By MIA FREEDMAN
I promise this isn’t going to be an uppity column about the fact Jennifer Lopez took her four year old daughter to a Chanel show. Or that Victoria Beckham sat catwalk-ringside with her one year old. This is not a column called Why Are Celebrities Taking Children To Fashion Shows And Have They Confused Baby Humans With Expensive Handbags Or Small Dogs.
As far as cruelty to children goes, I’m not losing sleep over the little ones forced to watch size 0 models in $18,000 jackets stomp up and down a catwalk for 20 minutes. There are worse things than being bored, WORSE THINGS I TELL YOU, little Emme.
But that look on Jennifer’s face? I know that look. I’ve worn it on so many occasions. It says: “I thought this experience would be really different to the way it’s turning out and this is hard and unpleasant and I am feeling extremely stressed/anxious/frustrated/disappointed”. I’d bet the same thoughts are going through the mind of the little girl squirming restlessly on J-Lo’s lap and wishing she could be anywhere but here where it’s BORING and too bright and awfully loud. And why isn’t that skinny lady wearing any pants with her jacket? Did she forget to put on her pants? And Mu-um, can I have your phone and when are we go-ing?
Absurdly often, I have this lovely, wafty image of what an outing with my kids will be like and then reality goes and screws with my fantasy, turning it into scrambled eggs with a side order of excruciating. Even after 3 kids and 15 years, I cannot seem to reconcile the IDEA of a fun, bonding experience with my child with the reality of….you know, CHILD.
Like the time I decided it would be life-affirming to bring a baby to a funeral (the circle of life!) and had to excuse myself when his crying began to drown out the eulogy. Sorry grieving loved ones, I muttered as I squeezed past them with a wailing infant clutched to my bosom, pretending to comfort him but really trying to insulate the congregation from the godawful noise.
Or the time last year when I took my two youngest ice-skating, with thoughts of happy frolicking. Adventures! Fun! Unfortunately, my 3 year old and I had a major misunderstanding about how ice-skating works. When I’d explained to him that it was no big deal if you fell over and got your bottom wet, he interpreted a wet bum to be the objective of the exercise. Thus we have some special photographic memories of me dragging him around the rink trying to keep him upright as he tries to sit down on the ice and becomes a bawling, thrashing dead weight. And then I fell on him.
Look, you can see how it went down in this movie:
My favourite part is when i just kind of give up and skate off as if I’m not dragging a small squirming child.
It was only during the car ride home when everyone had stopped crying and we were having a debrief that I learned about the crucial miscommunication. “But you told me to sit down and get my bottom wet,” he protested accusingly. “Oh well!” I chirped. “Wasn’t that fun? WASN’T IT?”
Then there was the time a friend and I took our daughters to a Yo Gabba Gabba concert. The theatre was an hour from home so I suggested we take the train. What fun! A train! Adventures! With our daughters in tow, we had to walk miles through stations, change trains three times and then RUN 3km from the station to the theatre. We had no prams. The girls demanded to be carried and we were so late we had little choice. Ever tried running 3km carrying a small, grumpy child? “Let’s just grab a couple of those, and pull the girls the rest of the way,” I panted at one point, gesturing to some wheelie bins. Are we having fun yet?
You see, like most women, I am the family memory maker. I’m the one who organises the celebrations and the excursions even when I know they will be absolutely punishing and someone will cry. If it’s not me, I consider it a win, on balance. My husband is baffled by my determination to do these‘fun’ activities which I rarely enjoy except in the peaceful delusion of my own mind. “The kids will be just as happy playing with the hose in the backyard or getting to the next level of Doodle Jump,” he suggests. “I’m making memories,” I hiss back at him. “Doodle Jump is not a memory! It’s an app! Different!”
As part of my Memory Maker role, I find myself maniacally repeating “Isn’t this fun? Aren’t we having fun?” even when we are plainly not (see ice skating anecdote above). It’s like I can somehow make it true by saying it, forcing everyone to file this occasion in the mental folder marked “Happy Family Memories Of My Childhood”. I’d like to think this file is filled to overflowing and yet I fear it has a couple of crumpled bits of paper in it marked “Christmas” and “That time we had a water fight in the garden.” And Yo Gabba Bloody Gabba.
And if you’re someone who’s never in your family photos, you need to read this.
Are you also your family’s memory maker?