by MIA FREEDMAN
I’ve never been on Q&A, but I’ve come close. A few years ago, I was asked to appear on the ABCTV panel show and after days of agonising, I agreed. Foolishly. What the hell did I know about interest rates, climate change, the mining boom, global fiscal policy or the proposed overhaul of the health system?
Five days out, I’d commenced the process of biting my nails down to the elbows when something unexpected happened. Then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was rolled by Now Prime Minister Juila Gillard. As news of the coup spread dramatically that Wednesday night in June 2010, my first thought (and then tweet) was this:
“I’m sooo getting dumped from Q&A.”
Because look. The biggest political story of this century may have been shocking the pants off the nation but IT’S STILL ALL ABOUT ME. OK?
I was right, of course. Not the all-about-me part but the part where I was dumped. And thank God. My overwhelming feeling was relief. It felt a lot like being told an important exam has been cancelled and Nutella pancakes will be served instead.
From experience I know how easy it is to sit in front of the TV with takeaway on one knee and a laptop on the other while berating the panelists for their lame answers as you shovel more tandoori chicken into your face.
But swap your lounge room for a TV studio and throw in an audience of hundreds of thousands of people gagging to find fault in every word that does – and doesn’t – come out of your mouth? Well, here’s a nightmare we prepared earlier.
What could be more stressful than being quizzed on complex subjects you only have the vaguest idea about? In front of the world. And Twitter, which is much worse. Those people can be brutal and I know this because I am sometimes one of them. It’s a fiercely intellectual crowd who delight in shining a giant torch into the gaps in your knowledge. I have a lot of gaps. So. Many. Gaps.
But recently I’ve realised that like all parents with young kids, I’m already doing Q&A most days at home. We’re workshopping some big philosophical issues in our house at the moment. Sex, cancer, God. Sometimes, we cover them all before 7am. Often, we’re in the car. Or someone’s on the toilet.
“If you’re a boy, can you have a boyfriend?” “Why can’t I marry Daddy?” “Is God real?” “What happens after you get breast cancer?” “Why did R’s parents separate?” “Can a dog’s parents separate?” “How do you know when a woman’s eggs are ready to make a baby?”
And on and on and on.
At least on Q&A when someone asks a curly question, the panelists are somewhat prepared, always fully dressed and unlikely to be hungover. You’re not driving or frantically packing a school lunch or having a shower or texting your boss or trying to watch The Voice. Nobody will be shouting your name from another room asking you to scratch their bottom or find their underpants or read them a story. At least I assume none of that happens during Q&A tapings. Who knows really.
I don’t recall asking my parents many big questions when I was small. Even though I grew up in a very open household where all sorts of things were discussed and debated over dinner, there weren’t the same issues that feature in basic conversation today like divorce, gay marriage, refugees, cancer, global warming, IVF, miscarriage, atheism … welcome to an average month of family Q&A in our house.
But why wouldn’t those subjects come up? We have lots of gay and lesbian friends. Several same-sex couples have kids. Some were married overseas, others want to marry here but can’t. We know people whose children are adopted or conceived via IVF or sperm donor. My kids have friends with two mums and two dads. I have friends whose babies have been stillborn or died during pregnancy. We are close to people who have had breast cancer and mastectomies. We know many couples who are in various stages of separation, divorce and remarriage.
None of that makes us remotely unusual in 2012 and we don’t actively hide any of it from our kids. They live around and amongst all those issues which exist for them mostly in the background like wallpaper.
When they have a question we try to answer as simply, honestly and age-appropriately as we can. Who knows how often we get it right – only our children’s future therapists – but we do our best. Here’s a typical example:
“In lots of countries, boys can marry boys and girls can marry girls and by the time you grow up, I’m sure you will be able to marry whoever you want. Just not your brother. Got it?”
POSTSCRIPT: A few years after my fateful Q&A dumping, I was invited back. “We want to lock you in for Feb 27 and we absolutely promise it’s a rock solid booking” said the producer. “No way will we dump you.” I politely declined and then forgot about it until Feb 27th rolled around. That was the day of the Labor leadership ballot after Kevin Rudd mounted his surprise challenge against Julia Gillard. Spooky.
What’s the curliest question you’ve had to answer from a child in your life?