The Magic of Childhood

Illustration by Peg Maltby.

Illustration by Peg Maltby.

When I had children, I wanted them to understand magic. I wanted them to have their childhood interspersed with rhymes and symbolism and possibility.

One of my earliest memories is one of my grandmother’s holding cowslip under my chin to see if there was a yellow reflection. Apparently, if there was such a reflection, it meant I liked butter, which proved it was real magic because I did indeed like butter.

I have memories of my other grandmother drawing me fairies. She could draw fairies standing on toadstools that were as beautiful and elegant as anything Peg Maltby had drawn and they made me happy. When my daughter was born I asked her to draw her a fairy, and she did. I have it framed for her to give to her daughter one day.

I made fairy gardens with my girl and hid presents in the trees and would be surprised when a letter from Blossom Fairy had been delivered. We would blow on dandelions to see what time it was in fairyland and catch fairies as they blew past us in the wind.

My son was easily worried so his magic came in symbols and rhymes. He loved it when I would draw on his back repeating:

X marks the spot

With a dot dot dot

A line line line

And a question mark

A wiggle wiggle here

A wiggle wiggle there

Rain

Egg cracking

Cool breeze

Warm squeeze

Now you have the shiverees.

He still loves and hates it equally.

My daughter and I would find toadstools in a ring in the garden and sing - Summer, Autumn, Winter, Spring, Fairies dancing in a ring.

I would tell her there had been a fairy market that night and she would look for evidence, finding it eventually with elaborate stories about what they bought and sold at the market.

I drew faces on boiled eggs and taught my son how to knit. I knitted both of their teddies cardigans, which they still have and would set up rituals for when they were home from school, sick in bed.

My daughter would get an Archie or Betty and Veronica comic and my son would get some football cards. They both liked baths and then clean sheets and then toasted sandwiches in bed or on the sofa watching television.

I had special “medicine” for the days they were trying to get a day off just because they wanted to be at home with me. The medicine were Smarties, which I gave out with the serious instruction that the red ones were the most potent and they couldn’t take more than two or they would fly to the moon.

They knew that on Friday’s friends would come over and they would be included at the table, learning how to be social and how to hold conversations.

They believed in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy and the power of believing. But above all, I wanted them to believe in themselves. That they can achieve so much and help others and that is where the real magic is in life.

I taught them to roll down hills and make daisy chains, and press flowers and how important a dress up box is for creating your perfect look. I knew all the nursery rhymes, all the silly chanting songs when skipping, how to play elastics and hopscotch rules and the fun of drawing on the footpath with chalk. I taught my kids how to use the hula hoop, which they were both miles above scratch, and how you must always say hello to a single Magpie and enquire after Mrs Magpie, or else it’s bad luck. I knew superstitions about the superstitions, from holding your thumbs in your fingers when you passed a graveyard so your parents don’t die young, to lifting your feet when the car drives over train tracks so you don’t die young.

We made doll hospitals, and cubby houses out of blankets and nests made of pillows. We made up spells and created incantations and hid talismans in the garden on nights when the moon was full. Reading Danny the Champion of the World aloud to them both, and sobbing through Charlotte Web.

I spent much of my childhood using magical thinking to escape, and I was fortunate to channel this into my work as a writer. But I wanted my children to experience magical thinking as a starting off point. What could be possible?

Now my children are creators. Music, theatre, writing, art, acting, singing. It is something that I wanted them to know they could rely on, and when I look at my years of hands on parenting, this was the what I enjoyed the most. It was truly magical and something I hope they remember, and know that the magic of childhood is seeing everything as a mystery ready to be unravelled.

I do not doubt for a moment my work as a writer is fuelled by this magic, something I try to bring into every book I write but my children are the ones who were truly rewarded by this magic and now, as they move into adulthood, I see that this was probably the best thing I could have ever done for them because believing in magic means they believe in themselves and above all, the idea of possibility within their own life.

Why Having Children Is A Good Thing

My babies meeting for the first time.

My babies meeting for the first time.

In the weeks before my son turned 18, I started to have flashbacks about his childhood, and his sisters childhood. Things I have forgotten rose as the the sediment of his life was stirred in anticipation for him to turn into an adult and I remembered how much I loved having children.

