The fo­rum

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Deirdre Macken

1. 2. 3. 4. 5.

NEXT weekend, mum will wake up to a cold break­fast, slip­pers she’ll never wear and greet­ing cards that are adorable if only be­cause her chil­dren have cap­tured ev­ery one of her wrin­kles. She’ll be told how great she is, how much ev­ery­one ap­pre­ci­ates her and how she doesn’t re­ally have that many wrin­kles.

And a few mums will won­der why ev­ery day isn’t like Mother’s Day.

Well, here’s a tip. It can be. And, be­fore mum pushes away the pink wrap­ping paper, or­gan­ises frames for the greet­ing cards and emerges from the doona to set­tle a fight be­tween the kids, we can whis­per in her ear a few tech­niques for mak­ing ev­ery day a lazy-mum day.

Ex­cept we won’t call it that. We’ll call it mum-with­out-he­li­copter-blades. Or, bad-hair­day mum. Or even mum-lib­er­a­tion. And it’s all aimed at wip­ing out over-moth­er­ing, an ob­ses­sion ex­perts say is ru­in­ing kids, in­fu­ri­at­ing teach­ers, wor­ry­ing fu­ture bosses and, yes, giv­ing mum pre­ma­ture wrin­kles.

Now lots of women are un­prac­tised at this so, with the aid of those ex­perts who have been cry­ing out for less clean­li­ness, less con­trol and less life lived on the side­lines, let’s give mums a few tips for their new role as a fully formed hu­man.

Sleep in, for sure. But don’t ask what the kids are do­ing. The kids might be sneak­ing bis­cuits, tram­polin­ing on couches, watch­ing junk TV, shoot­ing ter­ror­ists on a small screen and bick­er­ing with each other, but that’s why they in­vented Sun­day morn­ing.

Don’t clean up. Let dust set­tle on the blinds, toys stray across the lounge and wait for creases to shake out on uni­forms. No one is go­ing to call in the coun­cil bull­doz­ers but it will al­low the kids to pick up im­mu­nity and, if you view it in the right way, it will act as a re­minder of all the cool things that go on in a house full of chil­dren.

Don’t pro­vide nu­tri­tion. Sure, you must pro­vide food but it doesn’t al­ways have to be nu­tri­tious, or­ganic, con­tain quinoa or be able to with­stand the scru­tiny of the mums at the tuck­shop. We live in an era of junk food and, one way or an­other, your kids have to learn to live in that world. Think of it as im­mu­nis­ing your kids against junk food through ex­po­sure to it.

Look away from the kids. We’ll say that again slowly. Look. Away. From. The. Kids. You are not a CCTV cam­era and your chil­dren, we’re happy to say, are not Per­sons of In­ter­est. Sure, you should no­tice if they come first in the class, have a bone stick­ing out of a shin or are cho­sen to play foot­ball in Brazil, but give them a break from scru­tiny. AT LAX I get steered on to a bus with other pas­sen­gers to take us to the Qan­tas jet. A flight at­ten­dant mum­bles an in­tro­duc­tion to one of them: a tall guy with long blond hair — right out of an SS re­cruit­ing poster, could have mod­elled for Arno Breker’s Third Re­ich sculp­ture — ac­com­pa­nied by his per­sonal trainer.

It’s clear she as­sumes I know the ac­tor, but it’s an­other one of those mo­ments when I run up against celebrity cul­ture. While his per­sona screams “Hol­ly­wood”, I have no idea.

It hap­pened when I was NSW pre­mier, and was es­pe­cially a prob­lem in the Olympics. I’ve never mas­tered celebrity stuff. I barely know which is Prince Harry and which Prince Wil­liam, cer­tainly could not pick be­tween Lady Gaga and Paris Hil­ton, don’t know their na­tion­al­i­ties. I have never been able to fix in my head the names of cap­tains of Aus­tralian sport­ing teams.

In fact, in the pan­theon of sport­ing he­roes I would prob­a­bly recog­nise only Cathy Free­man or Ian Thorpe. I know it is a disability, es­pe­cially in Aus­tralia, this mat­ter of be­ing born with­out a sport­ing gene.

Learn to be a critic. The best crit­ics are not the peren­ni­ally pos­i­tive re­view­ers — they just lose their jobs. The best crit­ics praise what works, point out what doesn’t work and back­ground the progress of the work. Some­times they ask the cre­ator what they think of the work but, in the end, they let the work speak for it­self.

