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Archive for January 2011

I’ve mentioned this before, but I love bluemilk. She has something intelligent to say about almost everything.

I was looking through some of bluemilk’s archived posts, and I found this list of 10 questions she wrote back in 2007. The questions inspired me to think more deeply about how my feminism and my motherhood interrelate. So here are my responses:

1. How would you describe your feminism in one sentence? When did you become a feminist? Was it before or after you became a mother?

I have always strongly believed that everyone deserves to be treated fairly, regardless of their gender, race, religion, ability, and socio-economic status. My feminism has developed from this belief – I suppose gender is the one category where I fall into the ‘underdog’ role (which is lucky for me, because many don’t tick any of the supposed ‘right’ boxes in life).

2. What has surprised you most about motherhood?

How utterly exhausting it is. How much love I have in me. How monotonous it can sometimes be. How it has isolated me from many of my friends, because I had children earlier than they did. How frustrating I am finding dealing with my toddler and preschooler – I seemed to have this never-ending fountain of patience for them when they were babies, but now it is gone and I really, really need it back. How proud I am of them, I want to show them off all the time.

3. How has your feminism changed over time? What is the impact of motherhood on your feminism?

I have only recently started to identify as a ‘feminist’, but my ideals have always been the same. I think motherhood has made me take this step because I realised that, possibly for the first time ever, I am expected to do much more than my share. The thanklessness and invisibility of motherhood really strikes me. I don’t know how many times I’ve encountered the “What do you know, you’re just a mother,” look, and I feel it is exaggerated by the fact that I’m a (relatively) young mother with three children under the age of four. It’s so frustrating – sometimes I feel like wearing my degree stapled to my forehead!

4. What makes your mothering feminist? How does your approach differ from a non-feminist mother’s? How does feminism impact upon your parenting?

I have a boy two girls, and in some ways this makes feminist parenting easier for me, but in other ways it makes it more difficult!

On the easier side:

–  We have a wide variety of toys for them to play with. My kids, when they are in a ‘cooperative play’ kind of mood, will go from playing cars and trains together, then to dolls, then to dress-ups, then back to trains, to shopping, to building towers, to reading books, then back to trains… When they play alone they tend to gravitate towards the more ‘typical’ activities for their gender, but the options are there. I hope they will always be able to play these games, because I know that things may change as they grow older and they begin to be more influenced by their peers.

–  Because I have children of both genders, I am more aware of what influences my expectations of them. Do I expect more/less of my son because he is a boy, because of his age, or because of his personality? I think this kind of thinking will become more and more important as they grow.

On the more difficult side:

–  The gifts that friends and family give us tend to be very gender-specific, and I feel this is exaggerated because we have children of both genders (although, perhaps parents of children who are all of the same gender also experience this?) I even find myself falling into this trap quite frequently.

–  Some people tend to speak differently to my son than they do to my daughters, using different words to describe their appearance/toys/artworks/whatever; “Wow, that’s cool”, for my son as opposed to “Oh, isn’t that pretty?” for my daughter. Again, I feel this is exaggerated because they are of different genders, and again, I do it myself sometimes, too, but I do try to use both ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ adjectives for everyone.

I think what makes my parenting feminist is that I am always questioning the messages that we are sending our kids. I am striving to model balanced gender-roles to my children (where possible – we are, after all, a nuclear family in which my husband does most of the paid work and I do most of the domestic work), in order to give them opportunities to discover who they are, free from the constraints that society wants to impose.

5.  Do you ever feel compromised as a feminist mother? Do you ever feel you’ve failed as a feminist mother?

I feel I’ve failed when: I look at all the pink things in my daughter’s bedroom, and in her wardrobe! How did I let this happen?; when I hear my son say, “I don’t want to wear that hat, it’s for girls.”; when I don’t pull people up for inappropriate comments, such as “Woo woo, sexy!” to describe a new outfit one of my kids are wearing (I hate this equally when applied to either my son or my daughters – children are not sexy).

I am going to rectify the pink problem, buy more gender-neutral clothes for all my children, and speak up next time someone says something really inappropriate.

6.  Has identifying as a feminist mother ever been difficult? Why?

I sometimes find it difficult to explain my parenting choices to close relatives who are not like-minded. They seem to think I am overreacting, or looking for problems where they don’t exist. I can’t change the way others act towards my children, but I can provide a balance.

