Right from birth, Karen had never understood her creative, dreamy daughter, Matilda. A marine biologist, her entire world was classified into the natural order of things while Matilda didn’t fit into any category, and she couldn’t get a diagnosis!
“Matilda!” she screamed after stepping on a wet painting.
Battling long covid, now more than ever she questioned:“Why couldn’t I have a normal child?”
Karen fell into her chair, immediately leaping to her feet. The neck of Matilda’s violin had snapped like a dead man hanging from a noose, and Karen had become “The Scream”.
I was delighted to see this week’s prompt as I play the violin, although I stop well short of calling myself a violinist these days. Practice had dropped off before my lessons stopped during covid, but I’ve been picking it up a bit again lately and am practicing Peter Allen’s hit: “I Still Call Australia Home”. My mother used to play it on the piano and I’m wanting to play it with her and I really do love the words of the song.
When I was growing up, Mum would occasionally lose patience with the eccentricity of the rest of us and ask: “Why can’t this family be normal?” Mum played things pretty much by the book but the rest of us didn’t even know where to find it. As it turned out, in my mid-20’s I was diagnosed with hydrocephalus and had a shunt inserted to sort things out. Being creative, I wasn’t exactly “fixed” but I was a new improved version of myself and at least I wasn’t falling over all the time.
It wouldn’t surprise me if my husband had told me not to leave my violin on a chair in case someone sat on it; and I’m probably lucky my violin’s still in one piece.
“Mummy, why do Charlie and I look the same on the outside, but are so different on the inside? You said we’re identical twins?!”
The twins were chalk and cheese. Charlotte was always staring out the window at goodness knows what…birds, the clouds, maybe she could even see something in the seemingly invisible air. Captivated by the old oil lamps, she found meaning in their flickering flames. Bridget loved to run. Charlotte’s side of the bedroom was pink with her books neatly filed in rainbow order. Bridget’s was a cyclone.
Sophie couldn’t offer any explanation and simply said: “Ask God.”
Yesterday, we welcomed home the new baby. Well, baby doll to be precise. She’s not real which is fairly evident from the photos. However, at the same time, she’s not your standard doll either. She’s what’s known as a baby simulation doll and she is manufactured by RealCare Baby. My daughter is studying Child Studies at school and the “babies” were sent home for two days as an assignment. The dolls come with a pseudo bottle, two nappies and the student wears a wristband to log on every time they care for the baby. The doll also also has computer technology onboard which reports back to base how the baby was treated, especially if the baby was dropped or shaken and the baby will emit loud cries if the head isn’t supported properly. A friend of mine told me she accidentally dropped her daughter’s baby doll a few years ago, and her daughter failed. So, evidently, the are a few pitfalls and I don’t want to be the weakest link.
Naturally, I was fairly curious. I was also rather excited about the whole project, but was also wondering whether this thing was going to keep us awake all night. After all, newborns are synonymous with sleepless nights. I remember them well. I’ve also seen these dolls on TV before, as they’ve been used fairly extensively in sex education classes to prevent teenage pregnancies. The theory goes that if the teens know how difficult a baby can be, they’ll be more careful. However, research suggests that the students who had the dolls were actually more likely to experience a teen pregnancy.
Although the baby would only be staying for a few days, she still needed a name. Miss decided to call her McKinley. I thought she’d told me the doll was Indigenous American and decided to give her a name of my own…Tallulah, which comes from the Choctaw people and means leaping water. My cousins also have a restaurant in Newcastle called Tallulah. However, as it turned out, Tallulah was African-American. However, I only found that out after she’d gone.
Anyway, enough about names. Let’s get on with the doll. Whoops! I mean, baby.
The thing that’s struck me most personally, is how she latches onto your heartstrings. She feels so incredibly real, and yet not (if that makes any sense). Unlike a standard doll made of hollow plastic, Tallulah is weighted and feels surprisingly heavy. Indeed, she weighs around 3 kilos or 6.5 – 7 pounds, which is about the average weight of a new born baby. So, there was a lot of familiarity, and I really felt something rekindle within, which surprised me.
While I’m not going to comment on how Miss went with her assignment, I did get the opportunity to see how a few others responded to Tallulah, and see that she also elicited an emotional response from them both at the local shops with me and also when she made a guest appearance during my Zoom Bible study group.
Starting with the local shops, I had to take Tallulah down to the dance studio to pick up Miss. This was a bit of an exercise and normally, a baby would travel in a capsule, but Tallulah didn’t come with one. So, I just strapped her into the car seat and hoped she didn’t attract attention. To compound matters, I couldn’t get a park out the front and I couldn’t leave Tallulah in the car in case she woke up and needed attention. Consequently, as a 50 something woman, I was left walking down the street carrying a baby doll.
