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

Big bum not ‘Germaine’ to the argument

DID Germaine Greer throw herself on the sword last night on ABC’s Q&A?

If you haven’t seen the clip – where she says our female Prime Minister has a big arse – you can see it here.

But her asinine remarks went viral overnight. People ousting the 73-year-old feminist as out of touch. But she did something countless women have tried recently, and failed, to do.

She united people under a feminist agenda by doing something so against the grain of a women’s movement that we simply couldn’t ignore it. And she did it to the highest office held by a woman.

She couldn’t have affronted women anymore if she were Kyle Sandilands.

I’ve talked before about what it takes to be a feminist. But what stops most women in their tracks is the bad publicity of the “feminist movement” – a bunch of unfriendly, rigid, self-serving women.

I know I don’t want to be seen that way.

Feminism has become captive to a social attitude that is only appealing to a minority, when it was once a free platform for discussion on topics that mattered to all women.

As Naomi Wolf wrote in Fire With Fire, “Many women identify feminism with specific issues that may or may not include them, rather than with a theory of self-worth that applies to every woman’s life without exception.”

“Is it about abortion? Well, I am not certain I know when  life begins, a woman might say. Is it about lesbianism? Well, I am a married woman. It’s for middle-class white women, isn’t it? I am working class. Is it about fighting against men? I am an Afro-Caribbean woman and there is no way I’m going to put down an Afro-Caribbean man. It’s anti-pornography right? I  don’t believe in censorship, and I don’t want anyone telling me what to do in my bedroom. Is it about not wearing makeup? I like to look good. Is it restricted to women? Well, I am a parent, and I care about my daughter, but I am a man. Is it about sexual abuse or rape? That may have happened to me, but I am interested in putting it behind me, and I don’t want to define myself as a victim.  (p67)

With such a diverse range of issues and so many conflicted views, people opted out altogether and, it seems to me, the cause of women’s rights has stalled.

Disagree?

Last year the Australian Bureau of Statistics released a report showing women earn 11% less than men per hour, on average. And that, when you barge through the glass ceiling of corporate Australia, some of the gaps there were almost 50 per cent between men and women (according to Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick last year).

And when we wind back to part-time – as is often the case when you start having kids – women’s rate of pay drops to 64 per cent of a man’s income (working the same hours).

So, yes, Germaine Greer did a shitty thing. But has she reignited a debate worth having? Most definitely.

It now remains to be seen whether this sudden defiance will translate into other issues.

Whether it was her intention to do so or not, I’m glad for her remarks. I’m glad to see so many men and women stand up and defend Julia Gillard. I bet Anna Bligh is wishing GG had a go at her dress sense.

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!

I am not a crook.

  “Ninety percent of the world’s woe comes from people not knowing themselves, their abilities, their frailties, and even their real virtues. Most of us go almost all the way through life as complete strangers to ourselves.” – Sydney Harris.

I HOPE by the time you read this, the malady has passed. I hope by Monday I’m skipping with the exquisite relief that is only known to come after trials (plural) come blustering through your door, unapologetic and aggressive.

But today, I’m unwell. The kids have been sick too and the only good part about that is their thirst for nurture is dulled. Hot babies are generally quiet ones. If you don’t leave the face washer on their forehead for too long.

I had to drop my work in the hands of others but just before I did, I received an email. From a man. “Can I have your number or can you call me back?”

My stomach dropped through to the floor. I was about to receive a copyright bollocking. How much, I hear you ask, is a copyright bollocking? Well aside, from the frustration that despite all my best endeavours – the ongoing emails, the 2am calls to the US, the cheques, – I did not conquer copyright law, the cost incurred is $1400. Give or take.

I checked my records and saw that, indeed, I had secured and paid for licenses to all but one company. Despite the burning in my eyes, I put on my happy face and called him up. My “I’m just a girl” voice didn’t seem to satiate. Figured as much.

I could hear the authority in the smooth silence of his phone line. No screaming children or store-music. Not wedging his phone between his shoulder and chin while he irons, cooks, wipes a bum. I could imagine the vhooooop of his heavy oak door closing as he took the call from that vapid little thing in Queensland.

“I can’t deal with this right now. I have a family emergency. I will email you on Monday.”

I have a family emergency too. You’re it.

I rang my husband and cried – something I save for horrendous cash-blowouts. This setback – hey, it’s only money – has a flow-on effect that I know will prevent me from sleeping till Monday.

And I need my sleep.

My husband’s 30th birthday is on the weekend. We have relatives staying – fresh, full-bloodied rellies whom I adore but am stricken to consider that I may shed undignified tears in front of them (again!). (Must not bow to FIL’s well-meant offerings of alcohol. Must say no. Drunk mummy in 1920’s gangster get-up is Not. Cool. Flashback to younger days when my nephew watched an inebriated aunty tackle his father with due concern… Must not drink.)

