Today The Fireman and I scrounged a few free hours to go and see ‘Up!’ (we both laughed and we both cried, incidentally). I enjoyed the delightful doggy character who can speak English with the help of a nifty translating collar. When he jumped up on the protagonist and cried ‘I’ve only just met you and I love you!’ I thought that is what Ferris used to say. He may not have had a translating collar but I knew what he was saying nonetheless.
Little Bean can’t talk. She’s trying, and there are a few discernible words coming through: Dad, that, milk, foot, jumper, block, bath, tail (for the cat), no, yes, Mum.
She talks to me though. There are days – admittedly, not the bad days – when I feel like I can hear her thinking. When she uses her gestures and expressions in such a way that we can converse without words. When she barely needs to ask because I anticipate or intuit what she needs. I suppose this has been going on since her birth, our communication. But now it is more complete and also complex and, in a way, all the more special because soon she will have words to take the place of our familiar telepathy.
I do long to hear her questions and her stories but I can wait. This is a nice place to linger.
I’ve become one of those odd people who actually bother to email television breakfast programmes to complain. I’ve done it a couple of times when they’ve said ignorant things about breastfeeding on one of those nastily glossy commercial shows. And been ignored, obviously.
This morning I did it again. This time it was ABC News Breakfast on ABC2 – a show I normally enjoy. Today they have been reporting the sad death of an ACT firefighter who was helping with the Victorian fire effort as the ‘first death of a firefighter in the Victorian bushfire disaster.’
Now I don’t know about the average person, but to me, calling something ‘the first’ automatically implies that there will be more. Not a happy implication. The kind of implication that gives me nightmares, actually. So I sent them a text message (I know, I used to wonder who the hell would use the number in the banner for text messages too!)
Please stop saying first firefighter. Having a husband and friends in the CFA I’d really prefer to hear ‘only’.
And in their next bulletin, they’d changed the words. Joe O’Brien even seemed to place the emphasis on only.
Don’t bother to tell me that there were probably hundreds of people who wrote in and no doubt the camera person and the makeup team said something as well. I just want to feel special, okay?
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Little Bean can’t talk yet (unless you count enthusiastic “dadda dadda dad!” as talking, and I don’t, because she can’t say “mum”. Until then I have selective deafness). She does understand quite a lot of words though and it’s only a matter of time before she starts that delightful process of wanting to name everything in her environment.
Eyes and ears and mouth and nose will be pretty easy words to teach her. And bellybutton and knees.
It gets a little tricker in between there though.
I strongly believe that all children need to know how to speak about their bodies using the proper words, for self-protection, as well as creating a healthy self-image free of shame and the need to point and giggle at art galleries. And clearly we can’t rely on schools to take over the work of teaching young folk what’s what and what shouldn’t go where at the moment and why. Today’s Sunday Age headline Sex Ed For 10 Year Olds is meant to be provocative I suppose but personally I think at a time when the sexualisation of children starts earlier and earlier and adolescent cases of chlamydia are at epidemic proportions, starting at 10 months is more sensible. Ten year olds can probably learn more about sex from their Bratz dolls than they would in sex ed classes.
So education begins at home. But there is the problem of language. If Bean was a boy, we’d have the very simple and respectable word penis to rely on. And at times that seemed too clinical, there’d be the innocuous willy. And older boys have the luxury of great choice: the widely used and utilitarian dick or the proudly masculine cock being two of the more popular options. Instead, I have a daughter, and so I must choose between the anatomically correct (since we’d be referring to her external genitalia) vulva or the more widely used and recognised vagina. For more irreverent moments, we’re left with the archaic and confusing fanny, the asexual and misleading front-bottom or even one anti-sexual and horrifying suggestion I heard: no-no parts. When she’s grown, it’s porn terms like pussy or the misppropriated, negatively-weighted cunt. (Hey, if James McAvoy can say it in Atonement I can say it here. And at home. And I do.)
I did toy with the idea of reclaiming the c-word in the most vital way by giving it to my daughter.
But I live in the real world where little Isabella returning home from a playdate at our house saying ‘mummy, guess what word I learned today…’ wouldn’t only spell the end of playdates at our house but lead to a lifetime of being whispered about in the local supermarket queue. And not just because I have more than 12 items in my basket.
So, vagina it is. Unless the three of you can think of a better alternative.