What’s in a dream?

Reverend Mother Winifred from my old school featured in one of my dreams last night.

‘Don’t use that chair’ she said, as I staggered onto the soft padding of a red chair whose central springs had given way and my foot sunk through the middle.

A problem because I was using this chair to give me additional height in order to reach something that dangled from the sky.

It’s hours since I left this dream and only snippets remain but see how useful it as a starting point.

It’s one of the reasons why I love dreams.

The way people who are long dead come back to you in full form just as they were fifty years ago and you can relive moments of the past you thought you’d forgotten and reconstruct them from the snippets you retain.

The other day my daughter described a dream that had troubled her from the night before. In it her beloved dog had been hit by a car and all because her dad had left the door open.

I won’t even try to go into interpretative mode here, only to say, the dream says a great deal about certain of my daughter’s feelings towards her dog and her dad. Later that same day I heard on the news about a type of real life reversal of her dream: a dog had killed a 61 year old man and seriously injured the man’s 58 year old wife.

My first thoughts were along the lines of ‘vicious dog’. Only to hear further that the dog belonged to the dead man’s son, was a family pet and had never betrayed such behaviour before.

This puts me in mind of the notion that sons want to kill and take the place of their fathers.  When there’s plenty more evidence to suggest it’s more the fathers who want to kill their sons.

And this says nothing about mothers and their daughters.

We adults tend to blame the children first and find it hard to look to our own struggles with the children or our wish at times to be rid of them.

None of this is as simple as I make it sound here.

The daughter of the dream is away for the weekend and I’m in charge of the dogs, the walking, feeding and entertaining.

It’s working out well enough though I’m trying to encourage my husband to join us on our walks.

But walks with the dog to him are a bit like travelling abroad is to me, distasteful. Not something either of us want to do, he to walk the dogs and me to travel.

So, I don’t push it too hard, any more than he urges me to go overseas.

We respect one another’s differences even though each of us can imagine that it would be good for the other to alter our ways.

Which is another thing I’ve been thinking about of late, the ability to tolerate difference.

When I was a young would-be social worker on one of my earliest placements in the then Citizen’s Welfare Service in Drummond Street in Carlton, I shared the space of a small office with a remarkable supervisor who went by the name of Barbara.

Barbara was innovative. She suggested not only would she write an assessment on my performance while on placement, I should write one too.

It says how long ago this happened to suggest this was an innovative idea. In those days the authority of our elders prevailed and to think that a fledgling social worker might write her own report was indeed radical.

It was a thrill to write an assessment of my developing self and performance all those years ago but the only thing I remember was writing the words,

‘I have begun to recognise the otherness of others.’

 The word ‘otherness’ appealed to me and the idea that people could be different from me and that I should and could respect their difference at the time was mind-blowing.

How naïve was I in those days when every new idea that entered my mind seemed like a stroke of brilliance?

Now I see that most ideas have been thought before by someone else somewhere and the best we can do is put our ideas in fresh words, ‘to make the stone more stony’ as the formalists, those Russian bods who had ideas about literature and language argued.

And every time I dream, the images and ideas that come to me have all the freshness of a new day, so much energy, even though I can never capture them in words.

Only bask in the sensation of my amazing unconscious that sneaks out and visits me while I sleep. You too can enjoy such visits, but you must of course pay attention.

If I could speak to these folks again, even in my dreams that would be something.

Such visitors arrive fast and leave just as fast, often without leaving a calling card.

All they might leave is a snippet of memory a flash of colour, the sight of your old Reverend Mother and a red ruined chair.

Bigotry begins in childhood

Isn’t it strange how your childhood follows you around and will not let you be? It creeps up when you least expect.

For me it comes in bursts of colour, or taste, a sense of newness and I flash back to the year I opened the Christmas wrapping on my first Rockman doll, a huge plastic baby without hair on the oversized head of a new born, along with indented arms and legs as if still foetal.