When you’re feeling this way everything seems insurmountable. Everything conspires against you. While I have possibly the biggest deadline of my life looming (probably shouldn’t call it that since I’m trying to stress less), I’m also juggling work (relaunch anyone?), school lunches (a new horror that I already hate. Am I really meant to do this until graduation?!), book PR, website upgrade (which could be as simple as a phonecall that I never seem to get round to making), trying to exchange my husband’s birthday present, worrying about a new vaccine that I’m meant to book for my daughter – shouldn’t I research first?, returning my doctor’s calls who (three times now) books me in when my husband is working and I can’t leave the children with anyone, finding out what happened to a refund I was meant to get for the last present I bought my husband, visit two banks once a week to pay a painter who may be traipsing amongst snakes for the next fortnight because our tenants have – apparently – lost their lawnmower, and remember all the other little details… such as not breaching anymore copyright laws.

Of course, there’s all the good stuff. The fact I have the most important deadline looming in my life. Kids (one of whom, when asked what he did at school today, replied: “I didn’t push a pencil in anyone’s eye.” To which I effused: “Mummy’s so proud of you!”). The idea that buried somewhere in the recesses of my poor, poor brain lies an answer to any conundrum presented.

But as the saying goes (see above)… woe is begot from people who are strangers unto themselves. I think of this everytime I’m assailed with furious optimism in people’s Facebook status updates. And when I’m crying on my desk. I’m trying with every inch of my being that wants to be in a hot tub, to find an unedited – free from litigation – version of myself here.

So, what’s up with you? Sinking or swimming? Floating?!

Where have all the douchebags gone?

EVERYWHERE young lads are lifting the bar on romance – first Justin Bieber’s ‘Titanic’ date for Selena Gomez (who hadn’t seen it since she was a little girl… feeling old yet?!) and Liam Hemsworth dishes out for a black diamond pendant for Miley Cyrus’ 19th birthday at the end of last year.

They are tough acts to follow but even the timid declarations of love by my friends’ teenage boys on Facebook always make me go ‘nwwah’.

Still, a part of me is waiting for the tide to turn, for the moment those swelling emotions crash into reality and it all comes asunder.

I’m not a complete cynic. Hell, I’ve written a romance (okay, it has the word ‘ferals’ in the title, let’s ignore that for now). I’ve definitely swooned in my time. One boyfriend declared he would marry me on our second date, “if only a church were open”.

He had me at ‘marriage’.

But fast forward a year and a couple of break-ups and we found ourselves drinking at a nightclub in a strange, new town. We were trying the town on for size, since he’d been offered a job there.

It was the fresh start our relationship so desperately needed.

We were discussing his new job when he shouted over the bass, “She’s moving here too.”

I was sure I had misheard him. “She” was someone he worked with. “She” was the woman he’d been seeing when he wasn’t seeing me… and, I believe, sometimes when he was.

In the dark of the club, it dawned on me. He was never going to change and this would be my life – clinging to this man like he was some sort of inflatable raft.

But something remarkable happened in that moment. It all fell away, all the exhausting to-ing and fro-ing, all the miserable interludes peppered with intense remorse. It all melted away and I felt a bit like Katie Morosky in The Way We Were.

I smiled at my suddenly ex-boyfriend and sank into the crowd where, in honour of this revelation, I danced.

I danced to celebrate, to agitate (he thought I was being moronic) and to prove to myself I could do it on my own.

Sometimes, when I need to pool my strength, I take myself back to that defining moment that has become less about him – or her – and more about what I’m capable of.

Reading Caitlin Moran’s ‘How To Be A Woman’ and her Morosky moment, I wondered just how many capable women fall into the trap of seeing themselves through their partner’s eyes. Diminished in the hue of their partner’s critique.

Moran wrote of her teenage love: “But I am absolutely determined to be in love. I figure this will probably… knock the edges off me. It’s love as a lesson, and a penance. I don’t think Courtney will kill me, so he will, therefore, probably make me stronger…  I believe in feeling bad for love. I think it is, somehow, glorious. I am stupid. I am so stupid.” (p146)

And I couldn’t believe the similarity in our mindsets – the urgency to dispense of singledom, like a man’s virginity, and be invested in a relationship, any relationship, no matter the fallout.

Could it be a rite of passage for young women to have their hearts trampled underfoot?

It’s true, I find it hard to pick a female friend who did not invest in a relationship that was unhealthy for her. We’ve all done it and maybe that’s not a bad thing.

Only after the wretchedness did I begin to take affairs of the heart seriously. I played recklessly with emotions – mine and others – flitting through rocky courtships and worse until I hit my iceberg.

Needless to say, I began to gauge more carefully what I would and would not tolerate.

But what of our underlings who have these gentleman lovers straight out of high school? Might they never learn the invaluable lesson that hearts mend despite the awkward grasp of ill-equipped partners? Do they even need to?

Germaine Greer once described an older woman’s love as tender, deep and warm – very different to the passionate but fickleness of young love.

“The older woman’s love is not love of herself, nor of herself mirrored in a lover’s eyes, nor is it corrupted by need.”

