addiction or bonding

July 15, 2015

in johann hari’s TED talk (which i’ll try to link to but having not attempted such a feat of electronic wizardry before, and being largely electronically a luddite, i make no promises.  i’m sure you could look it up yourself, if you’re keen) he talks about the seeming failure of addiction being linked to chemical hooks.  he argues instead that addiction takes the place of humans bonding to the meaningful things in their life.  we are a species hard-wired to make connections.  we need to feel value in people, relationships and things like jobs and hobbies, we need to feel valued ourselves and we need to have a satisfying bond to our life.  if these things are missing or taken from us thru trauma, isolation or something of that ilk we replace our bonds to people with bonds to gambling, alcohol, cocaine, smart phones, shopping, pornography or a myriad of other ‘addictions’ that generally end up creating new or stronger, perhaps more insidious, isolating bonds in our brains.

our addictions spiral us ever inward to ourselves and away from the people that love us and the things that we would otherwise want to be present for.  except, at least in the case of drugs, in portugal, where in 2000, every drug; from cannabis to crack, was decriminalised.  yay, let’s all move to portugal!  portugal’s experiment (from the little i know of it) is running strong with 15 years of success measured in big reductions in the number of addicts, drug-related crime, recidivism and increases in employment and general well-being for the population.

if you are loved and remembered and thought of, if you enjoy your family and friends, have a job you at least don’t mind getting out of bed for every morning, if you find satisfaction in your past-times and pursuits and these things keep you present and engaged it seems you are likely to avoid damaging addictions.

at the end of march 2013 i was wondering where the cameraderie of the school gate had vanished to.  in 2012 and the first couple of months of 2013 walking percy to and from school introduced me to many families who became friends.  we were a happy little bunch of chatterers and strollers.  i bet those there still are, actually i know they are thru my addiction to facebook.  but in our change of location our, or at least my, circumstances and happiness changed too.  over two years later i am confirmed in my thinking that the ‘bored 50s housewife’ who hit the liquor cabinet a little too frequently was not so much a myth or a stereotype, but a real-life bonding response to a lack of connection to much anything that would keep their life interesting.

yes, the 50s housewife had her hubby and her kids, as do i, to keep her busy and connected.  i would strongly argue that these are not enough.  they are future-framing and present-enabling and sadly, not sufficient to render mute the need to bond and connect with people outside the family unit and the physical home.  i am isolated and lonely.  (i came with relish to our new country and our new adventures, easily i would do it again, even knowing what i know now.  of course with wonderful hindsight things would have been done differently.)  i am lonely because a partner and two young children cannot alone, fill the need i have for bonding and friends.

i can recall with precision the last and most recent time i stood in physical proximity with a friend and spoke with them while we looked into each other’s eyes.  you can too, probably… it was this morning, or yesterday, or at most last weekend.  for me it was october 2013.  for one week we were back in oz for my fathers demise and i spent a few hours with my addiction-stoppers, my bonded mates, my friends.  prior to that it was the 2nd of march 2013 when we said goodbye at the airport.  it seems i’m not such the loner, perfectly comfortable with my own company, in need of no-one person, i previously believed i was.  the history shared between us is the common ground i need to tread on to keep me upright and steady.  the shared experiences and the in-the-know jokes and the smiles and the touch and the promised future are things i haven’t experienced in over two years, and it’s driving me to addiction.  my near painful pragmatism wrapped around with manic optimism (believe it or not) keeps me from hunting down the local drug peddlers.  alternatively, i’d appreciate a call, a letter, even a postcard from you.  i miss you guys.

free two cents

March 6, 2015

i feel i don’t qualify on much to put in my two cents worth.  maybe a bit about travelling with kids (take a proper pillow) or how to deal with canadian banks (don’t bother with anyone less than the branch manager, preferably higher) or perhaps how to enjoy chocolate (unadulterated and lots of it.)

nevertheless i’ve had this notion pop into my head more than once, and this morning i found myself refining it.  so i will write it down and offer it up.  one day i might see if it would work in a story.  here goes…

 

“there’s nothing more attractive to a woman than a man who can both fight and dance, and is smart enough to find every excuse not to do the first and is confident enough to find every excuse to indulge in the second.  add in a uniform or barring that a tux or a kilt and there my boy, may be the only useful thing i’ll ever be able to tell you about dating and deserving a mate.”

