Friday, June 29, 2012

Not unique at all

I was hanging around my daughter’s classroom when I saw a large board with the statement ‘My family is unique because...’. Pasted around the statement were folded slips of paper. On the flap of each slip in wobbly letters was the reason a family was unique; unfolded, it revealed a child’s name. My curiosity piqued, I took a closer look.

In my daughter’s handwriting I saw ‘We have chickens (ones of our own)’, and smiled. Not unique in our suburb, but perhaps in her class it’s a contender.

Some kids felt unique because of the languages they speak at home: Somali, Maori, Hungarian, Bengali. Some felt it for sad reasons: ‘I live with my mum one week and my dad the next’ / ‘because we are separated’.

Others were unique because: ‘We wach TV in the middel of the day some times’ (shock horror); ‘We do not like foote’ (in the footy loving city of Melbourne, gasp); and ‘We like to walk everywhere’ (note the emphasis, poor kid!).

The prize for most left of field went to: ‘We go to the chiropractor on Saturdays.’ (every Saturday???).

And my favourite, although I’m not sure it makes the whole family unique: ‘I open the tapse. I ptend to have a shawa and I stand out of the bathroom.’

It got me to thinking. What makes my family unique? We eat a lot of wholegrains, but so do most people I know. I love red meat but my husband is vegetarian, like two other families in my choir. I write, my husband’s a lawyer: well, there are lots of lawyers and writers at our school. Our family laughs hysterically whenever someone falls down, but then Buster Keaton would never have been famous if it weren’t for people like us. We have too many books, like half our suburb. There is stuff about us on a blog, as for several other school families. We go to church with a bunch of other people. I couldn’t think of a single thing that made us unique.

On my way home, I visited a second hand bookshop and got talking to the owner. He’s a writer, as am I; and somehow it came out that we both grew up in the Baptist church. I glanced at the business card on his desk and realised I knew his father, a minister, who once worked with my mother, also a minister. Another customer joined the conversation; he was from the same milieu. ‘It’s like a Baptist revival meeting,’ I said, and came to the conclusion that we are not unique, not at all.

It felt like a heresy. We are barraged daily by advertising which suggests we are so terribly special that we are entitled to countless privileges; yet when I realised just how far we are from original I felt profoundly relieved. It means we have found a cohort in which we can be whoever it is we need to be. We can eat wholegrains and ride everywhere and have too many books and write about our lives and keep chickens and laugh ourselves silly when we see someone fall over, and nobody much will ever blink an eyelid. How liberating. The Genius of Buster Keaton


  1. Perhaps it's the shades of grey; the less obvious and yet still profound? Have a great weekend. Jeff.

  2. Hi Jeff, you're right; somehow it's everything and nothing which makes us unique - but rarely something that fits on a piece of paper two by three inches! alison.

  3. Hi Alison. Decided to pop over and visit your blog after reading your lovely little piece in The Age. Great job! Love this post too. We're all important, but we don't always need to be individual and different and unique. Sometimes it's nicer to focus on what we have in common with people. Had a giggle when I read you're a writer and your husband is a lawyer - it's the same in our house too! Looking forward to reading more.

  4. Thanks for the comment, Belinda. I often think of that Monty Python sketch where everyone's shouting 'we are all individuals'... Each of us is, of course, unique and yet at the same time such a product of our environment. Alison

  5. Not only are you and your family unique, you are special, wonderful people. I'm grateful to know all of you. Jan

  6. thanks Jan - and so are we all, given half a chance. al.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...