Choosing.

Sometimes current events completely confound me because I can’t believe that in 2016 we even have to argue for some of this shit. Example, yesterday I was listening to radio and some guy was saying, “We have to be very CAREFUL with marriage equality because we are changing the face of what marriage really is.” And I can’t believe we even are having this conversation because it seems so simple to alter a few words in whatever legislation exists that may say ‘man and woman’ to ‘two people’.

Over half my friends are divorced – myself included – and they were all married to people of the opposite gender. Friends…I know exactly what that piece of paper is worth and it’s basically shit all. Partnerships happen in the heart before they ever happen in front of the nearest and dearest. I’m not going to stand here and pretend I know how to make a marriage work. I was married for 11 years and it didn’t work. But I have studied it’s demise, I have been the coroner to the death of my marriage and I can take you through the museum of it’s failures and tell you categorically what made it terminal in the first place. We just stopped choosing each other.

See, in the beginning of a relationship you choose that person all the time. Sometimes you choose them even when you know it’s probably not the smartest idea, like when you have to go to work early the next day but you stay up until 3am discussing the world because you just can’t get enough of them. You choose them every morning and you reaffirm that choice every night. And then for me, over time we just stopped doing that. I chose to go to bed instead of watching that movie with him. He chose to stay at work when I was miscarrying and asked him to come home. I chose to avoid lunch with him in favour of editing some photos. He chose to sit at his computer instead of having a conversation with me. Sometime over the last five years of our marriage instead of counting down how long until he came home, I began to count down how long until he went back. And I know he did the same.

Marriage – I think – is just waking up every morning and choosing that person. Again and again. Choosing them when they are laughing and making you feel good. Choosing them when they’re chewing too loud and you feel like you want to stab a fork in your ear to make it stop. Choosing them. And sometimes it’s not even the really good or the really bad you have to remember to choose them through. Because both those emotions are fraught with passion – even if it’s a bad passion. It’s the mundane. Someone flossing their teeth by your side for thirty years. Someone laying their head next to yours on the pillow every single night – for life, man. And you have to remember to choose them then too. And it’s hard work, this partnership thing. No one really knows if they’re going to make it. And you never ever will because a successful marriage only becomes one that lasted the distance when one of you dies and you’re still choosing each other that very morning.

image

What is marriage? Hell, if I know. It’s been constantly redefined through out history. This is just the next page. I do know that no one is innately better at it simply because their partner’s gender is the opposite of theirs. That just seems absurd and I can’t really believe we are having this as a debate. I can’t imagine how furious I would be if I needed someone to hold a plebiscite to tell me if I get to choose my partner or not because my marriage might redefine theirs. If marriage is all about the choosing then gay people have been practising marriage for just as long as heterosexuals, just without the paper. And while I may feel the paper isn’t that important, I have the privilege of deciding that for me, simply because I’m a woman who happens to be in love with a man. It seems bizarre that because of that twist of fate I can go ahead and stand in front of my family and say I’m going to keep choosing him for the rest of my life and someone else’s choice goes unacknowledged.

Sometimes the world just really confuses me.

You Got It.

What is your earliest memory? Mine is being held by my grandfather. He said when I was born he didn’t intend to like me. He thought he was too young to be a grandfather and was offended by my existence. But when I came home from the hospital with my mother I would settle in his arms. He didn’t want to choose me – but I chose him.

He would rock me in his arms and sing me a lullaby and I would fall asleep. I liked sensory things like the satin that rimmed my blanket and scratching stickers. I have this vivid recollection of my grandfather holding me in front of the inside of my auntie’s wardrobe where she had a collection of stickers and me picking one of them off. I remember her protesting and him defending my right as the baby to demolish her sticker collection. That is my oldest memory. Being safe in his arms.

In fact in all my earliest memories I only remember being loved and cared for and cherished. I remember there always being somebody’s lap to climb into and someone to listen to my chatter. I remember my mother stroking my back so I could fall asleep, my auntie taking me out early in the morning and teaching me how to swim, my grandmother hanging clothes while I shadowed her out to the clothesline and she listened to my stories, monopoly games with my other auntie.

