The Slap

English: Joel as a toddler

English: Joel as a toddler (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Would you slap somebody else’s child? What if that child’s parents were not intervening? Would you see it as your duty or right to teach someone else’s sprog a lesson? You could always speak to the parents, of course, and ask them to deal with the unpleasant situation, but that could lead to heated words between you or even lead to blows.

Australian author Christopher Tsiolkas’ wrote a novel in 2005, called ‘The Slap.’ It was the first book on the topic that I’m aware of which is surprising, because it has ever been a hot issue that divides the parenting community. The Slap set the cat among the pigeons nine years ago and people are still referring to it.  The setting to the fictional event is a back yard barbecue. A bunch of people are eating, drinking and chatting and leaving their progeny to amuse themselves. A toddler behaves inappropriately towards an  older child and ironically the  older child’s much older father deals with the offending brat by slapping the toddler across the face. Would it have been less shocking if he had aimed a tap at the toddler’s backside? I suspect that the author and the slapper were aiming at maximum impact, but either way it was still wrong. Book club members and local intellects had a fun time debating that book and the issue. But it’s not fiction or an intellectual exercise, it is a real life problem with seemingly no resolution.

I have never smacked my own children, so I just can’t understand such behaviour. I admit that there were times when I came close to letting my button pushing children know who the boss was, but in the end, I looked for and found other ways to deal calmly with tense situations that could have blown out of control had I let them. Not easy but nothing worthwhile is easy.

Yesterday, I heard of a woman who was wheeling her Downs Syndrome child down a supermarket aisle. It’s her toddler’s game, the mum told an interviewer, to take her shoe off and throw it to the ground. The woman walking down the aisle behind her picked the shoe up and handed it to the mother. When the little girl repeated the offense the stranger picked up the shoe, dropped it in to the shopping cart and then slapped the child. The mother was at the counter paying for her groceries so she hadn’t witnessed this scene but she certainly heard the slap. By the time the mum got over her shock sufficiently to deal with the situation, the offending woman had left.

I’m not sure how the slapper would have reacted had she known about the girl’s problems. But being selective about who to punish isn’t the answer.


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Feathering the empty nest


This article was published several years ago in a children’s magazine.

Many years ago, an elderly woman collared me in the street and ‘coochie-cooed’ my toddler son and baby boy. ‘Enjoy them while you can, dear,’ she said. ‘They’re all grown up before you know it.’

If I’d had a decent brain cell left that wasn’t sleep deprived I would have responded with a tart, ‘Can’t come around too soon for me, lady”. Leaky breasts and children who squealed like whistling kettles in the night did not gel with my experience of other people’s well-fed, smiling children.

By the time I was knee-deep in nappies and ankle biters, it was clear to me that motherhood was like belonging to the mafia. You can never leave it. It may leave you – in fact it usually does after a couple of decades – but you can never ditch the job description. Children give you sleepless nights, the terrible twos, and the importuning thirty-twos…when they give you more sleepless nights, heartburn and a chance to give up your Saturday nights all over again.

American psychologist Marie Hartwell-Walker says that leaving home isn’t an event, but rather a process of them growing up and us letting go. She doesn’t know the half of it. What about us growing up when they let go? We’ve done our duty. We’ve loved our children unconditionally, protected them in their innocence and taught them our values by example. If we’ve done a good job we’ve produced a marked improvement on the earlier model; we’ve prepared them for life after us. But where do we go next?

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. I see that now. That woman was right. Before you can say Empty Nest Syndrome (ENS), you have a spare room or two to fill.

I had this fantasy in those long-ago days crouched on the toilet seat, with a copy of Cleo and a pair of earmuffs to block out the entreaties from the other side of the door. Like Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady, all I wanted was ‘a room somewhere’. I wanted a child-free den of my own, a rocking chair and an antique writing desk. I wanted a room lined with books where I could sit, read and eat chocolates all day long. The thing about fantasies is that once you can have them they lose their potency.

