Parental Guidance Recommended

A Let them Be Little

How much should I tell them?

One of the greatest challenges of being a parent is finding the right way to explain things to your children — or maybe not the right way, but the one that is most age appropriate, or the one that they will actually find some way of correctly interpreting and understanding.

I was reminded of this when Miss Malaprop came home from school yesterday and said her teacher had read her class a story about Moses and the Israelites in Egypt. Ever true to her pseudonym, Miss Malaprop didn’t quite manage to say ‘Israelites’, but she had a pretty good go at it — and I must admit I was too distracted by the sheaf of school notices and permission slips that has somehow managed to materialise in my kitchen since school resumed two days ago to discern the exact word she used as a substitute.

Now, being fully aware that my younger daughter is never one to speak to one so lowly as her mother of the knowledge bestowed upon her in the classroom unless she at least seven questions to ask me about various aspects of what she has learned, I braced myself for the inevitable barrage. I presumed — incorrectly, as it turned out — that she probably wanted to know all about the basket into which Moses had been placed among the bullrushes, its capacity, its relative seaworthiness, that sort of thing. Or perhaps she wished to quiz me about exactly what the Egyptian princess who found Moses might have been wearing that day, and whether her ensemble would have included a crown?

Wrong again.

“Mummy, what are slaves?”

This was the question that came from my smallest child’s lips. It came out so sweetly, so innocently, that I was forced to stop, immediately, and turn away from the tottering pile of lunchboxes I had just plonked onto the kitchen bench.

How do you answer a question like that when the person who has asked it is so young that they have only just started school? And how do you explain something as abhorrent and cruel as slavery to that person when you believe it is your solemn and sacred duty to protect them from all that is evil in this world?

A Dobby

Dobby, the House Elf who started it all…

“Slaves,” I ventured, “well, they’re a bit like the house elves in Harry Potter — the ones who have to do everything their masters tell them to, and don’t get paid.”

Miss Malaprop’s greeny-blue eyes lit up with dawning comprehension — somehow, incredibly, I had managed to hit upon a reference she understood straight away.

“Oh, OK then,” she said, nodded her head, and ran off to play.

Now, in my defence, Harry Potter is Miss Malaprop’s current obsession. It is not unusual for me to hear her yell, “Expelliarmus!” in an attempt to disarm her sister during one of their inevitable fights, and when given an alphabet book to complete for homework over the holidays she decided that drawing a picture of Voldemort was an excellent choice to illustrate the letter V.

Moreover, we are currently half-way through reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which details Hermione’s crusade to improve the lot of house elves at Hogwarts by founding the Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare (S.P.E.W.), so the concept of slavery — albeit it in a fictionalised, relatively child-friendly context — is not entirely unknown to her.

But should I have said more? Had I just completely trivialised a serious topic? Should I have checked that Miss Malaprop understood that I meant that slaves are individuals who have been denied that most basic and fundamental of all human rights — freedom — and that they are not tiny creatures with large ears and bulging eyes who toil away in the Hogwarts kitchens?

A Cleanup

This wouldn’t work in my house…I’d have to resort to a whole other fandom to get my laundry hampter sorted properly.

If it was a trivial matter we were discussing, I wouldn’t think twice about making an example of Dobby and his kin, or of shamelessly appropriating whatever other popular culture references I need to make my children understand things. Believe me, I’ve even considered putting pictures of Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker above the laundry hamper so that my kids learn to correctly differentiate between the Dark Side and the Light Side. (Honestly, the two of them can rhapsodise for hours over the different types of light sabers or various random skirmishes during the Clone Wars, but heaven help them if they can figure out how to separate whites from colours when it comes to doing the washing.)

But that’s just the small stuff.

Anyone who follows this blog with any regularity knows that when I believe it is called for, I am not afraid to put fingers to keys and speak up for what I believe in, regardless of whether it’s to do with Asylum Seekers, Marriage Equality, the Death Penalty or whatever other injustice I perceive in the world. And I think it practially goes without saying that I want my children to be raised with a strong sense of social justice and an awareness of the things that impact other people — not just themselves.

A Jason

The very lovely Jason Isaacs, resplendent in what he called his “Paris Hilton wig”, letting them be little.

I know that in the years ahead there will be many questions, hard questions, that Miss Malaprop and her sister will ask me to answer. And I hope that I have the courage to face those questions with an open heart and an open mind, and to answer them as best I can without diminishing the facts or distorting the truth.

But I don’t think that my girls — my mostly sweet, still innocent girls — are yet ready to open the book on the grisly lessons of the history of humankind, with all its madness, mayhem, murder and misogyny.