And my grandfather. Infinitely patient with me. A streak of mischief that wasn’t tamed when he became an adult. His laugh. His hands roughened from work. His pockets always jingling with change.

I remember sitting in his car on the way to the shops one time when I was very small and Roy Orbison “You Got It” came on the radio and I began to sing and him laughing because I knew the lyrics. We were going to buy things for Nanna from the grocery store and he let me pick ice cream but then remembered he left his wallet in the car and only had the change in his pockets so instead of putting back the ice cream he put back what he came to buy and came back later with his wallet for what he actually needed.

Sometimes when I am feeling low or like I don’t want to keep going, when things are hard – I think of all the care and love he showered on me when I was little and I think I owe it to him to be brave. Because he gave me a wildness by teaching me to laugh at life. Because he treated me like I was precious and left a hard act for any man to follow. Because he sang me to sleep. Because he put back what he needed just to give me something I wanted. Because my oldest memory is of being safe – because of him.

Because he loves me. Even if he didn’t intend to in the beginning.

image

Awkward and Precious.

image

I made a conscious effort lately to pull out the camera and take photos of life. Not posed images but the images where the Doritos are still in a packet on the kitchen table and the kids faces are illuminated by their phones. The images where we are in the car or there is a smudge of dirt on a five year olds cheek. The ones where I set the timer and hop back into place and find out later the focus totally missed the mark and the table I leaned it on is in focus and we are but a kaleidoscope of colours. We could be anyone.

Wrinkles. Blemishes. Hair messed up. Sweatpants.

Life.

I’ve fallen in love with these images. Their imperfections and the impermanent of it. Just a second in time, gone. I feel like a journalist, like a historian. Every time I press the shutter I think – this will mean something some day. These will be the images that hold my attention. There is no bullshit here, no trappings.

image

When I use to shoot, clients would often say, “We like unposed photos.” And I would have to explain to them that EVERY image in my portfolio was posed. Every single one. The ones that looked candid were really just disguised poses.

“Hold on to Daddy’s leg so he doesn’t run away.”

“Can you kiss Mummy on the cheek?”

“Pretend you like each other.”

Laughter.

Click. Click. Click.

A friend once sent me a text from nowhere last year when I was in the depths of depression and asked how I was. We hadn’t talked in over 12 months but she use to be one of my best friends and had been my confidante for years. Then life got in the way and we drifted apart and I felt like a shitty friend and the more time that went by the more I felt embarrassed about reconnecting with her. I don’t know how she knew to reach out to me then. I cried when I got her message which was simply little more than, “I’m thinking of you.” I apologised for being a crappy friend and she told me there was nothing to be sorry for – which of course made me cry more. I lay my sorrows at her feet and told her I couldn’t stop crying, I cried all day for weeks at just about everything and she said to me, “Life is awkward and precious.”

I loved that so much I wrote it down and went back to it every now and then. Because it is awkward. The mess, the reality, the indignities. The laughs where you snort during them. The tears that smear your eye makeup. The sweat. The blood. The sex. The love.

And, my god. It is precious.

Unexpected.

I read a study about sex. The idea was the more sex you had, the more sex you wanted.

I guess shooting is similar. The more I shoot the more I want to. The catch is, it has to be good. A bad shoot can bring me low for days, a good shoot gives me a rush that makes me want to do it again. Maybe it’s more like drugs. I don’t know. It definitely improves my mood when it works. Some shoots never work despite planning it for ages. It just doesn’t translate. Oddly, my best shoots have been virtually spur of the moment with little planning. I don’t like to think about it.

I sell some of my images through Getty, only of myself or the kids – basically images that would just be sitting on my hard drive doing nothing so I figure if they’re just doing nothing they may as well be earning me some money every now and then. The best seller? It’s a photo of me that you can only see my legs on and I’m holding a bunch of balloons. I took it spur of the moment one year on B’s birthday. I was putting together all these helium balloons for her party and decided to quickly set up the camera, snapped a shot and gave it a slap up edit.

image

I didn’t even have a backdrop. I’m standing between less than a metre of space between two doors that I edited out. When it sells it gives you the name of the company, sometimes you can find the image through reverse Google search. It has been bought by Samsung, by a French magazine, it’s on a German book cover… One of the quickest spur of the moment images I ever took. It’s funny how that happens.

