LAST LOOK

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Rear View - JANE FRASER

AT lunch re­cently with my son and daugh­ter, I was struck by a feel­ing of guilt and nearly stabbed my­self with the steak knife. That’s OK, moth­ers of sons are meant to feel guilty; it comes with the job, and we’re al­ways on the lookout for lurk­ing steak knives. My trou­ble was that I felt guilty at feel­ing no guilt at the way I brought him up.

I some­times think — this will hardly win me com­mu­nity awards — that par­ent­hood should be more about bum­bling along and play­ing things by ear rather than hys­ter­i­cally cross­ing the t’s and dot­ting the prover­bial i’s.

An­other thing that struck me was that he has his first grey hair, al­beit just one, and yet it seems only two weeks ago that he was a babe in arms. But I never took him along to greet an as­pir­ing min­is­ter, how­ever cute he was as a child.

Where, I won­der, did politi­cians get the idea moth­ers wanted them to kiss their ba­bies? I should imag­ine the chil­dren, when they grow up, will cringe at a faded news­pa­per clip­ping show­ing them in swad­dling clothes, be­ing drib­bled on by a bald­ing, be­spec­ta­cled, sweaty, mid­dle- aged man.

We seem to have a primeval urge to brush shoul­ders with fa­mous peo­ple, how­ever brief the en­counter and how rel­a­tively unim­por­tant they are in the greater scheme of things. It seems a lit­tle fruit­less. I can re­mem­ber as a young child in Jo­han­nes­burg be­ing less than im­pressed at be­ing taken to town to stand in a high- rise build­ing to see the Queen pass by.

My en­thu­si­asm was per­haps a lit­tle damped by the fact we were watch­ing the pa­rade from the rooms of our den­tist, so to this day I as­so­ci­ate her majesty with a drill that, when turned on, sounded as if it was pulling the pave­ment up, along with all the res­i­dent trees.

Of course, things have changed: drills are gen­er­ally less fright­en­ing and swad­dling clothes no longer ex­ist. The mo­ment they are born, baby boys are shoved into denim jeans and jack­ets, as though im­me­di­ately declar­ing their in­nate mas­culin­ity.

If you came from an­other planet and hap­pened upon a group of chil­dren cel­e­brat­ing a first or sec­ond birth­day, you’d be for­given for think­ing you were at an an­nual con­ven­tion of mid­gets, hoody mid­gets at that.

My son spent his early child­hood wear­ing smocks and tow­elling thingum­mies, and he doesn’t seem to be any less of a man as a re­sult. At lunch his sis­ter, seven years older, made sym­pa­thetic noises about the grey en­croach­ment but as­sured him he had been a sweet baby. She re­minded him of his many cute ob­ser­va­tions, such as ask­ing, af­ter a teacher warned him of stranger dan­ger, whether we knew any strangers. And the time he waited ex­cit­edly for a hire car to take me to the air­port, only to have his face fall when it ar­rived. ‘‘ That car isn’t very high at all,’’ he said. ‘‘ You were adorable,’’ we mur­mured. ‘‘ Ah,’’ he sighed, ‘‘ those were the days!’’

fraserj@ theaus­tralian. com. au

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