Sunday, 24 February 2008

The Privilege of Breeding February 24

“Mum you can’t park here, it’s only for parents with babies,” said my youngest daughter in her patient voice. The one she uses to explain that I have my dress on inside out or I might be a little drunk.
“I don’t care, I’m making up for lost privilege,” I replied testily.
“Lost what?”
“The lost privilege of breeding, grab the shopping bags and lock your door.”
My local Foodtown has gone to the trouble of branding the 10 car parks closest to the door exclusively for use by parents with babies. It’s a fantastic idea especially for those working mums who dash in at 5.30 with overtired children recently retrieved from daycare and attempt to buy something resembling dinner.
I’ve been there, I know how they feel. Just as you finish one job you are about to start another, and it won’t end until dinner is cooked, babies are bathed and safely asleep. Approximately four hours to go and parking close is a great help.
But in my day we never had branded carparks. We had to park with the normal people, because in the 80s breeding was not a privilege. We didn’t even have those cute seats in the trollies and had to somehow fit the carseat in the trolley along with our 12 pack of Treasures and packets of mince.
Recently I’ve considered suing the government for that loss of privilege. I’d like to claim the 14 weeks paid paternal leave I never got for my four babies. The childcare subsidy which wasn’t available for my children, had there actually been childcare centres back then. The Working for Families tax subsidy which was non existent. I reckon it cost me $50,000 to choose to have a career and give birth to four children so where’s the back pay? Surely my babies are just as valid as today’s ones?
In 1986 when I had my first child there were only 52,823 of us breeding that year. And you didn’t’ really get much help especially if you insisted on being a working mum. Like many young women in the 80s I made the tragic mistake of believing I could combine the feminist dream of working full time and having children. I did it, but at a price thanks to Rogernomics, Ruthanasia and a Labour government more interested in free markets than free children. And it was very lonely. At 24 I was regarded as a bit eccentric having a baby, I had no friends who were pregnant, no one at work was pregnant, and there were no exceptions made for pregnancy in the newsroom. You still worked the late shift and if you went over your 10 days sick leave allowance because your other baby was in hospital with pneumonia your pay was docked.
It’s hard to believe employers could be so harsh when today they are falling over themselves to let mothers work part time, from home, up a tree if they want to all at full pay because there just aren’t enough workers out there to fill the jobs.
So, is it any wonder we are experiencing a baby boom not seen since 1963? Just over 64,000 babies were born last year to parents who planned their pregnancies knowing that they will receive everything a privileged couple should to help them add their precious bundle to our population.
But according to a shocked media obviously incapable of economic analysis, the baby boom can be explained by celebrities. Apparently women are more than happy to put themselves through nine months of strenuous baby growing, not drinking alcohol and limiting what they eat to look like Angelina Jolie and Heidi Klum. I don’t think so, Kiwi women just aren’t that thick. They know that Angelina and Heidi have an army of trainers, dieticians, beauty therapists and nannies ensuring they look fantastic during and two days after their pregnancy. But what pregnant celebrities have done is make it okay to walk around with your gorgeous naked belly exposing itself in a bikini or above low waist jeans. Gone are the days when we were reduced to hiding our bump under ridiculous gathered frocks and sewing wedges of elasticized material into the front of our jeans to make room.
There has never been a better time to have a baby, and it’s almost worth having another one just to make the most of all that privilege and the Foodtown carparks.

