Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Fashion and a six year old

I recently realised that my six year old knows more about fashion than I do. I have strong opinions about what to wear. That does not include my daughter tucking her shirt into a high waisted skirt, or, more precisely, a normal-waisted skirt worn high. But the other day she was dressed just so, with her singlet and t-shirt bunched underneath, giving her a thick spare tyre; we had an argument. Her outfit reminded me of a particularly ungainly woman I once knew who wore skirts hoiked up to her armpits. This same woman had red bushy eyebrows, surprising tufts of nostril hair, and a terrifying lack of social skills, so when my beautiful daughter appeared with her skirt way up, I freaked.

I would like to think that I'm too mature to be bothered how she looks; in reality, she regularly wears outfits that make me wince, but I say nothing. However, occasionally she tries a combination that makes me cringe so badly that I ask her to change. "Just pull your skirt down a couple inches," I begged that day, "and untuck your shirt." She refused, of course, and said that she looked good. I told her she was Harry Highpants, even if she was wearing a skirt. "Make that Harriet Highpants," I added. "Don't be ridiculous," she shouted, "I look beautiful and I DON'T like you making comments about my outfit." Blech, I thought, and angled for a compromise – to drag the skirt down, at least.

As we were arguing, I realised that I really do want my girls to look good, even if they wear mostly second hand clothes. At some level they are a reflection on me, even of me. When they look grotty and mismatched, people give me critical looks or even – and this never fails to embarrass me – sympathetic glances. Even as I remind myself firmly that women and girls shouldn't be judged by their appearance, it bothers me. On the other hand, when my girls look good, we get warm glances of approval and compliments and that, of course, is lovely.

While all this was flashing through my head, I was also wondering where she got the idea to wear her top and skirt just so. No one in our household tucks their shirt in; it's not what we do. I always wear hipsters, so there's nowhere to tuck – and who can be bothered tucking in a baby or a four year old when they'll immediately come undone?

Then I suddenly realised that in every shop window are manikins looking just like her. They have high waists and wide belts and floppy blouses tucked in. Yet here am I sounding just like my mother, and her mother no doubt, frantic that my beautiful daughter is looking ridiculous, even hideous, because she doesn't dress like me.

Instead, she's looking around and trying things on, things that have a different meaning. High skirts don't remind her of an odd older woman with bushy eyebrows; they look cool. She is pulling away and defining her own style, her own sense of self. Even more shockingly, she's noticed and is trying the current fad, something I wouldn't dream of doing. I feel like I've suddenly plunged from being her beautiful mummy to has-been.

I wonder if I'm big enough, confident enough, to let it go? I want her to find her own voice and express herself, but I'm not sure I'll always be up to letting her explore – let alone be willing to help her.

That said, I felt okay about that day. When I realised what was going on, I stopped arguing with my daughter. I yanked down her skirt an inch but left the shirt tucked in, and smoothed her singlet and t-shirt so it wasn't so bumpy underneath. I still didn't like it, but she was happy with that, and we went out the door.

It felt like a small thing, a step towards helping her find her style, a step towards it being something we work on together. And for an imperfect mother and a stubborn six year old, that's probably good enough.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

On veils and fancy lingerie

A while back, I was out shopping for underwear. As I deliberated over my usual modest choices, five women in burqas came into the store. Chatting and laughing, they headed over to a selection of lacy g-strings, holding up the garments for all to see as they checked sizes and made loud comments about each pair of panties.

In the wake of a Perth judge's recent decision that a woman cannot wear a burqa to testify in court, we have seen some hostile articles attacking the garment. Conservative Muslim women have been characterised as oppressed victims of violent households, and the burqa has been described as an abomination. But if you'd like to read a different approach, where I ponder sexy underwear and the subtleties of modesty, visit Eureka Street or click here.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


Yesterday. The tenth anniversary of my mother's death. The first day of my period. Yet another rainy day. All I wanted was to curl up under my favourite bedspread, hand printed with blue stripes and swooping cranes, and gaze out at the falling rain; to roll over and watch the faint shadow of wattle branches dance against the wall. I'd be my very own Japanese painting, beautiful and sad.

Instead, I loaded the washing machine and changed dirty nappies and ran around with the vacuum cleaner and hung out towels and listened to incessant chatter and picked up toys and wiped the bathroom bench and took phone calls and pegged more washing and tidied the kitchen and collected my kinder kid and made lunch and watched crumbs fall onto the clean floor. My two-year-old slept in the pram on the way home from kinder; my four-year-old would not rest; and I had no time to myself all day.

And just when I thought I couldn't stand it anymore, those endless mundane jobs constantly interrupted by the demands of small children; just when I thought I couldn't bear to read one more story or nurse one more bump or wipe one more grubby face, my four-year-old shouted at me to come and look. 'In a minute,' I said, but she shouted 'NO! Right NOW!'. The urgency in her voice made me rush over to the window; and there I saw a white-faced heron standing on our neighbour's roof. It was staring at us, perhaps trying to discern our shapes distorted behind the glass. We stared right back, quiet and still.

After a minute, or maybe three, it turned its head and picked its way delicately along the roof line, then swooped away with a great heavy shake of its wings, spindly legs dangling.

And the phone rang and my toddler fell down and Grandpa arrived home with my schoolgirl and the oven timer beeped and the girls began to squabble and I became stroppy. Then I remembered our visitor, and the way my mother had always carried a notebook with her to write down the birds she had seen. With a surge of gratitude I felt the house come alive, electric with people like a pond charged with darting fish; and I, standing in the chaos like a gawky old heron, watched on in fascination, and love.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Calling all wordsmiths!

And now for something completely different...

I wrote a very cryptic short story recently; that is, a short story in which are embedded the clues to a cryptic crossword. If you're a bit of a wordsmith and want to read some fine Australian writing besides, then rush to your local independent bookstore, buy a copy of the current Meanjin, flip to the back, find the crossword grid, sharpen your pencil and, um, blacken the centre square in the bottom and penultimate rows (a typesetting error, I am told) – then solve the puzzle! If you're a bit strapped for cash or live overseas, visit the Meanjin blog Spike, which has reproduced the crossword. Print it out, delete the words 'seventy years', find your favourite pen and away you go...

Today Spike features not only my puzzle, but an interview with the fiendish David Astle, aka DA who sets the cryptic crossword in the Saturday Age. To be linked with the master – such delight!

The answers to my crossword will be posted on Spike on 1 October.

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