 

(*obviously referring to hetros)

housekeeping and childrearing skills could also be thrown in the mix but at least i feel, these are secondary considerations.  evolutionarily (not a word i found in the dictionary, just in my fingertips) women seek a mate that complements and continues them- clever and self-assured does that.  by complements i do not mean praising her bison-gutting skills while keeping her manolo blahniks pristine.  that word is spelt with an “i”.  i mean the complement that means two parts fitting together into a better whole.  and by continues i mean not just continuing the species by providing sound sperm and protective and bread-winning abilities, i also mean emotional, intellectual and goal-achieving support.

the perfect guy can lay out another clean with a well placed punch or two, but exhausts every option not to beforehand; can tango, waltz and cut loose and will, holding on to you, at a moment’s notice; pursued an education to earn the stripes, wings, stars or whatever on his epaulettes; knows you are his equal and expects to give you his considered thoughts, advice and wisdom, his shoulder to cry on, his arms to hold you and his unwavering support in pursuit of your ambitions.  in addition, he expects the same in return.

two years in canada

March 3, 2015

as our plane landed in vancouver percy lamented the lack of snow and tally barfed so hard he covered himself head to toe and the entire of his seat.  poor kids.  these unfortunate things did not stand as markers to a disappointing stay in canada.  tally was stripped, cleaned and re-dressed in new clothes; his previous set, well past any rescue tossed wholesale into the trash.  the airline removed the seat from the bolts in the floor up, and replaced it with a new one.  just as well really because we returned to the same set of seats for our final leg across to toronto.  in toronto percy’s unhappiness due to the want of white stuff, was rectified and she bounced happily in her taxi seat all the way to our temporary digs in Richmond Hill exclaiming “look at all the snow!”

over the next two years we’ve flown some more, nearly always successfully (percy left a small deposit on the carpet in hong kong airport when travel sickness struck her too.)  we’ve done a number of other things successfully too; start school, learn french, kick butt at work, complete a novel manuscript, ski blue runs, make friends and the general growing and learning that happens every day, with the added twist of doing it in a different culture, through a different lens.

it hasn’t all been straightforward.  there have been frustrations and surprises; the antiquated banking, the cost of living, the salt, the ice, the temperature and the distance we live from the downtown area have taken getting used to.  far easier here than many other places, ie. kiev or anywhere non-english speaking.  in hindsight i’m sure i really wanted this move, this stint, in canada to be successful, not just for me but for my family too.  i realise i feel an attachment to my birth country that made it a matter of pride that all of us should feel happy and at home here.  something must have happened in my first four years, or some residual imprinting in the following years, that left me with the notion that canada, much like australia, is a great country and we should be able to thrive here.  i can see i also wanted this move to be a success because we were leaving so much goodness behind.  we have very dear, close and wonderful friends in oz, parents, or grandparents depending on whose view, a community, a home that we’ve much improved and can only get better, a history, a level of comfort that comes with the meshing of all these important things.  it would be a terrible wrench to think we left these people and things for something less, or worse, or not worth it.  i’m pretty sure that’s not the case.  we’ve seen parts of the world, done things and met people that we never would have staying safely put.

meeting the people, many of whom have become friends, is a terrific bonus.  i have terribly missed my friends back home.  it tells in the gabble i subject on most anyone i meet!  being garrulous, loving the telling of a good story and intensely curious about my fellow humans i now talk no-end to everyone; by asking them teasing out their stories, launching into mine in return.  i think everyone is pretty happy to get away from me after a while (sorry.)

i hope we’ll have an invitation to return and visit our new buddies, once we’re homeward bound, just as we’ll extend our best hospitality to anyone that makes the trek down under.

of particular delight to me, possible only by proximity, was our passage and pilgrimage to and about pommie land.  i am super chuffed to have finally properly met and come to love paul’s relatives.  it is utterly fitting that he’s not the only product of a thence broken mould; his cousins are cast in likeness.  our whole family was happily held in the hearts we met, while ours just about burst to hold the little boys, as well as their parents and grandparents.

all in all, a good two years.  a growing two years, a galvanising two years, at times glacial, others galloping, not glorious nor gloomy, a little grieving, a little glitter and i’m glad we did it.