What I discovered about myself recently though is that while I consider myself a portrait photographer, I don’t really shoot people. I shoot landscapes or props that happen to feature people. It’s why I can’t do headshots. People just aren’t the sole feature of my photographs. It’s weird how it has taken me almost 8 years to figure that out.

After it rained last time I decided to do a series with my girls. Different locations, nature, same white dress….

image

I took J out spur of the moment the week after I shot B with S and B to help me. To be honest, this was not really anything like I envisioned.

image

The favourite shot of mine was impromptu, I was busy piling dead leaves around J while she lay on the ground and this sprig of green leaves kept getting in the way. It was so ALIVE and vibrant that it sat in complete contrast to the muted browns, the dead and dying all around. I placed one over J’s heart.

image

Hope.

The best ones are the ones you don’t know you’re going to take.

image

 

The Ex Factor.

One of the best things I have done was to be friends with my ex husband.

image

We aren’t the kind of friends who sit down for a meal but who knows, it’s not even been three years since we separated. We are the kind of friends who call the other a couple of times a week for ten or twenty minute conversations to catch up on news about the kids and relay what the other is doing in their life. We troubleshoot difficult behaviour between the kids together. We discuss how best to integrate our respective partners into our children’s lives.

This is not luck. We didn’t fall out of a relationship and just magically become pleasant to each other. Many times in the beginning one of us hurled mean words at the other down the phone, words designed to cut and sting. Frequently one of us was angry or upset. It is difficult work to untangle your lives when you have been a team for 13 years. We were not lucky to get along. We worked at it.

It was a case of being careful to keep your emotions in check around your children. It was important to remind them that the other parent loved them and that we were both there for them. It meant one of us frequently going out of our way to make the four hundred kilometre round trip so that the kids didn’t miss a visit when one of us couldn’t do it.

It was over a year before we could discuss things without just sticking to basics. It was a slow progression from painful conversation to pleasant.

When you separate and you have children it can be difficult to maintain the equilibrium. Holidays are hard. Birthdays are hard. It’s hard to know another woman is taking your daughter to buy bras or watch your kid open Christmas presents. And you have to just swallow that down because at the end of the day, I would much rather my kids have a step mother who loves them and cares for them than a step mother who resents them. It’s bittersweet.

And slowly, over time, you truly do wish them well. I am thrilled he is in love with someone and she truly seems to love him back. I use to say he wasn’t an easy man to love. I have come to realise that maybe that was because I was the wrong person to love him. I am thrilled she hugs my children when she sees them and that they run into her arms. Why would I wish my children less love and more conflict? This is what is best for them.

For my children – being friends with their father is one of the things I know I have done completely right.

Growth.

The first week of the school holidays the little children went to their fathers leaving myself, J, B and S at home. J’s boyfriend came down to spend a couple of days which was interesting because J had work leaving us at home with M for hours each day. It was election week and as J and M had recently turned 18 this was their first chance to vote and so M would come to me periodically throughout the day and ask questions for Saturday about how to vote and where to find the candidates for his electoral. It was really cool to see how much thought both he and J were putting into their choices and it’s really cool to see this new generation excited about having a voice. It makes me think that maybe the world isn’t so bad, because as long as people are thinking their minds aren’t closed off and that means they’re open to making the world a better place. I got a real kick out of that, guiding these young people to make sure they’re vote counted and telling them what a privilege it is to be able to be heard. It felt like the most adult thing I’ve ever done.

