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. 

2 thoughts on “Bigotry begins in childhood”

  1. One of the few pluses to being a weekend dad (or, in my case, a court-ruled-bi-weekly dad) is you rarely have to deal with sick kids; if they’re poorly when it’s your turn to pick them up they stay put and you’re sent packing. At least that’s the way it was for me; my wife gave no quarter unless it was to her advantage. Of course we were a family for the first two years of my daughter’s life but I really don’t remember her being ill. I suppose she must’ve been. I DO remember an appointment at a hospital in Glasgow but not the specifics.

    I’ve never forgiven my wife for leaving me. It’s close on forty years since and you’d think by now I’d’ve mellowed but not really. I never signed up to be a part-time dad and I hated being one. I wanted the full experience including the unpleasant bits. By the time my daughter moved in with me she was almost eighteen and apart from a couple of hangovers and a shoplifting incident I got off light. And the next thing she got a flat of her own and was gone again.

    So there’re lots of things I should know about my daughter’s childhood that I don’t. Like her favourite doll. No idea. She came in the clothes she stood up in and I was left to provide everything, toys included, while she was with me but she didn’t really have much time for playing; there was always stuff going on, places to go. I mean I bought her things but they ended up being mostly decoration.

    I can’t think of anything relevant to say about bigotry just now so I’ll leave it there. It’s late and I’m tired. If I think of anything worth adding I’ll come back to you.

    1. Sad, Jim, that you couldn’t be there for your daughter’s formative years. You’ve missed out on so much. But at least she came back into your life more fully at eighteen, how ever short lived. Sometimes our wounds stay with us for our lifetimes, and that’s sad too, about your wife leaving you all those years ago. Sounds as though it’s still a bit of a puzzle for you that she did. To me that is most likely to keep the resentment going, not understanding. Who knows? maybe one day it’ll all feel a bit better. I hope so for your sake. Thanks, Jim

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