

There are so many variables that I don’t know, but by her own admission she had an issue with boundaries since she was abused as a child.

But for more than three years this child’s been away from his mother. Because he put his hand in her shirt.

That, to me, is terrifying.

That someone can deem an act inappropriate and remove your own child from your care for so long. It’s incredulous when I’ve seen other children suffer much worse neglect at the hands of their parents and their children are returned to them, time and time again.

It saddened me to read of the distress this caused the boy and his mother.

I can’t even begin to imagine.

But I wonder two things: one) was his hand (I hate using this word) groping or merely resting on her breast? And was this a measure of comfort that had been happening for years?

Is it really any different to the small child who hides their face in your lap when they’re embarassed?

That train of thought begs the question that breastfeeding mothers have been arguing for years – what is a breast? It’s not just about sexual objectification. It’s a source of nourishment and comfort and it CAN be a source of fascination to older children.

If the son did this to his dad, the situation would have been very different. So to what extent do women – do mothers – have to defend themselves when it comes to their chest?

Secondly, how do we decide when something is inappropriate? And does it depend on a child’s age? I can understand, if the act really was awkward for those who witnessed it, that they felt obliged to say something, do something. After all, what if something much worse is going on behind closed doors?

It can be incredibly difficult to trust your instinct when it comes to another person’s child. It takes guts to act on your convictions. But what if you’re mistaken?

Three-plus years is a long time for a family to pay the price for a social mishap.

Everything about this story shocked me. But what stuck with my subconscious was the ability to lose your children at the hands of others; of other parents, of the courts and community services.

The night I read this, I dreamt that I’d left my daughter napping in one town as I drove to another. I was meant to put her in the car, but in my haste forgot, and two hours later I was beside the highway, an hysterical mess.

I had no one to call on to check on her before I could get back and I knew I had to ring the police. But what if they considered me a neglectful parent? Would I ever get her back?

I rang the police and they checked on her and they told me they’d take her back to the station with them…. “where I could come pick her up”. I wept with relief.

I’d love to know what others think. Was this action warranted? Would you have reported it? Have you seen anything that you felt needed to be reported? Or have you been reported for something?

 

Digital Parents Blog Carnival

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The mouths of babes

ONE of the best parts of being a parent is being their sole source of all information … for a little while at least.

These little people are only just now learning all kinds of random stuff that you assume people know and I am regularly reminded that they must still learn things like: not only what an anchor is, but why a boat can’t just stop in the first place.

It’s challenging to find not only the simplest way to describe what words like “guardian” mean but to also find a frame of reference that you know they’ll respond to. And after that, you need to vet any response that an over-analytical four-year-old could begin to find concerning.

For example, the word guardian is part of a simple prayer that leaves out the suggestion that the kids could “die before they wake” and instead focuses on the presence of divine intervention.

Hence the term “guardian”. It took me about three days of Son asking what “gardenia” meant when I realised he was refering to the prayer. I tried to explain about people who look after you, and then, just as I was about to launch into a spiel of angels (which the prayer also mentions), I considered how horrifying it could be to a four-year-old that someone he couldn’t see was watching him. Particularly given the prayer is said at bedtime.

So, we left it at a simple explanation: people who watch out for other people.

Then he asked what “about” meant.

Won the battle, but obviously losing the war here.

But I love that my husband and I are posed with such questions. It is a chance to reflect on what such things mean to us and what lesson we want our children to draw from our answers.

Though sometimes it just gets too difficult. Take this one for example… Our son is aware of the fact my husband and I once went skydiving (many moons ago).

“Where was I?” He asked.

“You weren’t born yet.”

“But where was I?”

“Um, you were what’s called a soul.”

“Was I with Nanny and Pappy?”

“No… you were,” I look at husband, recalling a psychic telling us we had two souls around us. “You were with us.”

“In the plane?”

“Yes.”

“Did I jump too?”

Sigh. “Yes.”

While I went with religion as a nightly comforter (as well as Dr Seuss), I went with science when he asked “why are we on earth?”

“Because it’s the only planet with air and water.”

“And icecream,” he added. Indeed.

It’s amazing to watch a little person learn. I watched my son recently use a computer for the first time. His concentration was impressive, his dexterity with the mouse a little confronting. I didn’t use a computer until I was about 12 years old. He’s four.

Simple things like “how do you put avocado on bread” and “what’s an email?” are also beyond endearing. Generally my daughter focuses on emotion: “you will make me cookies and that will make me happy!”. She’s big on being happy.

In fact, when I regaled her with YouTube clips of Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used To Know” (since she always sang it in the car), she was transfixed. I could see the bewilderment and concern in her eyes. She watched him sing in pain and the questions came thick and fast. “Why is he sad? Why is she leaving him? Why is he yelling?”