Say no. It’s not that hard. The word no is a boundary and, even though kids are born to push the bound­aries and your but­tons, they need them more than they need your af­fir­ma­tion. Don’t pro­vide en­ter­tain­ment. If your kids say they’re bored, think of it as the start of some­thing in­ter­est­ing. That is the mo­ment they’ll see the world with rest­less eyes. They

But it works both ways. A bloke came up to me in a Syd­ney street and said, “Ah­h­hhh, you’re one of those prime min­is­ter fel­las.” I ac­cepted the in­dict­ment. It did not of­fend. Why as­sume ev­ery­one has to fol­low the ma­noeu­vring of the po­lit­i­cal caste, given we sell our­selves so badly?

It’s a re­lief to live in a so­ci­ety where one can get by not know­ing po­lit­i­cal lead­ers. A democ­racy leaves people to tend their gar­dens; in North Korea you’ve got to recog­nise Stand­ing Com­mit­tee mem­bers and the Dear Leader’s fore­bears. It could be a mea­sure of a healthy mind that he sim­ply recog­nises some­one like me as be­ing “one of those prime min­is­ter fel­las”.

I float in a sim­i­lar vague­ness about the drama­tis per­sonae of celebrity mag­a­zines. The car­bon group con­sists of sil­i­con, ger­ma­nium, lead, flerovium, and which other two el­e­ments? In the Greek al­pha­bet, which let­ter comes di­rectly af­ter sigma? What type of food is Ital­ian scamorza? Who suc­ceeded Bob Carr as Federal Min­is­ter for For­eign Af­fairs? Richard O’Brien is best known as the cre­ator of which rock mu­si­cal?

6. 7. 8. 9. 10. might start to farm lizards in the back yard, cre­ate their own rock clips or bake the world’s worst cakes but, what­ever you do, don’t cre­ate a sched­ule to close off these op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Talk to your part­ner. But don’t talk about the kids. Talk about in­ter­est­ing sub­jects and try to think of stuff you’d like to talk about if you were on a long walk through the coun­try­side. And don’t let the kids in­ter­rupt — re­mem­ber you’re on a walk, a long way from home.

Dump the royal “we”. When you tell people “we got a good mark on the HSC” or “we’re tak­ing up the vi­o­lin”, ask yourself what they think when you say, “we’re fully toi­let trained now”.

That’s a start and prob­a­bly the start of a few ar­gu­ments. But if ar­gu­ing for less moth­er­ing sounds like preach­ing for less peace or cam­paign­ing for less kind­ness, well, when the world is en­tirely peace­ful and ev­ery­one is al­ways car­ing, we’ll have a re­think.


For all I know, that Aus­tralian Hol­ly­wood suc­cess on the flight out of LAX might not have recog­nised me, his coun­try’s for­eign min­is­ter. Af­ter all, he moves in more Olympian cir­cles. He too might sim­ply record that, on the same flight strug­gling into those prized py­ja­mas, was one of these “prime min­is­ter fel­las”.

No com­plaint. As Bill Clin­ton was fond of say­ing, our dif­fer­ences make us in­ter­est­ing, our com­mon hu­man­ity is more im­por­tant.

On the plane I watch the movie A Royal Af­fair, about the ad­vent of the En­light­en­ment un­der ab­so­lute monar­chy in 18th-century Den­mark un­der the men­tally ill King Chris­tian VII. One im­age stands out: a peas­ant’s body, tor­tured on the rack by the king’s po­lice, found dumped in a field. A sym­bol of royal ab­so­lutism.

Who can say the En­light­en­ment was for noth­ing? Re­view wel­comes sub­mis­sions to This Life. To be con­sid­ered for pub­li­ca­tion, the work must be orig­i­nal and be­tween 420 and 450 words. Sub­mis­sions may be edited for clar­ity. Send emails to this­life@theaus­ Last month, which Aus­tralian fought in the World Heavy­weight Box­ing Cham­pi­onship? What is the small­est of all the main­land states and ter­ri­to­ries of Aus­tralia? Alexan­der Flem­ing is best known for dis­cov­er­ing what in 1928? Who wrote the 2008 his­tor­i­cal novel TheLieu­tenant? In 2010, who won the sec­ond se­ries of TheXFac­tor (Aus­tralia)?

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