‘Draw a picture of Daddy on the blackboard,’ I say, to Tyson and Maki as I flick the newspaper open to an article I’d started reading earlier titled Send Mum And Dad Back To School which suggests – according to Executive Director of the Australian Parent’s Council, Mr Ian Dalton – that parents of primary school kids should go back to school to relearn certain subjects, to take on more of a role in their kids learning, to stop overburdening our teachers.
‘Yeah right, Mr Dalton. Like parents don’t have enough to do already,’ I say out loud, as I take a break in the reading to get a kabana stick from the fridge and to crack open a tub of tzatziki.
‘Dad, look!’ Tyson yells. ‘It’s you!’
Tyson’s drawn a smile and a pair of eyes in the middle of a large wobbly oval with several pairs of arms and legs which makes me look like a potato that’s been left in its bag so long that it’s sprouting those squiggly little white things, which is kind of spooky because that’s exactly how I’ve been feeling these past few weeks.
I’ve been taking on extracurricular activities in the form of several writing projects which means I’ve been spending many nightly hours in front of the computer screen, sleeping less than ever before, working out in the gym a lot less, eating terribly and feeling the housework pressure leaning in on me like a horny mounting stallion that’s biting at my neck and snorting snot in my ear.
If there was ever a time in my life where an artist would squint at me over the end of their thumb and represent me as a softening old potato with a thousand useless arms flapping ineffectively around a thousand different tasks it would be now, and just to add a bit more oo to the spooooky Tyson acts as if he can read my thoughts by turning back to the blackboard, scribbling my face out, and adding several more wavy lines to my body so that the transformation is complete.
‘That looks great Tys,’ I say. ‘But, hey… maybe you should try giving me a body and drawing arms and legs on it. Because look… where are my arms… not on my head are they?’
For some reason Tyson’s portrait of me makes me think of a smiling and smug Ian Dalton and so I continue reading the article until the steam starts to rise in my psyche after reading one quote in particular…
We’re talking about bringing parents back to the role of first and continuing educators, where they know they have a role to play in the learning and wellbeing of their children. Being a good parent isn’t rocket science…
Just as I’m about to form a coherent thought on why that makes me feel so angry I make the mistake of taking a bite of kabana and tzaziki and – as usual – the flavours combine in such a heavenly way that the pleasure centre in my brain overloads and I am rendered little more than a moaning, salivating, gnashing orifice.
When I regain consciousness I am staring at a crumpled piece of butcher’s paper and an empty plastic tub and there’s Tyson skipping around in circles, smacking the blackboard duster between his hands to surround two year old Maki in a plume of chalky smoke.
‘Tyson,’ I say, vague-ing in and out again as I lick the remaining tzatziki from the corner of my mouth. ‘Leave your… borther alone… I mean leave your brother a phone… I mean…’
By the time I’m fully aware of myself Maki is so stiff with rage that he reminds me of a pectoral muscle under the pulse of a defibrillator paddle and he’s yelling ‘EEyot!’ which means ‘idiot’ in his growing dialect and is something I’m pretty sure he learnt from listening to Reservoir Mother In Law when she decided to wash my microwave and unstack my dishwasher while she was babysitting this one time.
If I don’t intervene soon there’s going to be a fight for sure and so I scout the surrounds for objects to employ in the reliable distraction technique and my vision zeros in on our new six foot pouffe/ottoman which right now looks like a six foot metal boat and I’m surprised to scream SHARK with such force that I actually spray tzatziki spittle as I run and leap in.
When I turn around Tyson and Maki are staring at me with curious smiles. ‘You’re in the ocean! A shark’s coming. Look out!’ I say.
They start laughing and squealing immediately and running up and down on the spot and I’m yelling, ‘It’s going to eat you. The shark! Quick! Swim to the boat!’ and here they come bumping into each other and falling into safety for just a moment of drama and fake relief before scrambling back into the ocean for another taste of terror.
‘Oh my God,’ I say, as I try not to laugh at their crazy on-the-spot dog-paddling. ‘What’s coming now!’
‘A monster!’ Tyson yells, the starter’s gun for another run and leap.
‘What else lives in the ocean?’ I ask, before they scramble back out again.
‘Monster!’ says Maki.
‘A turtle!’ says Tyson.
‘What lives in the ocean that’s dangerous?’ I say.
‘A whale!’ Tyson says.
‘A killer whale,’ I say, as they head back out into the terror of the deep blue.
Within twenty minutes we’ve subjected ourselves to the horror of electric eels and stingrays and jelly-fish and more sharks and crabs and even encountered a few things that probably could cause us harm but shouldn’t be there like tigers and dinosaurs and Katy Perry but through it all we’re having fun and we’re learning and after a final wrestle on the pouffe, with the floorboards reformed beneath us, the boys make their way outside for the trampoline and my anger at Mr Ian Dalton’s words becomes clear.
If there’s an overburdening on our teachers, well, that’s a problem with the school curriculum so Ian should just turn his attention there instead of insinuating a deficit on the part of parents.
Bring parents back to the role of educators, where they know they have a role to play in the learning and wellbeing of their children? There’s no bringing back necessary.
Parents supervise their kids homework, sit with them to read their school readers, call out their spelling words over the morning rush or while cutting potatoes for dinner and in and around all of that – as we go about our after school activities and weekend excursions and just lying in bed having a chat – there’s a hell of a lot of incidental learning that comes with simple discussion and play.
And wellbeing? As good as our teachers are there is no one more concerned about a child’s wellbeing than her parent.
And hey, Ian, it’s true that if Archie and Lewis came bursting through the door right now, thirsting for knowledge and cornering me with, ‘Dad, what are those squiggly white things that grow out of old potatoes called?’ I’d have to look them in the eye and say, ‘Sons, let’s Google it together’ but I’m okay with that because I’m certain that’s what their teachers would do anyway.
When I lift myself from the sedative effect of the oversized pouffe and walk to the living room window I can see Tyson and Maki – who have stripped completely nude in the space of five minutes – jumping up and down as they belt out the classic ‘Dad, look at me!’
They’re having a heap of fun and it’s buying me some time and I’m not going to worry about brushing up on my knowledge of fractions or algebra when I can probably get the kitchen cleaned and start on tonight’s dinner before they’re back inside or smacking each other in the chop to force me outside.
Ian’s right – good parenting (whatever that means) isn’t rocket science but then again good primary school teaching and good directing of The Australian Parents Council
isn’t rocket science either.
So how about we just leave the rocket science to the rocket scientists, Ian, and leave the parenting of the children to the parents of the children.