On the second day M came to me to talk about plants for his cats. He was trying to order some from an online nursery but couldn’t get the PayPal to work. I told him I was sure the local nursery would have cat grass and we could make a trip out to get some, no sense in paying for postage. So the second day while J was at work, M, S, B and myself all went to the nursery to buy plants. I have a black thumb, I’ve killed the most unkillable of plants – Rosemary who everyone says you can’t kill, even Aloe Vera once, a plant that basically thrives on neglect. I love plants but over the years I came to realise the kindest thing I could do for them was not have anything to do with them. Still, I thought maybe this time would be different so I bought an African Violet and some Lemon Balm.

Lemon Balm was one of the few things I had ever managed to successfully grow when I owned a house. Done properly it will run rampant over a garden bed like mint, a plant it bears a striking resemblance to, but when you crush the leaf of the Lemon Balm in your hand a rush of citrusy smell will be released into the air. It makes beautiful tea. And I feel an affinity to Lemon Balm because we share the same name.

I use to collect African Violets when I was small, my father would care for them in the shade house where he kept his cycads and palms…hundreds of these plants that sat in rows and rows in the shade house and spilled out into the backyard. Some of them sat in their pots so long that their roots would burst from their pots seeking the soil underneath and burrow down into the earth until moving them was an exercise in extraction. I didn’t really understand his collection of these plants, how he always seemed to want more of them and the hours he would spend repotting or watering. On the odd occasions I was pressed into service to water them for him I was quite resentful of how MANY there were. A veritable army of plants.

I had been thinking of heading to the nursery for awhile, maybe buying plants and keeping something alive and growing would be good and help with the ‘making a home’ thing. Plus, I had been trying to leave the house most days for practise so I didn’t really mind taking M to buy some plants for his cats. It seemed like a good idea.

We came home and I repotted them into plain terracotta pots, enjoying the feeling of my hands in the soil, the care of these alive things. And since then I can’t stop thinking about plants. I wish I could fill my house top to bottom, sit them out on the gravel down the side of the house. I close my eyes and I see green. I wonder if I am more like my father than I realised.

image

The (fictional) Manual.

image

I hate parenting pages. Actually the older I get the more I hate them. I understand they’re a necessary evil because when you first become a mum or dad you essentially have NFI what you’re doing and set out to find a method that works well for you. Except for most people I’ve come across the ‘method’ they choose is essentially what they would have done anyway but finding someone else saying it validates their parenting choice and makes them feel like they’re doing the right thing. Still, I get that.

My parenting journey now has spanned 19 years from when I was first pregnant with my eldest daughter to now, my youngest being 5. Over nearly two decades my style emerged rather organically. Much of my parenting style in the early days was learnt through observation – watching my mother tend to my younger brothers who were 8 and 11 years younger than me. And then slowly over time I kept the parts that worked for me and discarded others and found new things that worked. And obviously each child was different, with new challenges and their own unique personality.

What I didn’t have for much of my parenting journey was a team of other parents on the internet telling me I was shit. For my last three kids I have been active on the Internet but by that stage I was fairly confident in my ability to keep small humans alive so most things just rolled off my back. Actually, I wish I had the same self confidence in other aspects of my life. I find it really easy to just say an internal, “Oh, fuck off,” to unsolicited parenting advice – meanwhile mimicking Sia when I leave the house trying to hide my face from someone that glances at it lest they notice my freckles or smile lines or hormonal chin pimples. But parenting I’m celebrity confident at.

It’s NOT that I figure I have it all worked out. It’s that I am okay with the fact I don’t. That what works today may not work tomorrow. That as long as I try to be fair, respect my children, don’t sweat the small stuff and try every day to do my best that there is very little I can do in any 24 hour period that is going to ruin their life. I’m not going to berate myself for feeding little Jimmy a ham sandwich just because some other mum on the Internet wants to talk about how her kid doesn’t even know pork exists just because it makes her feel better about her own choices.

Parenthood actually isn’t hard. It’s the pressure we put on ourselves to be perfect because we care SO MUCH that is hard. Every time I see a photo with some accompanying text that says, “Do this for your kid or its DOOOOOOMED” I feel simultaneously grateful that I’m not brand new in the parenting pool and sad for every new parent wading in that thinks if they aren’t baby wearing their 18 year old will have insecurity issues.