 

 

 

fund-raiser flap

January 23, 2015

Earlier this week I spent two hours volunteering at Percy’s school.  About a dozen parents gathered in the staffroom.  We spent the morning sorting through lunch orders for the coming spring term.  (The orders were for a once weekly order of pizza and/or a once weekly order of sandwiches.)  When I arrived at 9:30am most people where already there and working.  When I left at 11:30 more than half where still working.  I draw your attention to this because I want to make a point of the actual hours spent on this particular activity.  For ease of the addition let’s say ten people worked three hours each for a total of thirty hours.

It’s not terribly taxing work but you do have to pay attention to detail.  The payment was made by cheque so each one had to be checked for correct amount, payee, date (I alone had a handful of cheques dated 2014), signature etc.  Then the individual order forms have to be transcribed to a master list for each class.  I’m not sure exactly but given what I do know, there are over twenty classes in the school.  It’s surprising how many of the forms where missing information or had the wrong information on it- mostly the classroom number.  I even had a completely blank order form!  We managed to piece together the necessary information from the info on the cheque and the encyclopedic knowledge that the co-ordinator carries in their head.  ‘Thank you’ for such a dedicated and amazing memory.

We all worked steadily with a little chat now and then while we transcribed and added and totalled and squinted at the bad handwriting.  (As an aside- if you are ordering something through your school, do everyone a favour and write very neatly and double check what you’ve written!)  It was a pleasant morning, I sat next to a mother whose child is also in Percy’s class.  Someone even brought cake.

Then the amount on a cheque was queried.  It didn’t match any of the pre-set ordered amounts.  We puzzled over it for awhile until it was noticed that on the accompanying order sheet was a handwritten (badly) note saying one week’s amount had been deducted because the child was not to receive the food order for the week when passover fell.

This got me all boiled up.  And not because you think I’m anti-semetic.  You can wear anything you want on your head, including a pasta strainer, and I won’t care.  You can ascribe to whatever religion you want, and I won’t care.  You can or cannot eat whatever food you want, and I won’t care.  (well, I’d prefer ethical, organic, free-range, pesticide-free, cruelty-free food, but that shit costs a bomb, so we all get a pass depending on how much we can afford.  And I’ll pity you for missing out on the deliciousness that is bacon, but I’m getting distracted.)

What I did care about is that the lunch orders are actually a fund raiser for the school.  The people/companies that supply the food get paid for a full order whether your kid eats it or not.  The money that this wanker parent felt entitled to deduct would come out the portion that goes to the school.  That’s less library books, less sports equipment, less field trips, less special needs resources, less classroom resources and the list goes on, that the school doesn’t get because you feel entitled to enforce a kosher rule in a secular school.  Well, fuck you.  By this reasoning should every kid that stays home for whatever reason (sick, buses cancelled, holiday, funeral, you name it) on a lunch order day, get a refund?  Perhaps when a child doesn’t attend school for a day the teacher should get one twenty third less pay that day (assuming a class of 23 kids)?

The argument was put, in the staffroom, that we do have a lot of Jewish families at the school, perhaps the order could be changed to accommodate them?  Not this round, of course, but next time.  To that I say; if you accommodate one lot, you’ve fairly got to do it for everyone, and give refunds to those kids that are unexpectedly away on lunch order day.  The thirty person hours we just spent would, I confidently predict, triple.  Good luck finding enough people to wade through the level of headache personalised orders would create.  And finally, I say again, IT’S A FUND-RAISER!  Either join in and cough up as stipulated, or bugger off.

Not the best Christmas

December 30, 2014

Our travels have been much curtailed this year compared to last, but I was insistent we not be in our lonely, rented home over Christmas.