My whole house was a den. What I wanted post-ENS was a life of my own. But ENS found me unprepared. I’d been given the glad hand and a box of chocolates for work well done. I was free as a bird with nothing to do with my time. Free as a bird in its empty nest. We just love to borrow avian analogies, but no self-respecting bird lets its children hang around for decades the way that we dumb humans do. The chicks get tossed out at what mum perceives to be the most appropriate moment and then she gets on with life.

Go forth old woman and start afresh. That was my idea. Do some brain-cell aerobics and take on a writing course. It was great. I enjoyed the stimulation of learning something that wasn’t child related and even contributed opinions to class discussions that didn’t begin with, ‘You’ll never guess what the children did yesterday’. I only wish I’d done it earlier.

Childbirth was a lark – a breeze compared to emerging from the child-rearing decades rusting away in suburbia. I was a mature age student. My classmates had the confidence, I had the wrinkles. I had the advantage of life experience, they had the benefit of time. Sounds equitable, but they could always get the life experience whereas time was running out for me.

If I’d had to do it again, I’d have prepared for the ENS two minutes after saying ‘I do’.

Feminist Gloria Steinem said, ‘There is no such thing as integrating women equally into the economy as it exists…Not until the men are as equal inside the house as women are outside it.’ With those words ringing in their ears, women have trained their sons so that women can reap the benefits. So take advantage. There are a growing number of fathers who are brilliant at parenting. You see them everywhere on the weekends, confidently feeding their toddlers babycinos, riding their helmeted brood through sub urban streets and guiding their children’s reading material at the local library.

TAFE courses are still affordable. Some tertiary institutions have child care centres tailored to cater to the mature-aged student so you and your children can simultaneously encounter social and educational experiences. Do a university subject to see how you like it. You’ve got a couple of decades to play with. By the time you’re free you will have several degrees under your belt and a new career.

Take up bungee jumping, learn conversational French or the gentle art of flower arranging. Be a good role model for your children. They will thank you for it someday. Whatever you want to be when your children grow up, do whatever it takes to prepare for it so that middle age doesn’t find you wandering the streets with nothing better to do than to accost parents strolling innocently along with their children.

Children left in locked cars


I am, or was one of those hovering mothers. When my children were little I watched them every minute of the day. When they cried at night I would be in their rooms like a shot to check on them and when they were silent, I made sure that they were all right.

Actually, I didn’t check on them every minute of the day, it was every second minute. But hover though I did, I admit that between the ages of zero and five years when my children began school, I was lucky. Lucky that someone mentioned to me that when you put the bath on, it should be cold water first, then add hot water and keep the door firmly closed until they and you are in the bathroom together; lucky to have read that when stove top cooking, saucepan and frypan handles should be aimed at the wall;  lucky to have been looking out the kitchen window when my four year old was climbing a thirty foot tree in our back yard; and  lucky too, to have heard stories about children who drank bleach or antiseptic out of lemonade bottles.

Parents aren’t expected to know everything. There are books you can read and people who have been there before you and even then you still have to be lucky. I think that hovering has been given a bad name, I don’t apologise for it.  Parents can’t know everything, but I have to say that in some situations I have to wonder where common sense has gone. Where I live, it was, according to Dorothea Mackellar in 1904 a ‘sunburnt country’ and it still is. We had heat waves two weeks ago and we’re in one right now.  Two weeks ago 19 children were locked in their cars by their parents, mostly by their mothers who we are always assuming know better, 8 of them in a 43C heat, that’s 109 degrees Fahrenheit.  In hot weather it’s at least ten degrees (Celsius) hotter in the car. Paramedics say leaving a child in the car, even for a few minutes is like putting a gun to its head. To quote Homer Simpson – doh – it’s a no brainer but it’s happening again and 9 children were locked in their cars today (it’s 40 degrees).

If parents are feeling the heat then surely it makes sense that their children will feel it too, and being a fair sight more vulnerable they would be affected by it even more. But no matter how much is said or written about leaving them in cars, we can expect children to die every summer. I think a hefty jail sentence is the answer. Wake up mums.