So this is the only piece of advice I am going to give you.

There is no manual.

There is not a single book or site or program or baby whisperer on the whole planet that can give you a step by step guide to not fucking up your kids. In fact, so long as they’re fed and clothed and you are doing your best, chances are – you aren’t going to fuck them up anyway. If you’re a SAHP – you aren’t going to fuck them up. If you’re a working parent – you aren’t going to fuck them up. No matter whether your kid is bottlefed or breastfed – it isn’t going to fuck them up. If you miss out on awards day because you completely forgot – they will get over it. If you still kiss them goodbye at the school gate at 15 – no harm done.

There is no manual. It’s just you learning how to parent in a way that works FOR YOU. It’s okay to hate some parts. It’s okay to admit you have an age that you don’t really mesh with (for me that’s ages 8-12, big struggle).

Kids are resilient. Parenting is fun. Family is amazing. Feel free to hide parenting pages on Facebook from your newsfeed. People were doing this long before the Internet told them how.

Fifteen years later.

image

Do you remember the worst day of your life?

My middle daughter is my rainbow baby. A rainbow baby is the child born after the loss of another. They’re the child that can never erase the pain of who you lost but remind you there is joy in the world.

The worst day of my life happened in 2001. I didn’t know when I woke up that anything would be different. In fact, I was looking forward to the day ahead because I was 15 weeks pregnant and was going for an ultrasound that day. The pregnancy was hard from the start. At 5 weeks I had begun bleeding – sure I had miscarried I already had grieved the loss of that baby. The next day I went for an ultrasound and saw a tiny bean floating unscathed. A repeat ultrasound a few weeks later after the bleeding stopped showed a flickering heart beat. The tech saw a shadow of something though and said I should go to the Royal for a better ultrasound. That was the one I was scared for. But there they waved the wand over my stomach, the gel cold on my skin and declared everything perfect. They told me to book in later for a follow up but everything seemed great. Perfect.

By 15 weeks I thought it was just a cool chance to see my baby again. I felt like it was a boy. My stomach had already begun to swell beneath my pants, I had bought the next size up and joked I would need maternity clothes soon. I could feel the faintest of butterfly wings sweeping inside me as he swam in his watery cocoon. I had picked names. I wondered what Christmas would be like this year with a tiny baby. I wondered if my daughters would be excited by their new sibling.

On the worst day of my life I lay in a thin table in a dimly lit room while my husband sat beside me anxious to see our baby. A woman I had never met squirted gel on my stomach and a smooth wand glided across the small rise of my abdomen.

I knew instantly something was wrong.

Here was my baby who was waving his arms and legs in a greeting, here was his rounded stomach and tiny face. But, oh, his head. I can never describe the quiet of that room. The silence as she repeatedly went back over his skull and viewed how misshapen it was. From the front on, he was a baby like any other. From the side, his skull stretched upwards, elongated and almost twice the length it should be. I kept wanting to say to her to please go back to the front view. I didn’t want to see what I was seeing. And I couldn’t pull my eyes away.

“Excuse me,” she said, and left the room.

The quiet between myself and my husband hung thickly in the air. What comfort could I possibly offer him at this time when I knew in my heart that something was terribly wrong? My thoughts spun out in a thousand different directions. Our baby is sick. Something is wrong. I thought of all the ways they could fix babies now, even doing in utero surgery. This was terrifying but they would fix him.

The woman came back with a man. I could walk past him in the street and never recognise him. I have no idea what he looked like. But his words are scarred into my memory. He looked a long time. And then he spoke, “What do we have here? Well, what we have here is a bad baby. A very bad baby. This baby is incompatible with life, a nurse will discuss your options.”

He left and I excused myself to the detached bathroom leaving the woman and my husband alone in the darkened room.

Incompatible with life, incompatible with life, incompatiblewithlife….

A mistake. It wasn’t. They could fix it. No they couldn’t. My son was going to die.

I didn’t want to cry. I gripped the sides of the basin in front of me and stared into my own wild eyes and whispered through gritted teeth, “Stop it! Stop. It… Don’t.”