In hindsight, a rather dumb insistence.  I did not want to be home because home at Christmas time means family, and hopefully friends too, visiting and making spirits shine together.  My closest family member jetted off to the Caribbean a couple of weeks before Christmas, Paul’s nearest have plenty of family in the UK to keep them busy and no-one is visiting from Oz.  The friends we have gathered here have their own families or have also flown to warmer climes (something we are learning Canadians do a lot of) and/or are predominantly Jewish.  It makes for a family time of year, spent with just the four of us, not much of a family occasion at all.  Which isn’t a bad thing, it’s just a bit lonely by itself.

So what did we do instead?  Rented an even lonelier house in an even lonelier part of the world and spent the week alone.  It did have a fireplace, albeit a gas one…

It was meant to be a week of skiing and toboganning and hot chocolates and fun in the snow.  For two days it was.  Then the weather warmed and all the snow got rained away.  We spent a further four days taking walks in the slush, watching movies, missing not having a chrissy tree, admittedly drinking fabulous Paul-concocted hot chocolates and realising that everything shuts down in winter- everything.

Santa did find the cookies and carrots we left for him and his crew, and he left some nice pressies in return.  We packed them up and the car and came home a day early.  It really was a waste of $700 for the house, particularly since the place we went skiing is a little over an hour from home; we could have driven up and back each day and been in our own beds and had our own comforts and our chrissy tree the entire time.

All up, the least best trip I’ve ever taken, even counting the times we’ve left body parts and stomach contents behind- I’ll tell you about those wonderful trips (no word of a lie!) another time.

Ten year anniversary letter

November 27, 2014

 

Paul, we’re not the typically romantic type.  I even couldn’t decide on what salutation to begin this letter- dear, dearest, darling?  None of them are quite right, tho all do apply.

Or perhaps it’s not that we aren’t romantic, just our brand of romance doesn’t come with a Hallmark TM.  You didn’t get down on one knee to propose to me, because there wasn’t enough room in the hot air balloon basket.  You didn’t get me an engagement ring, because you knew me better; a Faberge egg is so much more my style.  You married me in a library, under the immortal words of Thomas Carlyle;

In books lies the soul of the whole past time the articulate audible voice of the past when the body and material substance of it has altogether vanished like a dream.’

I hope when our material substance has altogether vanished like a dream, we will have written a good book.  A good book written together.  I think for the past ten years, and for some years before that ten too, our book has been written well.  It tells a tale of two independent people intertwining, linking families and branching to become four.

You didn’t take me on a three week honeymoon to some oft-repeated island paradise, but instead to Egypt and the Middle East, to clamber around the Rose-Red City of the Nabataeans and climb amongst the tombs of the ancient dead, and even to nearly die yourself!  Don’t we laugh about that now?

We didn’t settle in a nice house and buy a Subaru minivan and raise our 2.4 kids amongst the mild bickering of cookie-cutter suburbia.  We bought a 4WD and bumped over real and metaphorical dirt tracks as us two, and later as us four.  The house isn’t great and perhaps we haven’t a lot of things to show for our sixteen years together, we have something more and better; huge personal growth, commitment, determination, understanding, affection, unwavering support and best of all love and great stories.

We’ve travelled to so many places, gaining and losing things along the way- the front of your knee in Phuket; amazed silence in Wadi Rum; Nile belly in Luxor; testing the waters in the Black Sea, the Red Sea, the North Sea, the Dead Sea, the Tasman Sea, and Crow Lake; our appetite lost in Kiev and found again in Den Bosch and Brussels; the skin off our cheeks in Toronto and Calgary; appreciation of the hugeness of the forest in the Rockies; wonder for artistic creation in the Louvre and Versailles, the Tate and MOMA; rapt attention looking out from the Eiffel Tower, the CN Tower, Centrepoint Tower, The Tower, the Empire State Building, Edinburgh Castle, Urquhart Castle, the Lavra, Diamond Head; and hundreds of other places and moments where we’ve explored hand-in-hand, shared meals and stolen kisses.  (That’s where all the money has gone, and I wouldn’t change it for a second.)