7.  Motherhood involves sacrifice, how do you reconcile that with being a feminist?

The sacrifices I feel most keenly are ‘me’ time, time with my husband, close relationships with friends, and my career (for now). A lot of the time, my children’s needs come before mine, especially while they are all so young. I reconcile my sacrifices with my feminism by making sure I do put time aside for myself whenever I am able to, and by trying to remember that these sacrifices are temporary – my children won’t be this needy forever. It does help that my husband has also made sacrifices on his free time, social activities and opportunities for further study, too.

8.  If you have a partner, how does your partner feel about your feminist motherhood? What is the impact of your feminism on your partner?

While my partner is not a feminist (he has problems with the ‘feminist’ label), he believes, as I do, in equality for all. He is very supportive of my beliefs, and of my parenting style. He understands my need for personal space and time away from the kids on a regular basis. Our main points of contention seem to be about domestic duties and who should do what – each of us believes that we are more tired and deserving of a break than the other. We have discussed whether we could ever viably swap roles for a time (he stay home while I work), and the reality is that it just wouldn’t work – he gets paid way more than I, and he is at a breakthrough point in his career right now. However, if it were possible, I think he would be willing to try it out, which makes me feel that he sees value in what I do.

9.  If you’re an attachment parenting mother, what challenges if any does this pose for your feminism and how have you resolved them?

I don’t actually identify as an attachment parenting mother, but I have incorporated some aspects of attachment parenting into my mothering. Each of my babies were breastfed for at least twelve months; spent many hours being worn (in slings or baby carriers), or being carried around in my arms; and spent many hours in my bed (when I fell asleep during night feeds and woke up hours later to find them still feeding away!). All of these practices came naturally to me, and didn’t challenge my feminism as they were simply the easiest way to settle / occupy a baby so that I could sleep / get things done.

10.  Do you feel feminism has failed mothers and if so how? Personally, what do you think feminism has given mothers?

I don’t feel that feminism has failed mothers. Personally, it has given me the courage to speak up about, and be proud of, the important job I am doing in raising my children. It has legitimised my feelings about the ridiculous expectations placed on mothers, and how parents are held solely responsible for the way our children ‘turn out’. It has given me a platform from which to try and raise my children to be themselves, regardless of the stereotypes, and to question the gender roles that are dictated to them.

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We’ve been discussing body parts a lot lately. This morning I overheard Tiernan singing,

“Penis and China, Penis and China, Penis and China… They go together! Penis and China, Penis and China.”

We haven’t even had THAT discussion yet… but I guess he’s right.

Yesterday morning I indulged in a rare sleep-in. Tom was at work, Molly and Neave were both sleeping late, and Tiernan was playing happily in his bedroom. Or so I thought. I went back to bed and dozed off for about half an hour. I was woken by Tiernan, who came and handed me an empty Panadeine packet and four tablets. Instantly awake.

“Tiernan, did you eat any?”

(Knowing that the only ‘correct’ answer he can give is no) “No, Mummy.”

“Tiernan, you’re not in trouble, I just really need to know if you ate any tablets.”

“No, I didn’t.”

“Are you sure? I really need to know, because they could make you very sick.”

“No, I didn’t eat any.”

“Okay. Thank you for bringing them to me.”

“I did lick one.”

“Just lick? You didn’t eat one?”

“No.”

“Okay.”

I searched all the rooms he had been in, and didn’t find any more tablets, or any evidence of spat out tablets (they don’t taste too good), so I was inclined to believe he hadn’t swallowed any. Until he turned very pale. Then started burping. Then he vomited. Shit.

I called the Poisons Information Centre (13 11 26). I estimated that the maximum number of tablets he could possibly have swallowed (if any at all) was three (judging by how many were in the packet). They told me that, given his weight, he wouldn’t be in any danger from the amount of paracetamol, and at worst the amount of codeine in the tablets would make him drowsy. They told me to watch out for signs of allergy to codeine (such as a rash), however, as he’s never had it before. They also said that if he vomited more than a few times to take him to the doctor. Luckily, the vomit was a one-off and afterwards he instantly perked up and ate breakfast. No drowsiness. I think it was the ‘lick’ that made him sick, after all.

Then we had to get to the bottom of where he found them. It turns out he got them from Tom’s bedside table. We normally keep all our medication up above our fridge, in our fenced-off kitchen. However, Tom had been tidying up his side of the room, found the tablets, but then got distracted by something else before getting rid of them. A simple mistake that could have been very nasty. But it wasn’t, thankfully.