And then all at once I broke. I keened. I sobbed raw, wretched cries, painfully aware that on the other side of the flimsy sliding door my husband and the woman stood awkwardly listening to the sound of a heart breaking.

On the worst day of my life I was ushered into a room in the antenatal clinic and spoke to a nurse about therapeutic termination. I spoke to a doctor who was efficient and kind and explained the process.

This was what was wrong with my son. He had encephalocele. A severe neural tube defect that made his skull bones fail to fuse. His brain was exposed to the amniotic fluid. He would likely not survive that much longer. He would never survive delivery. He would never take a breath.

The procedure would be a series of pessaries inserted near my cervix to begin labour. After some time I would give birth. He would be sent for autopsy. They would cremate him. His remains would be interred at the hospital. There was a service once a month for the babies like him. Babies too young to be legally recognised as babies. Babies born before 20 weeks. “You won’t have to have a funeral,” they said by way of a comfort. As though the fact that his existence could be erased so easily would be a comfort to me.

On the worst day of my life I set a date to come back. We rode home in silence, my swelling stomach a painful reminder of what we were going to lose.

When I came back to the hospital days later I laboured for 7 hours. They offered me morphine because there is no danger to taking drugs when your child will not survive. I refused because I needed to feel everything. My water broke just after 7pm. A midwife came in and delivered the tiniest fairy of a baby you have ever seen. She announced he was a boy. I couldn’t bear to look at him so she took him away. The placenta wouldn’t shift so I was wheeled to theatre. The shot me full of something that made me sleepy and calm. My face was a blank stone. Tears rolled from my eyes unchecked. A nurse opened the curtains and looked alarmed. “Are you in pain?” She asked. I shook my head, mute and stared at the ceiling. She stepped forward, laid her hand over mine, dry and warm, “Just your heart, hey?” She whispered. My eyes met hers, I gave an imperceptible nod. She gave one back.

They put me to sleep.

The next day they brought him to me. His hands and feet bore blue ink from where they had printed them. He was wrapped in a blanket. I didn’t shift it from the top of his head, not willing to look at the defect that had stolen him from me. I was scared to touch him because I knew he would be cold. I stayed with him a long time. I admired his long feet and tiny toes. Riley.

We went home. I stayed in bed for three days.

Riley would be almost 15 if he were alive today. If I look at his siblings I can almost patchwork together a picture of how he would have looked. For years after his short time on earth, spent entirely within the safety of my womb where he was nothing but completely loved and wanted, I felt his absence often. Because of who I am I wanted an answer why. I researched everything. I second guessed myself. Two years after his death I called the doctor and she patiently went back over everything with me. The hardest things to deal with is when there is no why.

I met a woman a couple of years later who had recently lost her daughter in the same way I lost Riley. She was the biggest comfort to me, someone who understood completely the Worst Day, who knew the helplessness, the agony. Who else could I explain to that even though he passed away, my sorrow was mixed with a joy, because he had also lived. That what you wanted was not always to brush him away as though he never existed but to talk about him. We passed our children’s names to each other and held them like a gift. We could speak freely of regret and sadness and love. I will love her forever for the space she gave me to talk of my son. I hope I gave her some comfort to talk of her daughter.

Now, years later we both have more children. Rainbow babies whose presence in our houses smooth over some of the cracks in our hearts. Children who yell and laugh and dance and sing and remind us that joy can be had.

You may wonder why the worst day in my life was not the day he left me, the day he was born. The worst day was when I knew I had to give him up, never the day I first saw him, a fleeting glance before the nurse took him away. I could never regret that. Seeing him was one of my best memories, however tinged with sadness.

For all the babies who we carry in our hearts, whose mothers and fathers silently sing their name. Whose place in the house is a Christmas ornament on the tree bearing their name, a statue in the garden, a photo on the wall. You were never forgotten.

Rain.