We were also standing, when we said our vows to each other, on a marble copy of an early, unfinished map of Australia.  If our marriage is a map, I think we’ve etched in some boundaries, found our north point, settled on a scale but have yet to explore all the details and the edge of the map is still over the horizon.  The next ten years I hope will fill in more amazing and challenging details, and when we are really old, grey and decrepit, watching the last episode of ‘Black Books’ we should sail over the horizon together.  I’d like to still be holding your hand when we do.  Deal?

paid and personal

October 14, 2014

returning from the morning school drop-off today i was prompted to think about a specific oh-so-first world problem and the western countries habits of farming out duties, activities, responsibilities, housekeeping and child-raising.  in particular the child-raising one.

understand first that i’m all for specialisation.  i like professionals with years of training and experience being in charge of and responsible for most of the things in my life.  you know, firefighters that may rescue me with lots of fire-resistant equipment and lake full amounts of water at their disposal, not just my kindly neighbour with a bucket.  or engineers and designers and craftspeople making the planes i fly in, the toaster i eat from, the bricks in the walls of my house.

in particular i like teachers.  (love them in fact.  COULD NOT live without them, as evidenced by my lost sanity during extended periods of time spent with children.)  if i thought i could teach my kids everything a regular school could (bar the insanity bit) it would make sense for them to be home-schooled.  but i wouldn’t contemplate it for a second.  schools are awesome, in my opinion, for a whole bunch of things, most often for those things they do beyond teaching kids to read; community, caring, teamwork, socialisation, friendship, goal setting, leadership, altruism, conflict resolution et al.

before children attend formal schooling their care is a fraught concern.  (as well as the time before and after standard school operating hours.)  there is a colossal, and i do not use that word lightly, discussion about who should care for babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers.  i am not throwing myself into that viper pit today, i will only say i believe there is a big array of options and solutions and one or a combination of these will best suit different families at different times.  the particular child-raising tactic that i was thinking about this morning is that of private live-in nannies.  (big halloo to tash!)  in our affluent, aspirational outer toronto suburb nannies are a dime a dozen.  i would estimate every fourth household has a nanny. (and the rest have live-in grandparents!)  this is based on the dubious maths of comparing how many parents to nannies collect their kids from school every day, generally talking to people around here and the number of nannies to parents at the local playgrounds.  it’s easy to tell the nannies from the parents- the nannies are all south-east asian, almost exclusively phillipino, the parents are white or indian.

so far, so no big deal.  except this morning i learnt some of the phillipino nannies are leaving their own children with relatives, while raising somebody else’s babies in a cold country, far, far away.  i imagine there is a whole lot of economic and possibly other reasons why these women make this decision.  i feel it is horrible and wrong.  mothers should be with their children.  the economy of the phillipines, and all nations, should allow families to stay together.  of course, i’m being idealistic.  i imagine if every family that employs a nanny insisted that the person who fulfils that role not be divided from their family the situation may change.  imagination is an amazing, beautiful, deceptive thing.

i continued on my way home with a real sense of horror, it was visceral; my head pounded at the thought of being expected to, if not love, at least strongly attach and like my employers children while my own i’m unable to hug, read to, bind up, rejoice and commiserate with.  while it may not help a struggling family, i resolved then and there, should i ever employ a nanny (highly unlikely as percy and tally are both school age now and funds are not likely to permit) or any other person in any capacity, it would absolutely not entail their removal from their family, particularly their children.

I’m a writer

September 18, 2014

“Hello, I’m Petra. I’m a writer.”

This is how the writers workshop I attended a week and a half ago got started. After the usual shuffling and an introduction from the workshop leader, of course.

I couldn’t help myself and a little under my breath added “Feels a bit like AA.” Some laughter from my fellow writers seated around the table.

In my late-in-life acquired, eager-beaver-ness I had taken the seat immediately to the right of the leader. Hence, with this ’round-the-table exercise, I was in the trump seat.

“Hello, I’m Petra. I’m a writer.”