 My sister got one too, such a relief. We could play together for hours with our respective babies, and not fight over them. 

When my first daughter was born, I did not consider gender stereotypes as I do today. Instead, I longed to buy her first doll and went overboard for my daughter’s two-year-old birthday by buying a doll almost her size. 

My husband named the doll, Azaria after Lindy Chamberlain’s baby, the one who was taken by a dingo. 

No one believed it at the time, that Azaria was taken by a dingo. They were convinced Lindy Chamberlain had killed her baby, in some sort of crazy religious ritual.

At the time of Azaria’s disappearance, Lindy and her husband were camping at Alice Spings near Uluru, along with others from their religious community, and the baby was taken from their tent. 

Someone at the time reported that Azaria meant ‘sacrificed in the wilderness’, which added to the accompanying media frenzy and belief the baby was taken as part of a ritual sacrifice. 

People’s doubts about Lindy’s claims of innocence, just like the character Meursault in Albert Camus The Stranger, were initially based on her apparent lack of grief at the time of her baby’s death. 

Camus’s Meursault, a French Algerian, also failed to show appropriate grief when his mother died. 

We like people to behave predictably even when they’re in shock or have different cultural mores. This is hardly fair but typical of the puritanical parts of people that expect conformity in times of our own shock as when a baby disappears. 

The courts convicted Lindy Chamberlain of murder and it took three years before she was set free. Further inquests followed after a baby’s jump suit appeared near a dingo’s lair at the base of Uluru. 

Lindy’s life was shattered, despite eventual financial compensation years later; her marriage also ended and all on account of a dingo and the bigotry and suggestibility of the Australian people. 

By the time the dingo took Azaria I was the mother of two daughters and knew enough about the joys and sorrows of parenting. The way with every stage of your child’s development something of your own rehearsal for that stage flashes into your being like the lines of a play, or the ability to ride a bike. 

You might forget the lines or how to ride but the lines or ability come back to you fast enough. 

So, it was when my third daughter heated one of those Red Skin lollies, pink slabs of raspberry flavoured confectionary, in the microwave and reached in her hand to pick it up.

She had not realised the microwave would heat the stuff into a boiled toffee that clung to her fingers. 

I was working at the time and in between sessions came out and urged her nanny, who had been out of sight at the time my daughter tried the experiment, 

‘Take her to chemist. He might have some ointment.’ 

I had no idea that it was a burn that might require a more specialised form of treatment as through a doctor. 

Already, I took my children to doctors more often than my parents ever took me and my siblings. But not often enough. 

Doctors were a luxury when I was a child or an unnecessary form of connection. Unless you had something serious like rheumatic fever, as two of my siblings copped, doctors were best avoided. 

Even in adulthood, I too liked to avoid them unless absolutely necessary until I read that people who visit doctors live longer. 

In any case, the point I make here is that the nonchalance and disregard I held for children’s ailments might well have derived from my own childhood of parental disregard for cuts and bruises or even greater calamities like when my older sister broke her leg falling from a tree.

My father made her a makeshift splint, care of his life in the army, and put her to bed with Panadol.

Not until the next morning when he saw the swelling did he decide she needed a trip to emergency. 

Back to my daughter and her burned fingers, an experience she remembers well as a sign of her neglected childhood.

 I too remember, though less clearly and consider how I might have behaved differently, if only I had recognised those hints from my own childhood. Hints that alerted me to the notion that, like my parents before me, I should have taken my daughter to a doctor.

Another thing that hits me full on here comes with our use of language. 

In these days of racial sensitivity, the name, Red Skin with the cartoon image of an Indian chief on the cover, (no longer featured, though the name continues) appals me. 

A form of racism that I did not notice when I was young or even when my children were young, not until today when I recognise the value of doctors in crises, and the need to reserve our judgements when people behave in ways we don’t expect, like Lindy Chamberlain or when language is used to put some people down so as to keep others up.

And so, your childhood follows you around.