Category Archives: Family matters

A kind of woman

Yesterday morning, I watched about 30 seconds of television that rankled so much I’ve hardly stopped thinking about it.  It struck a chord particularly as it came not long after I’d read this great post about breastfeeding in public on the excellent blog Spilt Milk. I’d been thinking that surely it couldn’t be true that people were still so bothered by seeing women breastfeeding while out and about with their babies. That must be happening in Some Other Country.

Girl, oh girl, did I get a rude awakening. I flicked on the telly while taking out a dvd the kids had been watching and saw Mia Freedman on a chat show (it was the weekend version of Today). She was talking about breastfeeding in public (for more, see here), so I stopped for a moment. The male host, a fellow with a vaguely familiar face called Cameron Williams, interjected at one point, with something along the lines of “Yes, but it’s better to be discreet, a woman should cover herself with a shawl or something.” This is when I felt a sort of nervous twitch start up. I thought I saw Freedman’s smile tighten just a little as she tried to explain how hard it can be when you have a wriggling baby and you are dealing with the various difficulties of breastfeeding, to worry about covering yourself up. The male host was not to be deterred by such justifications. “Yes, but there’s a kind of woman who approaches it like she’s going into combat…” At this point I started hyperventilating. My husband, who’d been quietly reading the newspaper, said “Oh, my God. Any sentence that starts off like that cannot end well. Turn it off.” I promptly followed his advice, fearing that further exposure to such b******t could induce a grand mal seizure (and I’m not even epileptic).

For the past day I’ve had that phrase echo in my head: “a kind of woman”. I still don’t know how to express in words the outrage, the deep sense of personal offence that I feel. I remember the times, not long ago, when I breastfed my babies while out at a restaurant, a cafe, a shopping centre, a park. I remember battling with my own prudery and lack of confidence, telling myself to get over it and that no-one minded or even noticed if I gave my baby a feed there and then when he wanted and needed it. I probably did sometimes look like I was going into combat, struggling to calm a screaming baby who sometimes had trouble latching on, determined as I was to conquer my shyness and do the right thing by my baby. Thank God I didn’t really know that all along, some people were looking at me and thinking I was that “kind of woman”, or my milk would have dried up in about a nanosecond.

I like to imagine that after I turned off the tv, Freedman stood up and did a Matrix-style martial arts manouvre on Mr Williams, leaving him huddled and chastened. Or that the female co-host, who did not say much in the 30 seconds I was watching, turned and said “You know Cameron, I find your face quite offensive, you really should be a bit more discreet and cover it up with a shawl or something.” I can dream, can’t I?

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Filed under Family matters, In the news, Pontifications

Diagnosis

I didn’t realise that diagnosing cancer is a speedy process these days. Or in any case it can be in a Western country like ours –  in the Third World someone like my mother considers herself lucky to reach the ripe old age of 67, let alone have the luxury of regular checkups, gastroscopies and biopsies to reveal what it is that has made her feel rather tired lately.

It took a couple of tests over less than a week to diagnose it. First mum went for her regular check-up and casually mentioned the fatigue. The next thing you know, she’s got a camera taking photos of the inside of her digestive tract.  My sister Elly went to the gastroscopy with her and they saw a doctor straight after. “It’s not good news, I’m afraid,” he told them. Then the phone rang and he said he had to take the call and left them waiting for 15 torturous minutes. When he came back he was more forthcoming. “You’ll have to wait for the biopsy results to be sure but I’ve seen enough of these to know it’s Cancer.”

The first thing to do is rule out spread so the next day there is a CAT scan. The day after that, an abdominal ultrasound. This time I go with her. Mum is still in shock. She says it is like watching yourself on TV: it looks like it’s all happening to someone else. Perhaps it is a desire to make it more real that drives her to tell the ultrasound operator, a brisk and businesslike woman with a fake smile who clearly doesn’t want to be at work on a Saturday morning. She introduces herself – Belinda – and explains the procedure. “Perhaps I should tell you why I’m here,” mum says once she is lying on the ultrasound bed. Belinda stiffens. I can see that she doesn’t want to know.  I put my hand out to mum’s arm to try and warn her, but she ignores me. “I’ve just been diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus.”