The day it rained a little I had things to do. I wanted to wash some clothes, clean the house and do the groceries. But I kept thinking about my camera. I stood in front of the kitchen table I was clearing while a couple of the kids were drawing in front of me. J looks up from her phone on the couch, “Are you okay?” she asks, “You look deep in thought.”
“I have an idea forming,” I answered slowly.
I turn to B in front of me, “Can you do your make up? I’m sorry. You’re going to get wet. And I need the kitchen chair.”
J, B and S all look at me wearing identical expressions of bewilderment.
“Why?” B asked, “It’s cold!”
“It will only be for a second. I need a photo.”

J asks to do B’s make up and S gets excited because in the six months she has been living with us I haven’t shot a thing. She can’t wait to see a shoot.

Twenty minutes later I’m going out the door. I’m wearing jeans and a plaid shirt that’s old and really shouldn’t be seen in public. My hair isn’t done. My phone needs charging. The clothes need washing. The floors were half swept.

I drive with purpose despite the fact I haven’t shot at this location in at least 7 years. I have no idea what I’ll find. It might rain. It’s midday. What am I doing?

I lie on a towel on the banks of the creek and get wet anyway. I pull up my jeans and wade into the water, mud between my toes and the stones slipping. Cars drive past honking their horns and I don’t care because there is only me and the viewfinder and a subject and everything else falls away.

image

Every shutter click I know is perfect. I’ll barely need to touch these in post.

image

I line up the banks so it’s straight, I expose on instinct.

image

Muscle memory.

Finally I’m ready for the last shot. I know it won’t be perfect. I know it won’t be exactly what I have in my head. But I need to shoot it anyway or I will think about it all night. “One, two, three…fall.”

Submerged.

image

 

Sink or Swim.

image

Earlier this week a well known writer posted an article about how her son doesn’t do chores because his only job is to be a child. To a degree, I get that. My five year old doesn’t have any chores either. But Lana’s son isn’t five – he is fifteen. In three years he will be able to drink, vote and be a legal adult. I have no concerns that this boy will grow to be a responsible and contributing member of society. From reading her life for some time now I can see that he appears from the outside to a a pretty decent kid. And so obviously whatever she is doing works for her.

My general opinion though is very different. Worlds apart – if you will. Because the world is hard and nothing is free and everything comes with a price. My children have been raised to help out a decent amount. In fairness – I have six children and for a good chunk of my parenting journey a work away husband – Lana has one child and what seems to be a hands on husband. I COULD do everything myself but I figure if they’re going to be part of a family then they need to understand that means we help each other out. Oh, and I don’t pay them for chores either. Sorry. No one will pay you to do the dishes when you leave home. At what point did ‘childhood’ come to mean ‘super loads of fun with no responsibility’? Being a child means play, school, lack of responsibility for things like rent, bills, taxes, car maintenance and politics. You can have all those things and still load the dishwasher.

In my opinion there is a vast difference between a little child of five and a budding adult of fifteen. Teen years is where you need to start giving them the lessons they will need to know to make it in the world. I’m not interested in making life easier for them, in the blink of an eye they will be out from under my wing, unsheltered and I need to know they can weather storms on their own. It becomes a transformation from ‘raising a child’ to ‘raising an adult’.

It’s hard. It’s much easier to say yes, to do it yourself, to pay that for them, to say ‘just keep it’ when you’ve agreed your 18 year old will start paying board. It is incredibly difficult as a parent to take the floaties off your child and then watch them learn to swim. The desire to throw them a rope is overwhelming. It’s hard. But as a mother, I set my jaw and offer advice instead of aid.

This year my 8 year old will get his first proper chore. He will be expected to unload the dishwasher every day. To begin with, one of the older children will buddy him and then he will have to do it alone. Chores will be shuffled as the littler kids learn other aspects to keeping house. From fifteen I know my eldest daughter could have ran the house herself. At 18 – preparing to leave home (she has just begun collecting items for her own place now) – I know she will do fine. That more than just the mechanics of a task she understand the cost of meals, the time a job will take, the importance of doing it correctly.

I understand that children frequently do not want to do chores. But as my kids know and often sing to each other, “You can’t always get what you want.”