Have you had your heart hurt by an incompetent boy?

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.

Cover girl crisis

ALL it takes to settle an ethical argument is to put it into practice. I discovered this on the weekend in a horrible photo session.

Between Deborah Hutton appearing naked on cover of  The Australian Women’s Weekly and Bianca Wordley baring her post-baby body to the world and the Nine Network, it seems every woman is being asked to draw a line in the sands of body image. In particular the way “body image” is portrayed and manipulated in the media.

The debate is not a new one – it crops up every time someone poses nude somewhere. Is it art, is it soft porn? Does it encourage healthy body image or make you feel miserable about the skin (and fat) you’re in?

I have been a relative fence-sitter for the most part. I thought Demi Moore’s pregnancy shoot on cover of Vanity Fair was beautiful, although I’d never been pregnant and the whole “bearing children” bit was awe-inspiring to me. I found myself frowning at Deborah Hutton’s coy pose recently and was completely at a loss as to why.

It wasn’t trashy and “apparently” wasn’t Photoshopped to death. But I felt a sense of unease, like it went against the grain of what womanhood is striving for.

I wondered why she (or whoever made the editorial decision) felt nudity added to her story – yes, it’s natural but does she go to the shops like that? Does anyone beside her partner usually see this side of her (not anymore obviously!). What is so natural about posing naked in a society where public nudity is a crime?

Was it just a scandalous method of generating publicity and circulation with a coy smile and tastefully crossed legs to disguise it as an anti-ageist editorial?

Was it pure jealousy that a 50-year old has a better body than I have at age 32? Catherine Deveny posed in her swimmers on Mamamia.com and I didn’t have the same reaction. Was it because she had SOMETHING on? Or was it rather that she was fuller figured, more like me? The message of a healthy body image is undoubtedly hard to swallow from a woman who looks like a twee sparrow. Was it that I didn’t have it slap me in the face at the Woolies checkout (where I tend to schlep around in fat pants and ballet flats – I’ve moved up from thongs!)

I didn’t buy the magazine but that’s beside the point, I never buy magazines. To date, I still don’t know what Deborah was talking about in WW (aside from presuming by the “amazing at 50” headline that it some profile piece on her career, diet and lifestyle). I did read Catherine’s story, partly because it got more hits than my article published the same day (and strangely not jealous about it) and because I wanted to know what she had to say.

Seeing Deborah naked did not make me want to know what she had to say and yet, it did for tog-clad Catherine. Does it say more about my own prejudices than about media bias?

I’m not a Photoshop-hater. I had my images altered before they were put on my book and this blog. Nothing drastic – less blood-shot in my eyes, less yellow in my hair (yes, that’s LESS yellow. Crikey, hey?).  But if Mia Freedman is anything to go by (and she definitely has more experience than I), it’s apparent women generally are fed up with Photoshop-altered images.

I understand Caitlin Moran’s defence of Photoshop – after all, if you’re arguing it’s unnatural, then so is make-up, so is soft lighting if you live in Queensland. So is jewellery and SO is clothing.

Taking that argument to its logical conclusion would mean every woman standing naked under spotlights – a bit like a naturalist Department of Transport photo shoot.

Perhaps I am hypocritical – not embracing an honest image of a skinny woman as I did a curvier one – eschewing the unattainable body standards that I was just as guilty of perpetuating.

So when I was asked to supply an image of me without my book for a profile piece in NQLife, I thought “here’s an opportunity to put all this angst into play”.

The photos of me with my book (in the banner) are approximately 12 months old. I’ve gained a little weight since then. I am not with child, I am with food. I am with coffee milks, mostly.

When the reporter asked for an image, I immediately conjured up “me leaning against a white desk, soft gold wallpaper behind, perhaps a chandelier in shot, laughing gaily and looking fabulous – read: lithe”.

It came out a little more like this….

Not only do I not own a penthouse suite, it seems my 32-year old, post-baby body is not reflective of the fun-loving wordsmith I house inside my skin. I look more like a harassed SAHM who threw on her “former work” clothes 20 minutes before taking the kids to the water park. Because that’s exactly who I am in these photos.

And after a few failed attempts: “my arms look enormous”, “are my boobs really touching my stomach”, “maybe I’d look skinnier with my hair down”… I was. Over. It.

In tears and tearing off my work shirt, I realised even Photoshop couldn’t save me. But maybe a funky piece of jewellery could, maybe that nifty little chair in the studio. A cute scarf? If I couldn’t look funky, at least I could accessorise funky.

Still, after a few more photos and more “oh God, how can I look that fat sitting down?!” type hysteria… I succumbed, picked one of the slightly more flattering photos, Photoshopped out a stain on my shirt and darkened the edges. I left in my big arms, my half-hearted smile, my dark roots… it’s not easy trying to live up to your word.

Best be careful what you say!

**At least I didn’t go with some other suggestions for photos of me:

Prego Pete

 Toni Pearen Pete!

 

 Jurassic Park Pete!

 

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