Illustration by Anthony Ellison

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Sorry February 17

Some people are a long time coming to the art of saying sorry. Volunteering an admission of guilt just seems wrong when you will most likely be able to argue your way out of it. “I only did that because you backed me into a corner” is a good one. “You just can’t accept the fact that I’m right” is another and “Get over it” a very useful statement to cover most situations.
I don’t think I used the word “sorry” once before the age of 40 and I still lapse back occasionally into the belief that people should accept me as I am and respect my right to be a pain in the arse on occasion. I am who I am, live and let live, that sort of thing. But in recent years I’ve found the wonderful panacea that saying sorry can be. Instead of days and sometimes weeks of stewing over a disagreement you just wake up the next morning pick up the phone and say you’re sorry. Problem disappears. Now I understand the whole confessional thing with the Catholics where you confess, say some Hail Mary’s and walk out feeling much lighter.
But saying sorry is more than just letting those two syllables escape from your mouth. It is widely regarded that a successful apology must have three elements. Regret for your actions, taking responsibility for them and being willing to remedy the situation by not doing it again.
Which is where Kevin Rudd and I part company. I’m very glad that seven years after I witnessed the march across the Sydney Harbour Bridge demanding an apology for the treatment of Aboriginals someone has finally got around to it.
But making it all about the lost generation is very convenient. It points the finger at a bunch of British influenced government officials who took Aboriginal children away from their families. Not good, definitely needs an apology but what about the rest of the past 200 years of deep racism, certain apartheid and wilful neglect shown by Australians towards these people?
Who is going to apologise for that situation and who is going to take responsibility and remedy the fact that every day in every way, white Australians, as they have done for the past two centuries, prefer their Aboriginals to be neither be seen nor heard.
I lived in Australia for 18 months which was about all I could stand. There were several reasons I came running home but one of the main concerns I had was their treatment of Aboriginals. In the white middle class circles I mixed in you just didn’t talk about it. At least in New Zealand when Tame Iti goes running around the bush with some guns most households would sit down over dinner and have an energetic discussion. The dialogue would happen because as New Zealanders we are engaged with its people. We care. Which is not to say we aren’t racist also, a mere 10 minutes with an ear to talkback will tell you that. But we have the passion to discuss and debate the issues which have the power to tear us apart. In Australia you sit down at a dinner and utter the words “so how about those Aboriginals?” and the room goes deathly silent. With that one topic you have stormed into a cultural territory which was fenced off years ago. They appear numb and in denial about the apartheid which is taking place in their very own land. They seem powerless, blinkered and unable to utter one word about the situation either through fear it would be the wrong word or a lack of information on which to make an informed comment. The most I ever got any Australian to say about the situation was that what was done is done. And it is no wonder that every time Germaine Greer puts pen to paper expressing an educated understanding of Aboriginal culture and their treatment by the Australian Government in the British media she is widely discredited by her home country’s media.
And if you do travel out in the desert you are likely to meet, as my husband did just a few months ago, a whole tribe of displaced Aboriginals who were living in a settlement while they waited for their homeland Maralinga to be cleaned up after the British tested atom bombs on their land in the 60s. The Australian Government has done some work, and forked out some money, but there is still a long way to go. Sorry.

Illustration by Anthony Ellison

Sunday, 10 February 2008

The Letterbox February 10

It all started when my mother-in-law turned up on the doorstep out of breath and a little worse for wear.
“I was going to drop these off in the letterbox but there doesn’t appear to be any bottom in it,” she announced taking long lung filling gasps of air every three words.
It’s quite an effort to get to our front door involving a steep path, steps and a fair bit of fauna and flora clearing.
A cup of coffee and a sit down saw to my mother-in-law, but alas the letterbox on closer inspection did indeed have no bottom. Suddenly the mail which kept appearing in our garage, five metres to the right of the letterbox, delicately slipped under the locked door made sense. We had simply thought our mailman had gone a little odd and preferred the slot under the door than the slot in the box. We also understood why we frequently had to hunt in our overgrown garden looking for our mail.
Our letterbox was old when we moved in. It was possibly constructed at the same time as the garage which is pre-war. And like the garage which is barely standing, we just didn’t want to see that our letterbox was past it. We were convinced it was made from heart Kauri and so old and iconic we considered registering it as a historic place.
My mother-in-law offered to buy my husband a new one for his birthday but he couldn’t wait that long. Instead he instructed me to have a look on Trade Me, and a week later our marriage was severely strained. Who knew that men and women could think so differently about a letterbox?
“Not white, not metal, slot needs to be wider, too big, honestly how do you thank that is going to fit on our post?” he barked as I showed him my Trade Me selection of iconic and slightly weathered Kiwi letterboxes.
“Put in a search for ‘letterbox wooden’” he instructed (again) before marching off to address some literary crisis on
Unused to being instructed, let alone twice in one morning I went for a long walk to consider my options. Would I tear his heart out now or give him another 24 hours? As I walked I felt the same way I did when I got pregnant. Overnight you notice every pram, every baby, every other pregnant woman and that whole aisle in the supermarket with nappies in it where the day before they simply didn’t register on the radar. I stopped and admired every single letterbox, from the architect designed cedar and metal creations currently in vogue for Grey Lynn renovators, to various versions of the nice white metal one with room for four bottles of milk and a carrier I remembered from my childhood to the quirky artistic creations ranging from one painted to look like a TV and another involving pukekos and a great deal of ceramics. In Grey Lynn when people aren’t appearing on or making television, they express themselves with artistic letterboxes.
I returned home more confused than ever and stroked my broken letterbox. I’d never had to replace a letterbox before and you certainly don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. Perhaps I could patch it, but where would I find the right grade and age of heart Kauri to match?
“I need to talk to you about the letterbox,” I said to my husband in the voice I use for getting my own way. “You’re being bossy and unreasonable and I really want one of those white metal ones from my childhood.”
“I was not bossy,” he retorted. “I just thought you’d appreciate my input.”
“Next you’ll be blaming the full moon and the hot summer,” I snarled, instantly regretting it.
“Right, I can see there’s only one way to sort this, get in the car we’re going to Mitre 10,” he instructed (again).
The good news is that we now have another letterbox, even though we left a trail of helpful Mitre 10 staff in our wake as they all tried to help the war of the worlds taking place in the letterbox aisle, before sensibly retreating to the safety of the lawnmowers.
It’s a wooden version of the white one and if you squint your eyes you could almost call it iconic.
“Happy now?” he grumped, content only that he got to choose the number to put on it, which is quite frankly gaudy.