It was very interesting to see how people responded to Tallulah. I could see drivers being extra careful when when I was walking across the pedestrian crossing. They definitely registered “baby” and altered their demeanor. After all, they wouldn’t be expecting me to be carrying a doll around.
Then, I had a further opportunity to gauge the reactions of others during my zoom Bible study tonight. The doll was supposed to be turned off while Miss was at dance. However, Tallulah woke up screaming with 15 minutes to go. I abandoned Zoom and ditched my headphones racing to Miss’s room as though Tallulah’s life depended upon me. I managed to find everything I needed to settle her down again except the logging on device. So, I returned to my zoom with a screaming baby the group knew nothing about. The instant they saw her, there was an immediate emotional response, and I even sensed a touch of joy. They didn’t know what was going on at the time, and Tallulah looked real enough, and they wouldn’t have been expecting a fake baby who was my daughter’s homework. They were just humans reacting to what they thought was a real baby.
So, it seems I wasn’t the only one who had an emotional response to Tallulah, and it’s interesting to consider that this baby simulator can stimulate these very emotional (and probably innate) responses when it’s just a piece of plastic. I don’t consider myself particularly into babies and young children and tend to prefer older children. So, the fact this doll (let’s call her by her name – Tallulah) drew me in, says a lot although I wouldn’t say that I love Tallulah. Also, as far as babies go, she was pretty easy going.
This raises an interesting point. If these dolls establish an emotional connection with their carers, are they really an effective deterrent when it comes to teen pregnancies? Could they in fact be encouraging them to want their own real baby instead? On the other hand, they do get a feel for how time consuming a baby can be and unlike Tallulah, they can’t just be switched off while they’re at school or in a dance class.
Anyway, I had a bit of fun being grandma and taking a few photos. While most of our kids’ toys are stored away in our roof, I did manage to find a sheepskin teddy bear which our elderly neighbours gave her. I also found a sheepskin a school friend had given me. She’d used it for her daughters and we used it when Mister was born. Indeed, I’m going to check whether my friend’s daughter has had a baby yet. She might be wanting it back.
While I’ve mainly focused on the upside of having the doll here, I have a few concerns. Firstly, I’m not supportive of the one student having sole responsibility for the doll/baby and there should be capacity for family members to help. After all, we keep saying it takes a village to raise a child, but then putting all responsibility back onto the mother and there are also some quarters who also complain about the declining birth rate. In many ways, it’s good experience for all of us to have experience of a screaming doll-baby who won’t stop crying before we have our own so we have realistic expectations of parenthood. I don’t know whether there is a debriefing process in place when students return the dolls/babies. However, failing could hit a some people fairly hard and while they might be wanting to prevent teen pregnancies, the aim is not to turn young people off having children altogether. It would have been hard for probably all of us as new parents to have been scrutinised like these students caring for our own children We all made mistakes. All had times we struggled to cope. Yet, an important aspect of this program which goes a bit more under the radar is the importance of not shaking your baby and it does raise awareness of these dangers to young people. So, these dolls are not just about sex education, but also give some insights into how to care well for your baby and what will be involved.
Have you or your family had any experience of baby simulation dolls? I’d be interested to hear from you!
Courage isn’t something you usually associate with ballerinas. The usual gamut of adjectives includes: “beautiful”, “gracious”, “exquisite”, “the swan”. Yet, there’s also that sense of speechless awe. How could they possibly move like that?
However, there’s a whole other set of words which go on behind the scenes. These include: grit, sheer bloody-minded determination, perseverance, incredible organisation and impeccably presentation. I also remember a funny comment… ballerinas sweat. Indeed, they might even smell, which I still find rather hard to believe.
Of course, this is all a world away from the jewellery box ballerina I was entranced with as a little girl. I carefully turned the silver winder at the back and opened the lid. Hey presto! There she was twirling around to Love Story. I was bedazzled. In my case, my admiration didn’t perform some kind of magic and turn a clumsy elephant into a ballerina. However, I was recently reading through my old diary, and it seems a pair of dress-up ballet slippers I bought for Miss when she was three, sowed the seed of her lifelong dream.
Anyway, the reason I’m back here posting yet another photo of Miss in her ballet tutu, is that I wanted to acknowledge the latest. Last Thursday, Miss competed in the solos at the Sydney Eisteddfod for the first time. While it mightn’t be a huge deal, it’s the biggest and most prestigious eisteddfod in NSW, and an intimidating juggernaut. So, it’s a good step forward. Moreover, like everything else, the extended covid lockdowns we’ve had impacted on the Eisteddfod making this significant step all the more daunting not just for her but also for us. We’ve been living in our home bubble for so long, it’s almost too comfortable. Added to that, we live about 1-2 hours drive away depending on the traffic. So, it’s hardly next door, and it was in an unfamiliar part of Sydney. This added quite an extra layer of stress, although we had a good run and phew! There was parking on site.
