It was a tremendous gift to grow up not being clever, good looking or particularly pleasant. It also helped immensely that I came from a working class family without any ‘pedigree’.
In our family there was no tradition of certain occupations, no family name to uphold, no pressure to take over the farm or the business, no alumnai it was expected I become a part of (VOMIT!). I was the first in my family to go to uni. But not the last. My younger sister also has a degree. My elder sister has a Phd.
Don’t get me wrong, it was possible to be considered a ‘disappointment’ in our family. But only because we’d been involved in crime, drugs, broken marriages or promiscuity (girls only). It was impossible to be branded a disappointment by refusing to follow the family tradition, go into the family business or uphold the family name because our family had none of these things. The hopes for us were modest. That we stayed alive and kept out of trouble.
No one had any expectations of me so I, like many, muddled through guided only by my curiosity and passion and need to financially support myself. There was never a possibility I could twist myself enough to fit into the cookie cutter shape of any possible version of a woman on offer at the time, which was liberating. The versions of women available to me growing up were slave, incubator, doormat, pleaser, service provider, trophy or garnish.
I had to find my own way without a map, my instinct as my compass. I am deeply grateful I was born here in Melbourne, in 1968, and had the incredible fortune of a state school co-ed education. Those three things allowed me to be self-made and resulted in my life looking vastly different to the women in my family who had come before me. Not only was I the first to go to university but the first to live in share households, never marry, be a single young woman with a drivers licence and my own car, own a home in my name alone, pass my surname onto my sons, travel abroad alone and work overseas. Easy access to fertility control has allowed me to have had many sexual partners and choose how many children I had and when.
Everything I have needed to know about life I have learned from travel, living with people and working in hospitality. The advice I give young people is, ‘choose the subjects you like and your life will follow.’
My eldest Dom sits his first year 12 exam tomorrow and he has no idea what he wants to do. We don’t talk about universities, courses, professions or marks. He has no plans. Work, travel, finish writing his book, get an arts degree at some stage. I am delighted and happy for him. He doesn’t feel the need to ‘become’ something. He knows he’s something already, and that something is enough for him.
A mate of mine works in education representing a tertiary institution and selling their courses. I am horrified and distressed by the stories she tells me about the pressure and expectations parents put on their kids. I truly don’t understand the motivation to live someone else’s life.
‘The heaviest burden a child carries is the unlived life of their parents’ – Carl Jung
Why don’t these parents who want their kids to be lawyers, doctors, dentists, politicians or ‘creative’ DO THOSE THINGS THEMSELVES AND LET THEIR KIDS LIVE THEIR OWN FUCKING LIVES? Did they only have children to fulfil their own broken dreams?
I only have two parenting tips
1. All children need is to know they are loved.
2. All children want is to see their parents trying, not always succeeding but trying to get their shit together.
So tonight I’m feeling so very happy for our Dom. He’s calm, relaxed and prepared for tomorrow. There is no mark he’s striving for. He’s just going in to do his best.
I was fairly terrible at school. I STILL (30 years later) cannot believe I passed Year 12. All the teachers said I would fail. Finishing school was an unexpected punctuation mark. When you’ve spent 13 years at school you don’t really ever expect it to end. It’s like a chainsaw droning in the background your whole life and then suddenly it stops. Getting my year 12 results blew my mind. I was amazed I scraped through and STILL am today. Even now I expect a letter telling me there was a mix up.
I got 51% for HSC English. In recent years my work has been used on several year 12 exams.
There is no way anyone could have advised me how to get to the place I am today. Nor was there a way to show me this place existed so I could want it. There was no degree or university that could have educated me for the perfect place I have found myself. When I saw a careers advisor in my last years of high school there was no box to tick that said ‘financially independent feminist, atheist, dyslexic, artist and teacher with Fuck Off Status.’ But that’s where I find myself.
‘You had the power all along my dear’ Good Witch Glinda from The Wizard Of Oz.
Growing up in the 70s many children felt like unwanted pets. I was one of those children. More than anything feeling unloved, unapproved of and largely ignored allowed me to be self-made.
‘But what will people think of you?’
‘Think of me? They don’t even notice I am there.’
Our job is to work out who the young people are and support them to be the best versions of themselves they can be. Children and young people are not for us to change. They are not vessels for us to fill. They are not for us to trellis, tame, bonsai or bind.
It is one thing to love someone for what they do for you or how they make you feel. It’s another thing and something very rare to love someone for exactly who they are.
You have one life. Live it your way. Because so many are wasting their lives living in a wat they think will make others happy.
And no, it’s not too late to start.