Kids’ stuffby Mark Broatch
Comic Michèle A’Court on what advice you can and can’t give your children, baby-vomit epiphanies and how women are like buildings.
As much as it’s a helpful guide for kids, Stuff I Forgot to Tell My Daughter is a touching memoir, a feminist primer, a political manifesto of sorts and a self-help book. How did it come about?
The book grew out of my solo comedy show, and stand-up is all free-range and organic. I knew – because people came to see the show and laughed and said it resonated with them – that I might have been on to something. So I felt brave enough to also let the book be whatever it wanted to be. It was a really happy thing to explore the ideas I couldn’t jam into a one-hour show or squeeze into a newspaper column, to tell big and small stories that I want my daughter to know – and other daughters and mothers, and fathers and sons.
You had an epiphany about motherhood while dealing with baby vomit. Is it easier to feel part of a shared experience in the age of social media?
It was probably even easier when we lived in villages surrounded by sisters and aunties and nanas. I’m pretty sure back in the day mothers were leaning across fences or meeting in the town square, swapping stories and saying the pre-Facebook equivalent of “Like” to each other. You see a fair bit of anxious googling and status-updating by parents now, which doubtless engenders a sense of connection, but it’s there anyway in every look that passes between mothers at the supermarket or at the school gate. Once you’ve scraped toddler vomit off sheets at 3am, whether you’ve talked about it or not, you’re in the club.
Please explain your “women and buildings” idea.
Two things struck me on a visit to Europe 20 years ago: that in countries with lots of old stuff – history and so forth – they value and revere their old buildings. Architecture is preserved and protected, kept freshly painted and lit up beautifully at night. I also noticed women-of-a-certain-age were valued and revered – in Paris and Vienna, middle-aged women are still considered sexy and glamorous. My theory is that these two things are related. You value your architecture for the beauty that comes with age and experience, and you also value women for their age and experience. But in a young country like ours where we knock down the CBD every couple of decades to chuck up something shiny and new, we only see “young” as beautiful. We don’t know how to appreciate a 16th-century castle; we want a flashy condo or a shiny new facade. Ever since, I’ve preferred the European approach to ageing – not trying to look young, but wanting to look your age and beautiful. For women and buildings, beauty equals what you started with, plus time.
You write that twentysomethings do live in a different world to us, with new cultural norms, invisible to us in many ways.
When we were growing up, we knew the people in our neighbourhood and maybe had a pen pal. We were limited to the books at the library, whatever movie was on in town and the magazines at the shop or hidden under Dad’s mattress. Our kids have access to everyone in the world, everything ever written and every movie ever made. We can’t protect them from every bad, violent, hateful idea or image, so we have to talk to them about the good, kind ideas and show them beautiful things.
Kids will probably only understand that you always feel younger than your physical age when they get there – and then no one will listen to them either. Any tricks to making them realise this?
None whatsoever. I suspect that if a girl knew that a woman is just a girl living inside an older body, her brain might explode with the truth of it. It’s really only helpful for older women to know that we all still feel 18, and that we should get together on a regular basis to act like it.
You write about being confused by some of the attitudes of the later waves of feminism. Should men get any slack for sometimes being confused?
Of course, if by “confused” you mean “curious” and “open to finding out more”. This fourth wave of feminism we’re in right now has a lot to offer men in terms of freeing them from their prescribed roles. All aboard!
Feminist or not, a lot of women would subscribe to the “zen of cleaning” you write about.
I’m very happy in my laundry. For someone who lives in my head a lot, it’s liberating to slosh around in soapy water and make things fresh and new. Plus it gives me something to do while my husband’s cooking, which is the thing that he finds relaxing.
What was the best advice you ever received?
To find something to do that makes you feel like Who You Really Are when you do it. And see if you can make that your job.
Anything you wish someone had forgotten to tell you?
That dust is made of skin.
Stuff I Forgot to Tell My Daughter, Michèle A’Court (HarperCollins, $34.99).
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