Tiernan and I had the “Never eat tablets that haven’t been handed to you by Mummy or Daddy (or someone Mummy or Daddy said it’s okay to take tablets from)” talk. I’m embarrassed to say that this isn’t the first time this has happened, either. A few months ago, we had guests staying with us, and Tiernan went into the room they were staying in and found some Panadol tablets in one of their bags while I was distracted with a sick baby. He came to me with white powder smeared on his face, saying that it tasted yucky. Luckily, again, the amount of paracetamol in the one tablet he chewed (then spat out), wasn’t enough to harm him. I think part of the problem is that he has been desensitised to tablets and medication, as we give him a tablet to chew every night (his asthma medication). And obviously we need to keep all medications out of his reach.

Molly is getting to the age where she is asserting her independence in all sorts of interesting ways. Like refusing to wear a nappy, whilst also refusing to be quite ready yet to use the potty. She is also starting to want to choose her own outfits, which I’m mostly okay with, except that today she chose this:

Tragic.

Or nudes, painting…

‘Happy Invasion Day  doesn’t have quite the same ring, does it? Today is the day that Australians get together to celebrate our ‘great’ country. 26th January, 1788, is the day that the First Fleet arrived and hence, the ‘birth’ of our nation. In primary school, we are taught that Australia was settled by convicts. Settled. Sounds kinda cosy. The British found this lovely, huge piece of empty land, and they settled it. End of story.

I didn’t realise there was any more to this story until university, when I took an Aboriginal Education unit as part of my Bachelor of Education. I don’t know that many Australians actually understand that settlement is an extremely misleading term for what can only described as a war, at best, and a massacre, at worst. The settlement of Australia was a long, drawn out process and the British came up against many fierce opponents, including the Aboriginal warrior, Pemulwuy. The ‘history’ that many of us have been taught is simply wrong. Thankfully, things have changed a little since I was in primary school. The units of work document (scroll down to pages 11-14), which accompanies the current NSW Human Society and Its Environment Syllabus, includes a more-rounded version of events. It outlines the resistance put up by many Aboriginal people, and also discusses some of the consequences of the British ‘colonisation’ for the Aboriginal peoples and their cultures. It is a small step towards acknowledging some of the wrongs.

Since learning this truth, I have felt uneasy about celebrating Australia Day. Sure, I am proud to be Australian. I love living in this beautiful country with its unique wildlife. I love many things about our patchwork culture, the way we have adopted a bit of this and a bit of that. I love that we have the freedom to speak our minds without fear of persecution. I love being able to afford more than just the basics for survival (although many Australians can’t). I love our accent; the surge of pride I have felt on encountering it whilst travelling in a foreign country, almost unable to stop myself from shouting, “G’day mate!”

But, I can’t ignore the myths. The myth of terra nullius. The myth that no battles have been fought here. The myth that there is no racism. The myth that we are one. 

I also feel uncomfortable about celebrating a day that set in motion the almost-annihilation of one of the world’s oldest races of people. Killed. Enslaved. Assimilated. Stolen. There are many Australians who are in fact mourning today, not celebrating.

So, I have this dilemma. The best I can do on this day is quietly be grateful that I have been born free in this remarkable country. But I don’t think I can bring myself to fly the Australian flag. At least not until more has been done to acknowledge our terrible history, and address the myths that underpin our society.

Murjawee

Posted on: January 23, 2011

Tom and I have been puzzling over Tiernan’s new word, “Murjawee”, for ages. I first heard it when we were driving along in the car, and he asked me, “Mum, what’s Murjawee?” This was followed by a very long and frustrating conversation in which I asked him to repeat the word over and over while he got more and more upset and annoyed with me for being so stupid as to not understand what he was saying. “MUR – JA – WEE, Mum!!!”

In the end we both gave up, but I continued to try and figure out the word for days afterwards. Some possibilities I thought of:

Murder-y? I didn’t think he knew the word murder, but I supposed it was possible he had heard it elsewhere and wondered what it meant?

Or maybe it was spelt Murjawuy? Could it be the name of a character in an Aboriginal story that he read at day care? (I’d been thrown by the word ‘Quinkin’ before!)

In the meantime, Tom had also heard the word, and couldn’t work out what it was either. We were finally put out of our misery the other night, when Tiernan was playing with his fire truck, shouting, “Quick, it’s a murjawee!”

We performed simultaneous mental head-slaps, “Oh, emergency!”