Missing people.

17 July 2012

This week, kids went back to school.  Usually, I dread school holidays, our favourite destinations are overrun by kids and parents, it’s madness, and people actually try and push those off road baby buggies around indoors, like in the museum!  It’s all noise and chaos. (Sorry, no offense if you use a baby buggy, I never really got into them, so cumbersome, and the world is not made for people pushing prams – that and the fact that my babies and I were happier using good slings while we were out and about…  but, I digress).

So, this time around, I’ve had a bit of an attitude adjustment.  During the school holidays, I traditionally avoid the museum, MOTAT, the Stardome, and the big parks and playgrounds along with those other popular destinations.  It’s fine, really, we head to the beach, go to the domain, there’s enough space.

This week, I went on one of those dreaded supermarket trips, when Blake needed but hadn’t had his afternoon nap, we had run out of food, I was asking more of the kids (and myself) but, I needed things to make dinner.  So we went.

I had visions of Luna running, happily singing, skipping a bit, through the isles, crashing into old ladies, but too shy to apologise (naughty child, permissive parent who cannot force another person to ‘say sorry’..) then shouting with excitement about something or other… Blake, who wants to help with everything, be in the trolley and carrying the shopping basket all at the same time, having a melt down, because what he really wanted and needed was SLEEP.  In an attempt to reign the kids in, I reminded them that we need to move slowly, and stick together in the supermarket, Luna was already singing about lollypops, things were not looking good… I just wanted the whole thing over.

However, when I entered the supermarket, it seemed quite noisy, but not offensively so, I smiled at a young boy who was just meandering around.  Into the first isle, my usual strategy in such dreaded outings is to avoid making eye contact with anyone, engage child-on-foot to hold onto the basket, count items etc.. and go on, as politely as possible.  But, lo and behold, there were kids there, HEAPS of kids, some were racing each other down the confectionary ilse, some were obviously helping with the shopping, some were trying to grab lollies, some were swing off their parents.  It was chaotic, but people were getting things done, kind of like the world I live in.  The checkout operators were smiling, mostly.  There were a few strained faces, and there were some very calm looking parents, or maybe they were just burned out..?

But, I felt this easing of pressure.  It was like a little eureka moment.  The balance had tipped, there were probably as many adults as younger ones.  And I felt the pressure to keep the kids ‘in control’ evaporate, we grown ups were equals, and like me, just trying to get the shopping done, kids in tow, so who’s going to toss around disapproving stares or make some off remark?

Most of the time, I’m out and about getting on with what I need to do, errands, post office, grocery shopping, helping out with some community or parenting thing, and for much of the time, my kids are with me, learning, helping.  Observing how I speak with the stranger at the bus stop, or in the haberdashery shop, organising time, how I treat other people.  Involved in the Real World.

I have noticed, more so now that Luna is 4 (shouldn’t she be in kindy ? or daycare?  or school?  Anywhere but here??) and I have had those withering looks from uptight sales people, or people on the bus who have ‘children should be seen and not heard’ all over their faces.  I have had some nasty comments, some uncomfortable moments, when my own concerns about not ‘disturbing the peace’ has driven me to expect more of my children or make a hasty retreat.  I have turned up at a wedding – not realising until too late – that my baby and toddler were unwelcome.  I have also been hustled through to the ’12 items or less’ line (with a full trolly and wary children) by a sympathetic checkout operator, I’ve been smiled at, complemented, with an unexpected “Just beautiful!” while walking with baby in sling and toddler in hand at a music event.  There is some love out there for parents with little ones, but there is a lot of intolerance, huffy looks, and too many obnoxious articles written by people complaining about families daring to go to restaurants, or, horror of horrors, to breastfeed in public!

Because, it seems to me, society expects children to be little adults.  And children are expected to learn how to be adults, or be accepted by adults, by being around other children.  Not by being welcome at social occasions, dinner out, using public transport, going to the art gallery, museum, shopping etc. being a part of life, and watching what we do.  No one wants to be put out, slowed down.  There’s this feeling that you get a baby-sitter go to the wedding, dinner, take the plane flight, whatever.. sans kids, and at some mysterious age, you can bring your children into the real world.  It doesn’t add up.

I want my kids to be fair, gentle, kind, caring, to become tolerant and capable, to treat others with respect.  This is all learned, it comes with age and experience, it takes patience (as I’m learning) and compassion.  To become all those things, children need to be treated fairly, with respect, and most of all to be accepted and loved for who they are.

What bites is that this kind of disapproval of babies and children isolates the people who care for them, women like me.  As if becoming a mother doesn’t already come with a huge identity shift, a reassessment of values and self worth.  Great, become a parent, raise the next generation, just keep it down, and you know, ‘I don’t want to see it’ is what I hear from the media.

I look back now and think, how great it would be, if babies and small children were just around, along side their adults?  So, at uni, if parents could come to a lecture with baby in sling, and continue their education, take time out if they like (those early months and years are low on sleep) and if we could be back at work, say half time, baby in sling, or  near our desk, or in a creche in the same building that we worked?  Can we take on a few hours or work at home?  We are big on separation, keep the young ones and the oldies out of sight.  It’s a shame.  It also puts us under extreme pressure, financially, most families couldn’t get by on one income, in Auckland at least…

I hope this doesn’t sound like a big long rant, or that I’m complaining, these are just my thoughts and experiences.  Do I need to say that my kids are good company, and that we do most of our errands and household jobs together, shopping is usually fun and easy?  Do I need to say that I also LOVE time alone, to sew, or to go out to a movie by myself, or have a coffee or dinner with friends without the kids? Probably.  And I do so miss the work I did before I became a mother, and some days or weeks, I’m over it and just want to flee…?  The reader may disagree of course, I don’t think it’s because ‘I’m doin’ it wrong’, I think it’s pretty normal.  Most parents don’t have the support we need, practical stuff, as well as emotional.  As the saying goes, it takes a village.  I’m working on it, I have some lovely people around me who want the same thing for their families and the wider community, and that’s my support base.

And now, I sort of look forward to the next school holidays.

Luna and Universe, by Len Lye.

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