It had both a confessional and a challenging ring to it. An apology; “sorry, I’m a writer”, combined with a confrontational; “whatcha gonna do about it?”  Or that could just be my feeling.  I haven’t had a thing published, certainly not the long novel of critical acclaim I aspire to.  I feel it’s a cheat to say “I’m a writer” without being able to point to an ISBN.  It would be more accurate to say I’m an extremely lucky housewife.  I am in, I’m sure, an enviable position where I do not have to pursue paid employment.  Paul’s income, earned from very many long hours and intellectual labour, is sufficient, if we are careful, to keep our family of four well provided for.  To me fall the duties of mother and housekeeper.  I’m not sure what the duties of a wife might include.  Outside lover, companion, cheerleader, all-round debriefer and sounding board, that is.  I think it sways very much back into housekeeper territory.  So to ensure our bread-winner is clothed, cleaned, fed and rested I am housekeeper.  To walk my children to school each day, collect them again in person six or seven hours later and ferry them to various extra-curricular pursuits and personal “playdates” (never much liked that word) is a great pleasure, and consumer of time.

But for the six hours through the weekdays I am alone, let me introduce myself…

“Hi, I’m Petra. I’m a writer.”

The workshop was very useful. It was amusing to find the leader put me in mind of Guy Pearce.  Not that they may be much alike, Guy I’ve never met while the workshop ran for two hours so this can only be based on very little.  If you’re curious the workshop was run AWA (Amherst Writers and Artists) style.  You can look that up yourself.  I’ve looked online a little for writer’s groups or workshops or the like, that I could join.  While I’m free for six hours, five days a week seems nobody else is.  Evenings and weekends, when these groups make their meeting times, I am mother and housekeeper, occasionally wife.  Sunday a week and a half ago, I checked probably too many times, that I could be ‘writer’ for three hours in the afternoon.  The difficulty is it’s often not until a day or so before, will we know for sure if I must be sole parent all through the weekend, and as relatively recent arrivals in the country there are no substitutes readily available, apart from paid ones.  There’s little fat for babysitting, it must be used wisely.  So there it was; writer me at a writing workshop on a weekend.

As a beginning I was impressed. Impressed with myself too.  Yet I may keep looking for another group to burrow into.  My thinking, humour and atheist belief felt at odds with the monotheist matrons that made up the majority of the group.  The Aussie larrikin humour that I ascribe to, with an oh-so-healthy-it’s-probably-unhealthy dose of political incorrectness and down-right offensiveness overlaying it, is possibly the biggest difference between Aussies and Canucks I can point to.  It’s not that Canadians don’t have a sense of humour, I think.  It’s just they’re too polite to laugh at racial jabs, at religious piss-takes, at disparaging disability, at political or environmental nonchalance.  Whereas Australian humour takes great delight in highlighting the differences between people for laugh opportunities, which, if you don’t know, may appear very offensive, I guess Canadians don’t find differences amusing.  Trust me, there’s nothing an Aussie can do to show you affection or high regard more, than to skewer you on the things that you hold dear or define you.  But I think to point this out to a room full of Jews, in a synagogue, might have got me circumcised.  See?

“Hello, I’m Petra. I’m a writer.”

I know Jews are only into male genital mutilation, not female, still I could be ruffling a lot of feathers with my current writers group. Plus, they’ve moved the meeting to Sunday mornings when afternoons suit me better.  Dammit.

saved by a five year old

September 13, 2014

today ought not to have happened.  ten years ago i would never have had a day like today.  there was nothing remarkable about today, until now at five post meridiem.  today my son saved my life.

ten years ago i did not have children and there was a strong doubt i ever would.  today without children would have been very different to today with children.  clearly a vacuous statement but set out in stark edges in a day when everything has been blurry and difficult and urges but no action.

i had my usual porridge for breakfast, picking out a quarter of it, and picking out the fruit from that quarter to give to talvin.  percy also had a standard breakfast.  we went to the kids karate classes.  we came home and had lunch.  i put on the movie monsters university for the kids to watch while it rained outside.  i lay on my bed, warm, comfortable and miserable.

later, tally needed a shower.  i helped him out and helped him to dry off.  i had cupped his perfect face in my hands, a white towel framing his soft, soft cheeks his damp hair darkened against his skull.  for a little while i stared at him, wondering what effort would be required to snap his neck, and what horror lay on the other side of failing to be successful in one go.