It was all I could do, not to lift her away from the monitor and explain his pain wasn’t her burden. Let’s hope she never marries an artist!

Blink and you’ll miss it

THE school bell, normally no more than background noise, rang in my ears and all the way down to my heart.

Next year, when I hear that bell from our quiet little playgroup sandpit, I’ll know my son has been let out for little lunch.

The thought is asphyxiating some days. That for five days of the week he’ll be a student. That for five days, he’ll be away from my watchful eye and my wide-open arms. That for five days, he’ll fend for himself in a playground teeming with children.

This is unfamiliar terrain for us both.

I am not the mother of a school kid. I’m only just getting used to the idea of being a mother of a preschooler. I haven’t mastered the drop-off yet. I still flounder while child-care-savvy mums dart past me like I’m moving in slow motion. Because I am.

I’m waiting for the world to stop and realise its mistake. To tell me, “you’re right, he should be home with his mummy”. Take another few years off. Break up your days into naps and meals and blocks and walks in the pram. Bliss about in that early childhood routine that runs on 15-minute intervals and ABC4Kids.

But that’s not going to happen because life is not like that. Life moves on, sans umbilical cord, and I must help him learn this too. Even when I’m physically itching to hold him tight.

It was only four years ago that he became mine. I blinked and this wiry baby became a methodical toddler. I took out two nights to have a second baby and when I came back, he was a child who actually slept through the night without me.

Now he’s the fastest kid at playgroup, the tallest at the library story time… I know, with him being in a classroom for the next 13 years, he’s going to grow and stretch and become this person I have less and less influence over.

I see friends posting photos of their first newborns lately and I can remember that giddy time: when you couldn’t drag your eyes away from them. Revelling in the wonderment that YOU created this. It’s lucky we have that, because all too soon that precious bundle is putting on his own shoes and socks and waiting for you in the car.

When you’re a mother to a newborn, school lunches and teacher-parent evenings is like a foreign land. You don’t live there and you don’t speak the language. Much like motherhood was when we worked nine-to-five.

No-one explains in vivid detail the speed at which your children will no longer be children. Sure, elderly women at the check-out will pinch your arms and beg you to “cherish every moment”. But you can’t hear them. They’re speaking in tongues – riddles from a place beyond nappies. Where their babies became teenagers, then adults, then parents. We have no clue.

Dear 32-year old me,

YOU’VE no doubt by now read at least one person’s letter to “16-year-old” them. This is one of my favs, mostly because it mentions me, and since two friends have more recently returned to the country brandishing horrid letters and journals I wrote during my teens-early 20s, it seemed this post was unavoidable.

But first….

I actually have a letter from myself, aged… hmm, maybe 13? Wasn’t I just a treasure? A self-deluded, know-it-all treasure? Since almost 20 years later I still don’t like being told what to do, I’ll ignore her warnings not to show anyone this letter and put it on the internet. I know, in time, she’ll come to understand. 😉

Dear Peta,

Hi, I’m your teenage-style, past-life. I’ve just decided what we’re going to do with our life. Your (sic *shakes head*) going to find a nice flat and live there temporarily with a friend. Speaking of friends you will always stay in contact with Kerri Olsen (yay for Facebook!). After getting your career together – you’ve got to be either a secretary or a journalist (yay for newspapers! I’d have been a loco-secretary!), keep putting a little money away to go towards paying off your house. Your house will be kind-of like a Queenslander (yay for Leichhardt!) on a large property with heaps of trees, a pond, a cubby house for the kids and a fenced-off pool  (*coughs* Does she know what kind of maintenance a pool requires?!). You will have only-the-best husband, someone who is caring and you know that he really loves you (yay for Karl! Except for when he jumps out of dark halls and makes me scream.)

(Aaaand…. this is where it gets awkward.)

Don’t be like other parents and turn the art of making love (yes, that’s what 13-year-old me wrote) into a weekly chore.

No doubt my husband is probably nodding right about now. Let’s just say the rest of the letter demonstrates quite satisfactorily that I was a virgin when I wrote it!

Moving right along. I opened this letter at age 21 and added the following:

Dear Peta, This is the 21-year-old version of you. The one more cynical of “love” but still searching for it anyway. Have you seen the world yet? Have you gotten over your self-pitying complex? (Bitch) I hope so.

I want you to remember the things I’m rediscovering about the girl who wrote the first entry but took many things for granted – hang on, I have to change the cassette (HAHAHA!) – things like silence (shit, 21-year-old, childless me doesn’t know noise yet!), blue skies and the warmth of the sun on your skin. Reading a good book on an orange baby blanket (nwah – that was mine. My two kids used it too. *sniff*) These simple things are powerful for the soul.