Yet, what I hadn’t anticipated was that the most stressful moment of the competition -and it didn’t even involve our daughter! Indeed, it was a complete stranger. As this young woman was dancing, the satin ribbon on her pointe shoe came undone and started flapping around her ankle like an evil serpent threatening to strike.
Being the consummate professional (albeit only 16 years old), this young woman kept smiling and kept going and going. I was amazed! The entire time my eyes were glued to her and my heart was in my stomach. I was so worried she was going to trip and have a really nasty accident. It was clear everyone around me was feeling it as well. I know dance mums get a bad wrap, but there was so much love and compassion for that young woman. However, she didn’t fall, and kept working her way through her routine spinning and leaping across the stage with this infuriating ribbon dangling from her ankle. Geoff thought she was aware of where the ribbon was, but it was subtle. I congratulated her when I saw her afterwards, because I figured getting through that made her a true champion.
Meanwhile, our daughter was backstage and she had her own crisis. She suddenly heard her music playing and thought she’d missed her cue to go on. The thing is, that when you’re in a studio, the pieces of music for your dances are yours alone. It’s as good as having your name plastered on the front. You own it, and hearing that music is always your cue to go on. However, at the Sydney Eisteddfod, there were something like 60 dancers competing just in the ballet solo section alone, and quite a few dancers were using the same piece of music. So, your music wasn’t your music anymore.
I can just imagine her dealing with all of that backstage when she’s already feeling it. Hearing her music at the wrong time must’ve hit her like an electric shock. However, to be fair, while we had the big board in the auditorium clearly showing which number was next, I don’t think they had that backstage. I just saw a few people hovering with clip boards near the door, and to compound the confusion, audience was going in and out.
No doubt there were endless other overcomings throughout the day, and although they might not rate a mention on the adjudicator’s sheet, are possibly even more noteworthy.
As it turned out, Miss didn’t place in the competition, but she scored well and with a lot of these things, you usually clock the first one up to experience.
However, I would like to congratulate her and everybody else who enters into these competitions for putting themselves through all the stress and rigmarole and actually entering the arena.
Indeed, I like to pass on this encouraging quote from —Theodore Roosevelt Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910:
“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”
Have you or your family been involved in dance or something similar and gone through competitions and eisteddfods? Do you have any stories to share? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.
Frankly, parenting can take you down some wild and random roads, and I never quite know where I’m going to end up. Or, what death-defying challenge I’m going to be facing next. How I’m going to be stretched right out of my comfort zone. Stretched, and stretched and stretched until breaking point feels like blessed relief.
Just as a bit of background, I’ll share that when our son was in kindergarten aged five, a friend and I cottoned on that what you really want as a parent, is an average kid. After all, academically the school system caters best for a child of average intelligence, and you don’t need to be Einstein to realize that if your progeny has any kind of talent, you’ll not only be driving from here to Timbuctoo, you’ll also need a second or third job to pay for it.
However, at the same time both my friend and I couldn’t resist booking our kids into enriching after-school activities, and we paid the price. Her son went on to excel in soccer, and she ended up driving out to the farthest reaches of the state, and almost into the outback. Meanwhile, we’ve driven to the ends of the earth for dance, sailing, and scouts. I have to be honest and say that in some ways being locked down for a few years gave us blessed relief. We could actually stay home. Yet, at the same time, we missed watching them, being part of these communities ourselves, and seeing our friends there as well. It hasn’t all been a one way street.
Anyway, this brings me to the actual good news, and that was that our daughter was accepted into the Youth in the Performing Arts Concerts (YIPA) held locally. It’s held annually for young people aged 13 to 21 years. Being selected was a significant achievement, and an indication that she’s climbed a few extra rungs up the ladder. Wow! Where the ladder is heading at this stage, we don’t know. However, progress is progress.
However, the downside of these performances is all the work which goes on behind the scenes. Today, I spent the afternoon dashing around like a maniac chasing last minute paraphernalia she required, but we actually got her there, on time, in one piece, and she performed to perfection. We were so proud of her, but I’ve got to be honest and say I was just relieved it went without a hitch, especially given how she incorporates the rose into her incredible tricks. It always goes without a hitch. However, since I can barely walk with a mug of tea without spilling it, my own anxiety an run wild. Indeed, I spent most of this performance fixated on that rose and praying nothing would go wrong. Dance, is after all, a nerve-wracking business.