we walked together to his bedroom, i in my softest voice stating we’d better get him dressed in some warm clothes.  his mid-blue turtle neck top is the best colour for him- it makes his natural colourings; skin, eyes, hair, so shiningly beautiful.

my tears started to slide down my face as tally dressed.  i was murmuring to myself; “what is it if i’m sad?”, “what does it matter that i cannot carry on?”  tally looked into my face; i asked, to him or me i don’t think it i’m sure, “what purpose do i have?”  he too started to cry and said, emotionally and plainly: “you have to take care of us.”

his simple, perfect wisdom.

a task and a calling i am so badly suited to.  i know exactly why housewives drink themselves into oblivion, why so many end up insane.  this life i loathe that i lead.  or that leads me.  this worthless, pointless, unsatisfying day to day, filled with empty hours and dragging obligations.  so time restricted and so unstructured.

it’s a bleak day in subsumed motherhood, today.  but for today, one more day, i will not fly.  i will not fly because the simple, perfect wisdom of my son stretches beyond my tiniest parts and reminds me of the boundless love i feel for him and his sister.  i will not fly, today.

My gripe with school uniforms

September 5, 2014

In and of themselves, school uniforms don’t sway me one way or another.  There are certainly a couple of positives- no dressing decisions every morning and no variation for people to pick over in the playground.

But there is variation, and that is a big problem.  The variation is between the uniforms singled out for girl children and boy children.  And in that there is another whole concern about children that prescribe to neither strictly boy or girl sex or gender.  What pieces of the uniform does the inter-sex, or simply undecided, child wear?  I am not knowledgeable or experienced enough to comment on this conundrum.

I do feel enough qualified to comment about boy/girl school uniform differences.  My gripe is the reinforcing of sex roles and gender stereotypes that school uniforms play into.  Here it is:

Girl uniforms often include lots of white, boys generally do not.  WTF?  Who wears white when they know they are going to be playing in natural/grassed areas, with paint, textas, play-dough, clay, glue, glitter, ink, and any other manner of potentially staining materials?  This colour-coding reinforces the notion that girls and women should be careful not to get their clothes dirty.  It’s fucked.  You can’t stitch wounds on a battlefield, paint murals, change alternators, gut a fish, drive a race car, collect volcanic samples or dig for gold and keep your clothes clean.  Or, oh my, are those only male pursuits?

The insistence of white usually extends to socks.  Jesus wept!  The only professionals I can think of that routinely wear white socks are tennis players, and I bet they swear come laundry day, too.

I also can’t stand fricken’ peter pan collars.  These fuckers are impossible to iron and only reinforce the idea that girls should look “pretty”.  It’s what’s in their heads, above the collar, that counts!

If uniforms are intended to equalise children then they should be identical, regardless of who’s wearing them.  Everyone should wear skirts for sport- they allow more movement than shorts.  Everyone should be in the same colour, and it shouldn’t be white.  Everyone should have the same shirt, collar, pants, jacket, hat, socks, bag, ribbon and tie.  I’d be tempted to go so far as to say all staff should wear it too.  From Principal to janitor, can we insist for all casual volunteers?  The kids have to be there, they’re in uniform, the staff are paid to be there, they’re in uniform, volunteers neither have to be there and are not paid to be, but surely they should support the level-playing field?  If schools are about equal opportunity for learning, with no-one advantaged or disadvantaged based on clothing or worn self-expression (standard haircuts, jewellery and tattoos for all) shouldn’t every outward thing be standardised and identical?

Okay, perhaps I’m getting a little carried away.  Tho I don’t see it as that much of a stretch.  School uniforms generally peeve me because they tell little girls they are limited.  Limited in imagination, in scope, in possibility, in ability, in expectation, in dreams, in potential, in options…  and they tell little boys that it’s okay to put and expect adherence to limits, on little girls.

I don’t need to reiterate the sexism argument here.  Suffice to say, what a little child learns is very hard to shift out of their minds when they are grown.

Particular pieces of clothing have a purpose and a need; like a wielder’s mask, or a mechanic’s coveralls, a surgeon’s gloves or a builder’s hard hat.  I’m yet to be convinced of a purpose or a need for a school uniform that is categorically not uniform.