I am proud of all the things you’ve achieved and there is no doubt you will do even more to make me proud (amen, sister!). But I want you to keep one thing in mind. You will not spend your life alone therefore do not jump into just any relationship and certainly don’t compromise yourself for the sake of staying in a relationship. Expand your horizons and keep peace with your soul.

PS In this house of yours, I’d like the bath and shower to jut out in a glass enclave thing surrounded by trees (native Australian) so no-one can see in. Sound good or what?

Yes, 21-year-old Peta… sounds good.

So, the question remains… what would 32-year old me say to 16-year-old me? Well, I’ve had a couple of years to think about it I suppose but I’m still intimidated at the prospect that I’m somehow meant to know the things I didn’t back then.

I still sit cross-legged in playgrounds, for crying out loud. I don’t think I’ve matured all that much. But I will try…. next week. Surely any wisdom I ought to impart to teenage me will be discovered in the next seven days, right?!!

Playground politics and angry parents

HE shouted “HEY!” in the unmistakable tone of a father who’d just seen his young child get barrelled over by another, much larger, kid.

Every parent waiting in the wings of the “baby water slide” flinched, watched on concerned and chewed on their lips to see how the dad played out his instinctive anger.

His little girl appeared unhurt but he scooped her up, spoke softly to her and she soon broke into tears. Yes, she had been hurt. Her dad bore witness to it and she was given permission to howl in delayed dismay.

There’s always a delicate art of diplomacy in the playground, or water park, or anywhere children can run smack into another child, of how one parent handles another person’s children.

I’ve written about it before – as I circumnavigated my own clumsy way into parenthood – but something was different this time. I think I’ve managed to reach a reasonable peace with it.

It’s no surprise given how many hours I spend per week in a playground, playgroup, kids’ gym, etc. And I can watch, with some detachment now, the parents not quite at ease with the unsteady etiquette of reprimanding another’s child. I can even dole out some teacher-style lecture for the children – mine and others – when the need arises.

But I began reading The Slap this week and started thinking about the “modern world” of parenting. Don’t for a second think I would condone anyone smacking someone else’s child (especially anyone with such simmering aggression – someone who is one bad day away from causing serious bodily harm to another human being… but I digress), but I did begin to realise just how dramatically the landscape of parenting – in particular, discipline – has changed.

I smack my children.

I smack small bottoms when I am breaking up a physical fight and I smack small hands when they’re playing with garage door remotes while their sibling wanders about under it, completely oblivious. It’s a scary thing to confess because, of all the mummy bloggers I read (and I read a few), they’re predominantly anti-smacking. I haven’t always done this and I doubt it will be carried on into school years.

I also grew up with the cane. Physical discipline was not uncommon to my primary school peers and I.

So, in my measly 30-odd years, we’ve gone from the cane allowed to be used by teachers to parents not even feeling they can smack their children.

It’s a major leap from older parents who see a tantrum-throwing child and whisper “that child deserves a good smack” to the helpless young mother of the child having a meltdown feeling judged by her own peers if she handles it with anything less than reasoning and concern.

I don’t have any answer to this. I certainly don’t judge parents who don’t smack, I don’t judge parents who give time-outs (which I also do), I don’t judge parents who bribe with chocolate (because I’ve done that too). I do believe each parent knows their child – and exactly what they’re dealing with at any given moment – better than anyone standing on the outside.

I think it’s a shame that such criticism exists in the parenting sphere because, let’s face it, it’s a tough gig and we’ve all had days where we could have done a better job.

I felt for the dad, schlepping his miserable daughter around on his hip at the water park. Because he seemed so out of his depth. What can you possibly do with that red swirl of emotion when you’re dealing with a mere child? A child, overexcited at the bottom of a water slide who wasn’t watching where he was going and happened to collide into his little daughter?

I watched him throw angry glances around, undoubtedly looking for the offending child’s parents. No 0ne seemed to “own” the kid and he was left with an impotent anger.

Perhaps it was a good thing the child’s parents weren’t nearby and the incident was allowed to slip into obscurity.

It’s one thing to shout “hey” at a kid, another to impugn an unsuspecting adult – perhaps with their own pent-up parenting frustrations – with deriliction of duty.

Travelling in the kid’s section

I COULD very well get into trouble saying what I’m about to say.

And part of me thinks I shouldn’t feel it – let alone say it. But I’m also fairly certain that I’m not alone.

(Does that make it okay?)

I miss my BC life (before children). It’s silly really. My husband took them to the granny flat to watch videos just last night so I could work in peace and I missed them. Painfully.