Yes! It all went brilliantly!
Anyway, last night’s performance was breath-taking. We very proud of her…and relieved. I am now looking forward to watching her performance again on the video in the comfort of our lounge. Phew! Pure joy!
Does this trigger any memories for you? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.
PS Here’s a flash back to her first YIPA audition 2019. Aged 13.
Don’t know whether it’s Mother’s Day in your neck of the woods, but it has been here and I have a large bunch of flowers on the kitchen bench, and we had various delicious snacks, German Bee Sting Cake and white chocolate rocky road. We had a low key Mother’s Day, because I slept through half of it, and my parents are keeping a low profile still avoiding covid, although we did have some lengthy conversations on the phone. Of course, it’s not the same, but hopefully we’ll get down there soon.
I had a bit of a Mother’s Day tribute in my previous post.
Well, I have to tell you it’s getting chilly around here now. The weather isn’t always the best judge of the seasons around here, but the end of daylight savings is usually the death knell to Summer. Just to put you in the picture, the weather is expected to range from 11-18 degrees Celsius today. That’s cold. Anything below ten is FREEZING!!
This weekend, Geoff and I drove over to Hardys Bay to watch the sunset. As you can see, it’s a truly magnificent spot. While we love and appreciate our own beach, it’s always good to mix it us and this little patch is emerging as a really special place for us. It is so incredibly tranquil there. I don’t know whether that’s a function of it being on still water rather than the surf, but I can easily lose track of hours sitting there watching and photographing the sunset talking with Geoff. Indeed, it felt totally timeless. Indeed, I’d have to say we’d finally managed to relax into human beings instead of human doings (or in my case it’s often a “gunna do”.) We went over there yesterday and went on quite a long walk (at least for me), and we went back today to drive further round to Pretty Beach but we loved Hardys Bay so much we headed back and parked ourselves at the end of the jetty feasting on spiced nuts. The sunset seemed to last forever and more and more colour somehow managed to leak out. I was a very happy snapper.
I’ve been thinking a lot about my future lately. It’s a future I didn’t think I’d have a few years ago, and I didn’t really give a lot of thought to going back to work because time was short and my family mattered most, and my writing and research interests were intellectually stimulating and probably even more so than most jobs. My kids have also needed me around, but that didn’t prevent me from working part-time. However, then covid hit and my health situation has meant I’ve spent much of the last 2.5 years in isolation and trying to stay alive on that front has been very draining too. It’s been a war zone for vulnerable people like myself, especially when you’re living with family who are out and about and could bring it home. However, the extra income would be good and I’m think work might give me a bit more grounding and direction. I’ve been feeling a bit lost lately. Then again, there have been so many changes, it’s not surprising. Our daughter s now halfway through her second last year at school, and I’m also wondering if I should just wait until she’s done. She’s got her school work, heavy dance commitments and working at McDonalds. I could continue on with my WWI research and get that polished off in the meantime. I’m going to pray about it. That’s not another way of saying I’m going to sit on the fence, procrastinate or do nothing. I don’t really have strong views either way. Have you had to go through this process and how did you go about it?
Well, I think I might head off.
How has your week been? I hope you’ve had a good one.
“The heart of a mother is a deep abyss at the bottom of which you will always find forgiveness.”
Honore de Balzac
“Having kids — the responsibility of rearing good, kind, ethical, responsible human beings — is the biggest job anyone can embark on.”
“All that I am, or ever hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.”
“We are born of love; Love is our mother.”
“When you look into your mother’s eyes, you know that is the purest love you can find.”
“Women, who struggle and suffer pain to ensure the continuation of the human race, make much tougher and more courageous soldiers than all those big-mouthed freedom-fighting heroes put together.” ― Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl
Just wanted to honour Mother’s Day today with some photos of me with my Mum, my grandmothers and with our kids. Relationships tend to be much more complex than Hallmark sentiments, and our relationships with our mother’s are often fraught and go through the wringer….as do our relationships with our children. A mother gives birth to us, but this may not be the person who raises us and we know to be mother. There are also so many mothers who have lost their babies, and today brings an unfathomable and often very private grief. Many have lost their mums, and many way too soon before they had a chance to grow up. I’m sorry. I had friends who passed away last year, and left their kids behind, which goes against every instinct you’ve got as a mum. However, they had no say in that. It is what it is. Isn’t that the phrase we apply to unfathomable, inexplicable pain?!!