I always knew I would have children. One of my favourite games as a child was to pretend I found a baby lost in the snow and I would rescue it and care for it and dress it in warm cardigans knitted by my grandmother for my dolls. I had my first child at 25, because I wanted a baby. We had no money, no real careers and no idea what we were doing but we had one anyway and we loved her. I loved being a mother even when they annoyed the crap out of me.

I had a large amount of time between my children, which I could afford to do since I started so young, so the next one arrived when I was 29 and he was as delicious as the first one.

I loved being with my children. I remember my husband and I fighting as to who would get up to my daughter when she woke, not because we didn’t want to, but because we both wanted to be greeted with that smile as she lay happily in her cot. All snug and smug we used to say.

My son didn’t sleep so well but I didn’t mind as much as I thought I would. Him and I just hanging out at night, shooting the breeze and knowing it would all pass and we would survive this stage.

Nothing really stressed me as a young parent because I didn’t overdose on books and we didn’t have apps. I just loved them and asked my sister a lot of questions, as she had already had her son before I had my daughter.

When I sat with a pregnant friend a little while ago, she said there was so much scary information about how hard it is and she was worried.

I shrugged and told her that if I could do it anyone could. I mean, I think I am 7% not quite right most of the time, so if I can push one baby out, and have another one out the sunroof, anyone can. And if I can survive on little sleep and still laugh at my kids being hilarious and joyful, anyone can, because I am the least pain resistant, most selfish bitch I know.

There is something so wonderful was your children loving you and you loving them. That their individual little quirks and words and dances are precious and what you wanted, and that they will challenge you and make you look at the way you were parented and try like a mother to fix yourself so they can benefit.

You don’t need all the apps and money and gadgets, I mean who really needs a baby wipe warmer?

You need something for it to wear, to sleep in (in past time, babies used to sleep in a bottom drawer) food and love. Seriously! You can make toys from empty toilet rolls and put rice in and old soft drink bottle and make play-dough from flour and salt and oil. You do need to provide kisses and songs and put your phone down and talk to the small person and read them books from the library and everything else is optional.

Women hang onto their birth stories like battle scars, well worn and some show them off to those who don’t ask. I don’t. Each person’s story is personal and I think scaring the living baby out of someone is mean. If people ask me any advice I say, take the drugs if you need to, and do what works for you. Your body will tell you what it needs. The rest is all you.

I have loved being a mother to my kids. Even the tough stuff was a privilege to go through with them, and every lesson they had, I learned something about myself as well. I am not the most conventional of mothers.

My kids swore at home from an early age, because I couldn’t be fucked stopping them when I am such a sailor, but they did know there was an at home language and an out of home language.

I focussed a lot on education because I think that matters. Critical thinking matters in life. I wanted them to try everything and then see what felt like fun and not work. Education was my saviour. My school rescued me in many ways. I wanted my kids to have something extraordinary in their education. I think they have been fortunate and we worked hard to give them that. Not just schooling but travel for my daughter also was worth it. Europe, alone, gave her the confidence to problem solve and see the world is bigger than little old Melbourne.

Lots of exposure to art. Lots of questions answered. I never lied to my kids about hard stuff, so they grew up with a high level of emotional intelligence. They also knew more than they should have at times but they survived.

I let them hang out with the adults. Kids learn from modelling others. Socialisation with adults helps them understand how to speak in groups, take turns, discuss without expecting anything other than conversation. I encouraged them to participate. Their opinion mattered. I never told them to ‘piss off’ as so many of my generations parents told us. Also, I liked them, so I was happy to have them at the table with my friends!

I knew there were some battles I wouldn’t win without it hurting me and our relationships, so I didn’t stress so much about them, such as mobile phones in bedrooms and trying to control that. They get over it. Chill, refocus. Manage it, don’t be a nightmare parent about this, trust me. Choose the battles, and choose your weapons carefully. You never know which one will leave a wound that won’t heal.

And finally, I said yes more than I said no. Once day I realised how much I was saying no, so I started saying maybe, and yes. It changed everything. The yes was within reason but I realised I said no a lot because it was like an automatic reflex. But what if I said yes?

What if I said yes to my daughter wearing a gold lame costume to my Dad’s 60th birthday instead of the perfect dress I had picked out? What would happen? (Funny photos for ever!)