Begin with a premise and a firm opinion


I’ve heard it said that when writing an opinion piece, it’s less confusing to its readers if the writer begins it with a premise and a firm opinion.  That’s good advice if you’re not me. Give me an issue and I can see the opinions coming at me from several different directions.  On any given day I can think of six conflicting reasons why birds choose to poop only on the freshly laundered clothes on my line, why women with curly hair straighten them and women with straight hair prefer perms. And one of these days I’ll explain in inconsistent detail why it is that Santa wears a flannel suit and a fake beard in the middle of summer.  My mother’s maxim is that a proper breakfast revs up your day (that’s bacon, eggs and cereal), but scientists tell us that less is more.   When I’m at home, I’m with the scientists, when I’m at mum’s I say that mother knows best.

When I saw a picture online of a pudgy Barbie doll and a heading that asked: ‘Should toy companies start making plus-sized Barbie dolls?’ my first thought was that it was a fine idea, time to give us dumplings a chance to shine.   It was Plus Size Modeling that wanted to know. They published a plus size Barbie photo on their website with triple chins. Plus Size Modeling caters to plus size women and unlike me, it has no trouble with a premise and a point of view: big is beautiful, and their gorgeous models of plus size women posing in flimsy lingerie or less proves it.

Plus Size Modeling’s readership gets a break from having to look at the impossibly thin and flawlessly beautiful women constantly on offer in the glossies that dominate the mainstream market.  But in typically me fashion I find doubts creeping in and wonder if images of these bigger models could be as airbrushed as their counterparts. I’m thinking that whatever our body shape, we warts and all readers just don’t get a look in.  I return to my original thought about Barbies and follow it up with a question:  What role would a plus sized Barbie play in an overweight child’s life? Would it give the child permission to over eat and the child’s parents permission to allow their children to be inactive? Or are plus sized Barbie dolls meant to prepare all girls for the future world of gymnasiums and on again off again diets? I find myself hopelessly bogged down when I try to untangle the various issues and my views on them.

Then again when I’ve untied all the knots, I find myself wondering what if none of us is around long enough to find out who’s right and who is wrong?  What’s the point of agonising about it? If only I could make up my mind about the end of the world. In my optimistic youth I scoffed at ‘the end of the world is nigh ’doomsayers. They were everywhere. Now that I have mutated into one and could do with the company I hardly hear from them. In my positive moments I cross my fingers and believe that humans have always found their way back from the brink and will again but those moments are becoming increasingly rare. As I’m writing this I notice that the birds are out in force this morning. I think I’ll go get the clothes off the line; I want to look my best, just in case.

Role Models


Not so long ago, my grown up son told his grandmother that she was his role model. At one time or another M had given one family member or another that look of admiration that spoke volumes about things said or done that had amazed him. It was gran’s turn to bask in the glow of his love. She was chuffed, but all she did in her understated way was to give him her gentle smile and say, ‘that’s nice, darling.’

Both she and my dad, who is no longer with us, lent M an independent ear when he felt the need for one; gave him sanctuary when he was running away from his troubles and told M that they had faith in his abilities. While his grandparents gave him uncritical love and unquestioning support, they hadn’t actually known they were being role models. It would have made them nervous if they had realised such a huge responsibility had been placed on their shoulders. M’s grandparents saw themselves as family centred people who did what came naturally. That meant offering their services where it was needed, willingly, quietly and without the razzamatazz expected of role models these days.  They would have left that issue to be fought over by footballers, singers and film stars.

A friend I was speaking to about it would have agreed with that assessment. She believes that family members can’t attain hero status in their own lifetime. We need to admire the prowess of today’s sports people, (or is it sports people who have the need for us to admire them?), and we need to take on the rose coloured patina that covers the legendary folk of the past. The stories of these larger than life people, she said, symbolised such attributes as courage, individuality and selflessness, qualities that we would wish our children to aspire to. If history debunks these people’s stories that’s still all right with my friend. They will be adults by the time they find their idols have feet of clay. She dismisses the thought of sports heroes disgracing themselves. It’s only a few that spoil it all for everybody. The important thing is children need heroes now and family members just can’t compete.