So in the meantime, I’m going to keep answering the difficult questions my kids ask by referring them to things that they already know and understand, even if that knowledge and comprehension is partially drawn from reading Harry Potter.

I would imagine that by the time they’re up to reading the Hunger Games, the conversations will be very, very different.

But for now? I’m with Jason Isaacs on this one.

Dobby is in his trailer.

 

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Dear Aylan

Dear Aylan,

You don’t know me, and now you never will, but there are things that I want to say to you even though you’ll never hear them.

The first thing I want to say is that I’m sorry. When I saw the picture of you, washed up on a stretch of Turkish beach, I wept — and the world wept with me. I am sorry that we failed you, that you did not find the refuge you so desperately needed.

I can only imagine what your life was like. In your three short years I wonder whether you ever knew the sort of peaceful coexistence my children enjoy every day, living in a society that has never experienced the harsh and harrowing realities of modern warfare on our home soil. I do know that you had a brother, Galib, and parents who loved you both so much that they made the inordinately difficult decision to leave their homeland and search for a better life. A life without bombing. Without war. Without privation. Without the incessant presence of danger — real, actual, life-threatening danger.

Aylan, I wish you had made it to safety. I wish that it did not take seeing the photograph of your lifeless body to galvanise support around the world for the thousands of human beings who are fleeing five years of relentless, ruthless warfare and are seeking a safe haven. Somewhere. Anywhere.

But I am grateful that even though you didn’t get to see it, people around the world have stood up for you. They wiped away their tears and showed each other what humanity is, nowhere more so than in Germany where, as Geoffrey Robertson so eloquently put it, “the grandchildren of the Gestapo became the angels of mercy”. And the world wept again, but this time they were tears of hope.

These people showed the world what leadership looks like, Aylan. It looks like the people who greeted the displaced thousands flooding into their country with applause, with toys and sweets, with open arms. It looks like the people who waited on roadsides handing out care packages of much needed food and water. It looks like the people who drove their cars across the Hungarian border to pick up the asylum seekers who were still walking to safety. It looks like Angela Merkel.

I am sorry — no, I am ashamed — that such leadership has been sorely lacking at the highest levels of government in my own country, and that our prime minister — in whose electorate I reside — seems to have lost himself in a mire of bureaucratic bullshit, crapping on about quotas and proportions, and crowing about stopping the boats.

A humanitarian crisis should never be turned into a political issue, but in Australia, our prime minister’s lack of compassion and basic concern for his fellow human beings is doing that faster than any parliamentary debate ever could.  It seems that he has not only forgotten Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that “everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution“, but that he has also failed to recall Article 1:

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Aylan, even though you will never speak again, I promise that I will keep speaking up for you and for the thousands of people seeking refuge, just as you did. I will stand up and say, over and over again, that refugees should be made welcome in this country. I will honour that spirit of brotherhood, of humanity.

I will remember you, Aylan.

May you rest in peace.

 Refugees welcome

I Stand For Mercy

It’s a glorious day in this part of the world today — the sun has made a robust reappearance and a strong breeze is blowing away the clouds that dumped a month’s worth of rain on Sydneytown in two long grey days.  Kids are heading back to school, and daily life seems like it’s on the verge of resuming its usual reassuring rhythm.

But there’s something tugging at my conscience, and I believe that I must speak out and tell whoever is prepared to listen that I stand for mercy.  

I stand for mercy for the ringleaders of the so-called Bali Nine, Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan. I do not wish to go over the ins and outs of Sukumaran’s and Chan’s case, save to say that I readily acknowledge their guilt and I strongly believe that they should serve their time for the crimes they committed.  I am not attempting to excuse their conduct, nor to endorse drug trafficking in any form.

That said, I do not believe in the death penalty.

Regardless of a person’s crimes, however horrific, I do not believe that any human being has the right to take the life of another.  I didn’t believe it as a ten year old, hearing the Barlow and Chambers case being reported on the radio, and I don’t believe it now.

What I do believe is that “everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person”, as stated in Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  I am proud to live in a country that is not only a signatory to that Declaration, but was also one of eight nations involved in its drafting.

I recognise that speaking out and making a fuss is, in all honesty, probably not going to achieve a great deal, particularly given that Indonesia has already executed six other individuals (five of them foreign nationals) this year, all of whom had been convicted of drugs charges.

But I can only hope — even if it be but a fool’s hope — that by lending my voice to the growing chorus of other voices in Australia and around the world, that Sukumaran and Chan just might be allowed to live out the rest of their days in an Indonesian prison rather than being transferred to Nusa Kambangan island, woken in the middle of the night, taken to a remote location, and shot dead by a firing squad.

And so I say: I stand for mercy.

Mercy