What if I said yes if my son decided he wanted to go to the supermarket in his pj’s and swimming goggles? (He made people smile as we passed)

What if I said yes to pancakes at 10 at night? (Heartburn for me)

What if I said yes to a day off school and work for everyone and we went to the movies? (We made this a once a term thing and the kids could do whatever they wanted with me on that day. Movies, sleep in, lunch whatever.)

What if?

Life is an adventure. Having kids is an adventure. If you do it right, it can be fun. Stop controlling so much, and start loving them and remember to play.

On The Art Of Mothering

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In some ways I think I should never have been a mother. I am entirely too selfish in some ways, and too unreliable in others. I believe in living a creative life so absolutely, that I encourage my children to explore their creativity and remind them daily that they are unique. They have gifts unlike any other and that they should try and be actors, writers, musicians, artists, poets, and dancers if they feel they should.

Even though a creative life is a tough road, and it pays beans, I still think it's worth a shot and they should find a way to tell their story in an artistic form.

I am also the mother who swears. A lot. We had the "at home" language and "at school" language. Why? Because I was too fucking lazy to edit myself at home.

If my kid wants to wear black to their cousins confirmation when she was ten, then so be it, even though a relative told me she looked like she was a goth. Good, I thought. She's a goth, and a heathen.

If you wanted to eat leftover fried rice for breakfast, then be it in your digestion system. I don't really care, I'm writing anyway.

"If you take drugs, then tell me so I know what to tell the hospital, otherwise, don't buy drugs from a bikie and remember we have ambulance cover, so get someone to call them if you're frothing at the mouth. The hospitals can't report, they just treat. Don't take ice. I mean this one. Don't. It's a dirty bogan drug and it shrinks your brain." I then show them pictures of MRI's of brains after three weeks of ice use that the Good Doctor sent me and this scares them a little.  I say the other stuff about drugs  because do you think anything you say as a parent is really going to stop your kid from doing stuff? Did it stop you? No. Get real. Tell them how to be safe instead.

"Don't worry about maths. Really. It's not your thing. I'm not going to get all caught up in tutors and stressing about your grades over a subject you hate. And no, Mr Teacher, I really don't care about maths either. He's exceptional at English and History. Let's play to our strengths, yes? I can't be arsed arguing with you about this. I don't care if he's not good at maths."

I didn't work on my kids times tables, instead I worked on their emotional vocabulary. Twenty words for happy, twenty words for angry. Go. If you can do it, then you're emotionally intelligent and probably agree with most of this drivel.

I was lazy when I didn't attend any school concerts for five years, except her last one, because I couldn't be arsed and she told me that I killed her vibe with her friends. I didn't see her performance in a play in Year Nine because she had one line, and she told me it was boring as fuck and I might want to punch myself in the face with fire hydrant to stay awake.

I did go to the primary school talent night and laughed until I got asthma at the kid who rap danced, and then turned his back to the crowd, and he pulled his wedgie out in front of the crowd. That was worth going to.

I only went to one performance of any of her plays because I was too tight to pay for extra nights, and honestly I could not have sat through another night of  kids acting and singing. There's only so much, you know?

I believe in my creativity so unsurpassedly that I put it ahead of them. "Make your own way there, be safe, home by six," is my cry from my desk.

I don't believe my life exists for them. When people's children grow up, some parents struggle at the thought of being without a purpose. If your only purpose is to parent, then you're a better man than I, Gunga Din.

I had children because my arms ached with the need for a baby. I then grew up with them. I was twenty-five when I had my first one, with no career and no idea. I made it up as I went along. She came out okay. The second one came before I was thirty. I grew up again with him.

And then I came into myself. Having children forced me to be present, capable, resourceful. It also reminded me to play. I played a lot with my kids. Creating involved games using our imaginations. It was as much fun for me as it was for them.

I'm lazy because I say to them,"Don't be a dickhead," and leave it at that.' I can't be arsed telling them why and when they're dickheads. They know. Self-awareness lesson 101.

But then I think maybe this selfishness is what makes me a decent mother. My children are amazing. I'm pretty shocked at how great they turned out. Maybe they needed nurturing but not suffocating? Maybe seeing myself as an individual allowed them to be themselves from day dot.

Or...maybe they just lucked out and are who who they are regardless of their parents.

* The Lazy Arsed Guide to Selfish Mothering with Bonus Creative Activities, will be out later in the millennium, published by Sloth Books. Available for download, because those who want to read it are too lazy to go to an actual bookstore.