I thought that she missed the point.  M’s parents had been his first port of call. They were his first teachers, disciplinarians and friends. If he was going to learn about selflessness and courage it would be from his parents and the aunties, uncles and the grandparents who expanded his little world. His family are a constant in his life. At any given time of day or night, M knows he can count on his them to be there for him. There will not be any radical changes in their behaviour, nor will they disgrace themselves and let him down. Rather, M’s family provide him with enduring lessons about life, love and family. Lessons he has taken with him into adulthood.

M is free to admire people for their skills while not confusing them with the personal attributes, ambitions or flaws of strangers. He is a stronger adult for it, sure of himself and his place in the world and he and understands that neither footballers nor film stars know or care anything about him, and, despite constant media scrutiny into their personal lives, he does not know or need to know about them.

Fa la la la la


Deck the halls with boughs of holly,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.
Tis the season to be jolly,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.

The season to be jolly has come around again. Adults are moaning about it being a retailer’s Christmas again.  People who haven’t seen each other all year round gather around the festive table and remember – yet again – why it is they meet only once a year. And cynical adults talk disparagingly about Santa. Our children believe in Santa because they trust us, they say, why are we betraying that trust?

What’s the hurry, I say. What can it hurt to let them sit on Santa’s lap once a year and whisper their hopes and dreams into his ear? Surely it’s better than watching death and destruction on the evening news, or hate and hunger, racism and anti-Semitism, sexism and misogyny. It’s adults who have stuffed up their world.  They are not likely that to fix things before their children grow up.

Let’s let our children live a while in the hundred acre woods. It won’t be long before they find themselves on the other side and spending the rest of their lives trying to find a way back in.

Sing we joyous, all together,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.
Heedless of the wind and weather,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.

Pacifier, dummy, binky, soother


I watched an advertisement this morning selling a portable pacifier steriliser. It was small enough to fit in the palm of an adult’s hand. There was a hole in the middle where a clean pacifier sat waiting to be replaced with the offending one.  The container had sterilising liquid at the base.  I’m not sure how practical it will be because babies are forever dropping their pacifiers to the floor. You’d need half a dozen of those sterilisers.

A small container with sterilising liquid would be more practical and I seem to remember people doing that, way back when. You could keep two or three spares in them. But why bother? Mothers of my generation will tell you that the easiest way to clean a baby’s pacifier when you are not at home is to suck it clean and shove it back in your child’s mouth.’ Eeuw,’ I hear you say. How disgusting exchanging each other’s fluids and germs like that, not to mention what was picked up off the floor. But when you become a mother you get to do lots of eeuw type things like changing dirty nappies and cleaning up snot and vomit. l I must admit though that I couldn’t quite get myself to suck something that had dog hairs on it or grit. I’d look for a nearby tap to give the pacifier a quick rinse. But we live in a germy world and ourselves have consumed a fair few in our lifetime. Germs strengthen the baby’s immune system. I wasn’t as fussed about sterilising as some of my friends were.

Of course, once we all got around to our second child we were a lot more laid back.  And giving those pacifiers the personal touch is not nearly as disgusting as watching your child suck up cigarette butts or stuffing dog food in its mouth. Babies are at the experimental stage and absorbing taste, smell and sound. I’ve known children to take mud pies seriously. Babies are not fussy.  So, although wrapping children in cotton-wool isn’t advisable, parents have to be fussy for them. Keep medication and bleach and all of those inside chemicals out of their reach. The rule of thumb being a common sense one; ‘eeuw’ aside,  if it’s unsafe for you then it’s unsafe for your child.

A kiss on the hand may be quite continental


Gilbert Blythe called red headed Anne Shirley ‘carrots.’ She was offended and refused to talk to him or to take notice of Gilbert in any way. This of course defeated 11 year old Gilbert’s purpose. He wasn’t being malicious; Gilbert only wanted to attract Anne’s attention.  He got his wish in spades. Anne gave him a serve and cracked a slate over his head. Gilbert apologised but Anne refused to talk to him till the end of the second book. Anyone who understands the references will have read Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea. Thankfully the politically correct brigade weren’t around in 1908 to pounce on Gilbert. It took them a while but Anne and Gilbert worked things out for themselves; they became good friends.

