The Weekend Australian - Review
THIS (CLEAN) LIFE
Some weekend summer mornings, before the village really stirs, I drive down our hill and park beside the Yarra River. Then I head off around the local trails that follow the river’s banks.
My grabbers are from Bunnings, carry bag is from Woolies. I’m picking up the rubbish left behind by hundreds of day-trippers. They visit our valley to escape the heat.
The sun is rising above the river’s distant source as I pass through stands of great manna gums, 100-year-old oaks, tree ferns. Beside me, the river hurries towards Melbourne and the Bay. Ducks play on the current. The air is green and fresh. All I can hear is the busy water and birdsong.
I collect up to three bags of rubbish each time – assorted items such as children’s clothing, thongs, hair clips, used Band-Aids, cigarette butts, plastic bottles and bags, empty drink cans, discarded takeaway meals, soiled nappies and toilet paper, broken toys, underpants, spectacles, smashed beer glasses.
One morning, a council rubbish truck swings in nearby. Stops. The driver runs over to empty the bin I’m busy filling. We share brief thoughts on why people don’t bother to clean up after themselves. Apart from the ugly cosmetic result, we know that uncollected rubbish will eventually end up in our river and the sea. It will harm the river’s birds, fish, reptiles, platypus. “Outta sight outta mind, mate!” he yells as he rushes away.
I’ve almost finished this day’s last section of trail when two vehicles arrive full of people. They claim a shaded grassy area beside the river. Blankets are spread, table and chairs arranged, children play in the shallows, adults sit, relax and soak up the beauty.
A man approaches me. He nods and smiles. “Thank you for protecting this river. We’ve just driven 80km to be together here. We came last weekend, too.” I learn that he is originally from Afghanistan.
Searching for something useful to say, I tell him that I was living in western China in March 2001, when the Taliban destroyed the 6th century Buddhist statues of Bamiyan in Afghanistan, and how I later saw fragments of the statues in Beijing. And he tells me that 2001 was the year when he and his family finally decided to leave their beloved homeland. “Our tribe is from that place, Bamiyan. We could stay no longer. Too dangerous, memories too sad.”
We are both surprised by this unexpected riverside connection. I say goodbye and turn to leave. The man calls to me across the grass. “Lady, we always take our rubbish home. Look!”
His teenage daughter holds up a carry bag from Woolies and asks me where I bought the grabbers. She wants a pair with which to pick up rubbish.
Couples with a teenage daughter are more likely to get divorced than if they have a son, a study has found. When the eldest child hits 12, the likelihood of a parental split is as much as 9 per cent greater if that first born child is a girl. Which I think means that for every 10 couples with teenage children who call it a day and whose firstborn was a boy, 11 will do so if that child was a girl.
What to make of this? Well, it’s being reported basically as: “Teenage girls can be such a nightmare they force their mum and dad to break up.” This plays to the notion, beloved of Hollywood high school movies, that adolescent girls go through a phase of unparalleled unreasonableness when the hormones kick in in a way that boys don’t. While lads may grunt, shrug, fail to wash, and retreat to their rooms for 23 hours a day, girls turn into harpies, little madams, downright bitches and other misogynistic terms for a few years before coming good about 18. By which time some will have behaved in such a ghastly manner it will have driven their parents to the lawyers.
I have a son and a daughter in their early twenties. I’m not divorced, nor was it a possibility (my wife might think differently) seven or eight years ago when our children were in their mid-teens. There wasn’t much difference between either child’s behaviour, good or bad. They had their moments, naturally, but my experience was that the dreaded teenage horror show is a bit of a myth. Any conflict in the various bilateral relationships in our family existed before the children hit their teens and on occasion still surfaces. Hormones had little to do with it. Personality did and does.
I can’t deny, however, the existence of one big factor distinguishing my son and my daughter. It wasn’t any difference in their attitude to their parents or the world around them, it was in my behaviour towards them. While my wife was resolutely even-handed in dealing out any requisite discipline, I wasn’t. Guess which child I indulged. Put it this way: my wife once sent our daughter to her room for some outrage, then dispatched me to tell her off. When she joined us a few minutes later I was comforting the transgressor and assuring her I would “have words with Mummy about her behaviour”.
So while I don’t think girls are better or worse than boys, I do suspect some fathers indulge girls more. And this drives some mothers nuts. Nuts enough, maybe, to want out of the drama. If my daughter had been a different person, she might have exploited what was an evident point of conflict between her parents. As it turned out, she swiftly reached sufficient maturity to realise that the sun didn’t shine out of her dad’s behind, and his failure to ever tell her off was a weakness in him, not an opportunity for her.