For me, I’ll be grateful for the good today. I thank my mother for being my Mum, and I’m sorry and regret I didn’t always know or understand how much she loved me, or that she understood me better than I ever gave her credit for. However, I am lucky that it’s not too late, and I can’t help wondering whether there is even that opportunity to make amends, and that they might just hear us from heaven. We don’t know.
Lastly, let Holocaust survivor, Eddie Jaku, have the last words. I read his book: The Happiest Man On Earth last week:
“I try to teach this to every young person I meet. Your mother does everything for you. Let you know you appreciate her, let her know that you love her. Why argue with the people you love? Go out on the street, stop a person littering and argue with them. There are a million better people to argue with than your mum.”
How are you? I hope you’ve had a great week, and if I’d remembered to clock on yesterday I’d be able to offer you some Apple Slice or Banana Cake. However, they’re all gone now. So, life’s pretty tough. You’re stuck with the Tim Tams.
I’m really not too sure what happened last week. There was a serious incident at my daughter’s school, and that took over the rest of the week, and I was left scrambling to return to some kind of equilibrium. Fortunately, I seem to be there now, and hope to get out for a good solid walk this afternoon, because I’ve been falling behind on that front with all the rain.
Fortunately, a friend had recommended reading Eddie Jaku’s: The Happiest Man On Earth. It was just what the wellbeing doctor would’ve ordered because his fundamental message is that even in the darkest of places, there is always hope, and even human kindness. BTW I should’ve mentioned that Eddie was a German Jew who was on the run from the Nazi’s during WWI and ended up in Auschwitz. Ironically, he came across a close friend there, and this friendship proved critical in his survival. It’s a really important read, with so many incredible pearls. After all, the best pearls are pieces of wisdom, not jewels.
Meanwhile, I finished reading Mark Lamprell’s novel: The Secret Wife and launched into a bit more reading about women and work in the 1960’s. I ended up reading through articles from the Australian Women’s Weekly, which were really interesting and I’m slowly posting a few of them. By the way, I’d also like to point out that these changes don’t just relate to women but our whole society, and are ongoing. It’s been good for me to see what we are living through now, and me personally through the lens of where we’ve been. There’s this one: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2022/05/01/working-women-in-1960s-an-insight/
I also followed up a dinner that was held in Sydney in 1961 for Women At the Top. My grandmother was one of the women who attended, but I didn’t know much more about it. Fortunately, we now have the world wide web at our fingertips, and I was able to fish out a really challenging story about it. The journalist was quite antagonistic towards the event and who these women at the top might be. It was definitely a case of trying to cut the tall poppies down. Here’s that link: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2022/05/02/australias-women-at-the-top-1961/
By the way, I hadn’t really thought about this before, but isn’t Queen Elizabeth the most high profile working mother in the world?!! Interesting.
Well, I’d better head off now. Hope you’ve had a good week.
Breastfeeding their first-born son in a derelict squat, Maria thought of Our Lady giving birth to baby Jesus in a stable. Things were grim, but not without hope. If love was enough, baby Thomas could soar to the moon and back. Be invincible.
Then, the crucifying doubts set in.
“Who am I kiddin’? If I can’t save meself, what hope does me baby have?”
She wrapped him up in her only blanket, and kissed him goodbye.
“There’s no greater love, than heart-wrenching sacrifice,” they said.
Taking the red-eye from Perth, Bridget had no illusions about why she was returning to Sydney. It wasn’t love. She’d never forgiven her mother for forcing her to give up her own precious daughter at birth. However, the neighbour had called. Forgetting was one thing, but the tanned, English toy boy surfer was quite another. Although Bridget hadn’t been to Mass in years, she could never condemn Mother to hell. St Margaret’s Home for Unwed Mothers was now an Aged Care Facility, and they had a bed. It was pure practicality, never revenge. Bridget had become her mother’s daughter.
99 words PHOTO PROMPT – unknown submission.
As often happens, this story deviated quite a way from where I started out. I was actually born at St Margaret’s Private Hospital, Darlinghurst, Sydney which was actually at the centre of a social/cultural drive for unmarried women to give up their babies for adoption. Some of these adoptions were more forced than others, but there was a lot of shame. There was also a lack of understanding about the bond between mother and child, and these women were supposed to just go home and forget. Get on with their lives. I also found out they didn’t give caesareans because they didn’t want to leave any scars. No proof.
Meanwhile, the mother has advanced dementia/Alzheimers. I remember hearing a joke about being nice to your kids because they choose your nursing home. There’s a lot of truth in that, which played out in this story.
I am considering turning this into a longer story. Along the way, I had the daughter paying for a cleaner and gardener to look after her mother’s physical needs, but not having a personal relationship, and thinking about the reasons for this, led me onto this path, which seemed to come together well.
What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear from you.