Hunter Yelton wasn’t so lucky. The politically correct brigade were on his case the moment that it was reported that Hunter a now suspended six year old student at a school in Colorado kissed the subject of his affection on the hand. He wanted attention and it seems that like Gilbert, he got it. Unlike Anne, this little girl didn’t mind, but the review board or whoever makes these barmy decisions did mind.  A bunch of chardonnay sipping lefties decided to make an example of him and had Hunter suspended.

Hunter’s kiss ‘fits the district’s definition of sexual harassment ’they said, and Hunter will forever more have the occasion marked on his record. Hunter was quoted as asking his mother what ‘sex’ is. I don’t know what her response would have been, but I imagine that Hunter learned another new word that day – shame.  It’s the hysterics that call themselves adults and have charge of our young who should be ashamed. And the parents who entrust their children to these educators and decision makers should be horrified. It’s up to parents now to put a stop to this idiocy.

But Why?


‘But why?’ My children asked it all the time. ‘Why do I have to go to bed at 8 when my best friend gets to stay up till 9? Why can’t I watch television and then do my homework? Why?’

The easiest response of course is ‘because.’ We’ve all said it at one time or another. Children spend years honing their skills, pressing our buttons, driving us demented.  And, being the adult we get to win.

‘Because!’ damn it, ‘because I said so!’

This goes on until they reach their teens when the tables are turned. Our children realise that we’ve been bluffing. That we only have power over them on sufferance, that is, for as long as they let us. Then, ding ding, ding, the bells and whistles go off and the idea globe lights up. That’s when the plant food hits the fan. They don’t have to take notice and it’s too late for us to explain why they should take notice.

There are the terrible twos, the questioning fours and the rebellious teens to negotiate. We had better get it right from the word go. Take out time to explain to a questioning child what motivated your decision and that it isn’t arbitrary. Don’t expect it to take hold immediately or for the questioning to stop, but if you persist it becomes cumulative. And if you sometimes allow your child to win you over through negotiation or reason then you empower your child and possibly you will someday be allowed some influence post puberty.

J and the snake incident


‘Penis’, said my 2 year old grandson. That stopped me in my tracks. We were taking a one on one bonding stroll through the park. I was pointing out the birds and the bees to J and all the wonderful signs of renewed life that Spring brings. In the middle of all that he dropped the P bomb out of the blue. I stopped in my tracks. J has become quite practiced at pushing the envelope then shooting me that Mona Lisa smile that implies his guilt but dares me to rebuke such a cute child. It’s hard to keep a straight face, but I’m working on it.  J is a terrible two and I try to be ready for whatever he throws at me but he didn’t look as if he was trying it on this time round.

J’s world is a limited one; he could only have heard the word from his parents. J’s mum and dad don’t believe in calling a penis a ‘wee fella’ or a ‘hoo hoo’ or any of those cutsie terms that parents have been known to come up with to either disguise a private part or perhaps to avoid their child bringing the offensive term up in company; which of course is exactly what J did. His parents say that disguising offending limbs and covering them with euphemisms is a 19th Century construct.

If J had been five or six and picked the word up in the school playground where all misinformation comes from, then the pronouncement might have been combined with a sort of self-conscious bravado and a look in the eyes that Adam must have had after the snake incident.  As it is, the word was presented to J  as just another of many, meant to be absorbed and added to the rest of the collection which seems from day to day to increase at a phenomenal rate.

Sometimes, when I don’t immediately understand what he’s asking or telling me, J has been known to substitute one word for another. I think it’s because he has an older brother to act as role model and because he has parents who understand the difference between learning for its own sake and shielding an innocent child from a crass world. Their thought is that the more he is armed with knowledge the more he will be able to deal with this world on his own terms.

‘Penis’ my grandson had said.  I could see the mind turning over and processing the word and saving it to use in context one day. It’s obvious that he hasn’t quite got there yet but I’m sure that when he does he won’t be giggling.