They were in the backyard, for crying out loud. But the silence was terrible. It was like an alien planet – my house sans children. Quiet, empty, dispirited.

And less than 24 hours later (admittedly after looking through a single friend’s travel photos – hi Kelly!) I’m filled with a different kind of longing.

I wish I’d eaten out more, not got takeaway and gone home. I wish I’d sat quietly in libraries, book stores, cafes, for hours and hours and hours… until I never wanted to see inside them again (bit like what I did to nightclubs). Until the cafe’s friendly waitress thought I was creepy and the owner asked me to leave.

I wish I’d walked everywhere. No purse, no phone, no keys, , no dog on a lead, nothing. I read somewhere of a woman’s keen to desire to walk and swing her arms and I rejoiced – that’s exactly what I want! (It’s about here you’re either thinking I’m weird or going “YES! YES!”). To walk without someone stopping me and pulling on me to be picked up. To walk without an enormous bag full of wipes and lists and nappies and bandaids and disinfectant and dead flowers my son gave me, without the kids’ bags and the toy they won’t go anywhere without. To walk without a pram, a trolley, a bike that needs to be pushed (and that stupid handle to save your back has broken).

In fact, since this revelation that I just want to swing my arms, I’m quite dedicated to it. On the rare chances I get, I swing with utter abandon. I hope I look like one of those fair maidens flitting through a field in golden sunlight, but I probably look more like cro-magnon man who first stood up straight. Grunting in delight.

I also wish I’d seen much more of this globe before I had children. Like so many, I swore that children would become part of my adventure. Not stop it in its tracks.

And I’ve tried valiantly to stay true to that. But the logistics are stymying. In my defence we’ve managed Bali with two children. It’s a start. And my plans for Peru remain, but what’s the sense in dragging young children over Incan ruins? They won’t get it. Much better to wait until they’re learning history, can understand the beauty, the significance, of their surrounds.

Besides a flight THAT long with little kids? Um, no thanks.

So I plot and plan a lot for the future. Of globe-trotting with my fam. And who knows, perhaps I’ll cherish it all the more for the waiting, for the chance to experience it two-fold through mine and my children’s eyes.

But till then I sit and look at my friends sitting in various diners, pubs, cafes, etc, in some far-flung country and imagine I was there.

** Hi kids, aged teen or 20s (undoubtedly the age you’ll be when you’re curious about how your mum feels about you and start reading my awkward blogging), please don’t be offended. I wouldn’t change a single thing. It’s like when you’re offered a chance to go to the water park and then Fireman Sam comes on the TV… you want to do both. But you have to choose. I would choose you guys every single time!! xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Getting on with it…

I’M n0t done grieving over my puppy yet. But that’s okay. In the meantime I’ve spent a lot of time gazing at stuff, thinking things and pushing my toes into dirt.

It makes a nice change.

I’m not exactly the super-relaxed type.

In fact I’ve been told more than once that people are waiting for me to a) snap, or b) run off to the mountains. Apparently this is because of the “activities” I cram into daily life and the extra-curricular stuff I do outside of my work. (Is now a bad time to post a pic of the gingerbread house we made?!)

But I don’t consider my schedule as grounds for a breakdown. Sometimes I think it’s what keeps me sane. Sometimes I wonder if I’m outrunning a certain “black dog” (okay, that may sound confusing… I’m not referring to Karra here!), I don’t know… sometimes my ambition bites hard enough that I start planning before I ask myself ‘why?’. No doubt frustrating to those around me.

For the record, I do sit and stare at the TV. I eat crap. I put off making lunch until I’ve exhausted Facebook. But those things aren’t public, so instead I get the tongue-in-cheek “surely you’re not stopping at one book” attitude (read: FFS, slow down, lady. You’re making me look bad.).

But I also get twitchy. I want more. To be more. Do more. Have more. I’m not built to sit, eat and stare all the time. Call me crazy.

Ariel the Little Mermaid (shit, she’s in my blog again!) was preaching to my 12-year old soul when she sang: I want so much more than they’ve got here (though pretty sure she was referring to crustaceans, I was referring to sugar cane.).

I get so delighted when I meet people that are similarly striving for ‘more’. It makes me feel less like a freak. And I’m endlessly curious as to how they’re managing it all.

Sometimes they’re not. Just like sometimes I’m not managing my stuff either. But they keep going regardless.

So I’ll keep going regardless, but for those of you taking bets on whether my recent set-back will stop me: Put all your money on “It won’t”.

PS The pic isn’t about me being angry. Just one of Son’s school art pieces that I found amusing. Amazing how much anger stems from parents!

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