Belinda jumps in before mum has a chance to reveal any further uncomfortable details. “Oh I don’t have anything to do with that!” Her nostrils flare and she shakes her head slightly. “I don’t do any of the air-filled organs like the stomach or the lungs. I only do the liquid-filled ones.”  All we can do is smile tightly and move on. The ultrasound continues and I try to make some sense of the greyish blobs on the screen.  I am very familiar with the machine and the process: it is exactly the same as for a pregnancy ultrasound, but without the excitement. There is no growing foetus, only blobs which, for all I know, could be growing metastases. What are those little spots on the kidney screen, I wonder? What about the shadow on the screen called liver? Belinda refuses to tell us anything. “No,” she chops. “Talk to your doctor.” She finishes, hands mum a kleenex, smiles vacantly and is gone. I wonder how a health professional could be so cold. Would it have hurt her to say “I’m sorry to hear about your cancer”? Or to wish mum luck with everything? The more I think about it the more I want to slap her.

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I’ve been wanting to write about this, but I still feel hesitant in re-starting my blog. This will be my first post about mum’s cancer. Will there be a last post one day? When? Under what circumstances? What will be the path ahead?

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Filed under Family matters, Reflections, Uncategorized

Somewhere (a place for us)

I am a long-term fan of renting as a lifestyle. It has many benefits: it’s cheaper than a mortgage, it’s easier to move on when you want a change, someone else has to pay when the hot water service breaks down, and so on. And I have a habit of getting attached to rented houses as if they were my own. That is, I believe that while I was living there, they were my own. The concept of “home” goes so much further than a mortgage. I know the smells, the cracks and peeling paint, the cupboard doors that stick, the creaking floorboards.  Each of my past homes has a special place in my nostalgic heart and I even feel a little violated at the thought that someone else is living there now.

I think I’ve retained a child’s view of the matter, as I was recently reminded by my firstborn (whom I will refer to here as Primo). We were driving home from my mum’s place and Primo asked if we could go to Nonna’s house. I replied that we’d just been to Nonna’s house and now we were going to our own house. But that wasn’t quite correct and I felt I had to elaborate. “Actually it isn’t our own house. It’s somebody else’s house. Soon we will have our own house. But right now we’re going to the house that we’re living in.” He was silent for a moment while he mulled it over, then he simply said “Home.” Wise word for a three-year-old.

Home. I’d never had a problem calling our rented houses “home” until now. Now that I have two children, one of them about to start preschool, I want to live somewhere where I can scout the local primary schools. Somewhere where I know the owner can’t ask me to leave with only a couple of months’ notice. Somewhere where I can paint the walls whatever colour I like, hammer up a picture hook without asking for permission, let my cats come live inside if they want (OK, I already did that, but don’t tell the real estate agent!). I want to get to know the neighbours, instead of thinking “Why bother, we’ll only be here a short while.”

So, we have now completed the last remaining stage of what my husband cynically calls “the adulthood triumvirate”: marriage, kids, house. I wonder how this will affect my concept of home. Will I be more at home in this house than I have in my rented homes? Will I get bored after a couple of years and yearn for the ease of moving without having to sell?

In the meantime, I have to confess I haven’t started packing for the move.  A few days ago I scrubbed the visible surfaces and hid the mess so that fifty or so people could trundle through my home to consider renting it for themselves. I felt as though they were judging me and yearned for their approval – at the same time I wanted to kick them all out, yelling “Go away, it’s my home!” But in four weeks it won’t be mine anymore, even though I know all its peculiarities and oddities better than anyone.

One day I might drive past and feel a twinge of jealousy when I see someone else’s car parked outside. I will remember bringing home my second baby here, celebrating birthdays in the back yard, running loops with the children indoors and hundreds of other little things that happened in the years we have lived here. Those memories are of our home and it will take some time before we make new memories in our new house. You can’t buy that.

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Filed under Domesticity, Family matters, Pontifications

Nap time

Neither of us knows where we end and the other begins –
there is no Other, only our body.
You are more than just beloved.
But I am counting the breaths until sleep slackens
the clench of your arm around my neck.
Relief! Now I can stretch and be someone Other than mummy.

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Filed under Family matters