Illustration by Anthony Ellison

Sunday, 3 February 2008

"Tupperware" February 3

Tupperware has always made me feel inadequate. It is the Scientology of kitchenware with it’s insistence on “burping” the lid, keeping matching sets in order with colour coding, stacking neatly in pantries and doing things with it which are just plain weird.
Does anyone really defrost meat in that plastic meat defroster, whip cream in that shaker thing, keep lettuces in that container with the spike which anal probes your lettuce and store half an onion in something which hangs from your fridge shelf?
I’ve only been to one Tupperware party in my life which scared me so thoroughly that the cream shaker I bought remained on my shelf for years unused and was regarded with deep suspicion every time I walked past it. I felt that if I succumbed and used it just once, I too would be hosting parties to sell bits of plastic which boss you around with Tom Cruise determination.
Women who have Tupperware also get quite shitty if you don’t give it back. Over the years they have given me baking or various left overs in Tupperware but never have they handed over the morsels without first saying: “I need the Tupperware back,” with a hard look I interpreted as meaning the Tupperware equivalent of L.J. Hubbard would impregnate them if they didn’t
Then the next time she’s at your house she rifles panic stricken through your cupboards looking for it while you attempt to stifle the vivid memory you have of throwing it in the bin, all the better to rid your house of it’s scary energy.
Recently, however, I’m seeing a new side to Tupperware. The cool vintage side. All those wonderful pastel colours which housewives in the early 60s bought en masse in the days when they also made frosted layer cakes and responded to advertising slogans which said: “calories, shmalories – as long as it’s fresh!” or “I can’t say I do, I don’t have my Tupperware.”
I’ve been seeing a lot of old Tupperware lately in Op Shops where they arrive in sad cardboard boxes each one still hanging onto their masking tape handwritten labels announcing that “cornflour” and “icing sugar” were once resident. I was immediately attracted to them because I knew they had come from a well ordered, old fashioned, good housewife type of kitchen, they have the nice old Tupperware logo on them and they are all in remarkably good nick because as we all know Tupperware lasts a lifetime.
Which is when I realised that the box of it I just bought for $5 probably came from a woman who recently died. All those Tupperware housewives who went to those parties in the 60s are now happily making angel cakes in heaven and Op Shops are overflowing with the stuff. Suddenly you can see the dusky pinks, sky blues and sea greens neatly stacked in her old cupboards housing baking ingredients which were regularly called upon to whip up a banana cake for the bowls tournament. You can see all the white lids happily burped sealing in the freshness and standing tall like good Tupperware living up to the slogan: “Stack neatly, save space!” I don’t mind using a dead housewife’s Tupperware because I see it as giving it a good home and out of respect I leave the masking tape labels with their former owner’s shaky old handwriting on them to preserve their former identity on my shelves. Which means I often find salt lurking in the one labelled cornflour but needs must.
So my kitchen is slowly filling up with the stuff which brings about a new problem. Where are you supposed to store it when not in use and how do you make sure you don’t lose the lids? Perhaps that’s what you learned if you hung out at Tupperware parties. I’ll never know.
What I do know is that slowly I’m becoming a born again Tupperware woman. I admired someone’s Pick a Deli container the other day which she was cleverly using to house tinned beetroot in its brine. No mess, can of beetroot lasts forever. I actually had the thought: “what a brilliant idea!” And when my daughter’s boyfriend’s mother sent some baking in a nice beige bit of Tupperware I made the effort not to lose the lid so that I could return it, such is my newfound respect.
I’m on the lookout for a beetroot storer and while I’m at it those ice-block makers, a cold cut keeper and one of those blue and red shape sorters for kids.