That would make this next couple of posts so much easier. In fact, I’m putting together an Unrepeatable Primer of odd cultural references. If you can make it through you’ll have some insight into the odd collection of mental images that make up my thinking. You’ll also have lots of useful little lines to throw into your repertoire for various occasions. But today I’m thinking of Strictly Ballroom. In the immortal words of Doug Hastings, “can I bend your ear for a tick?”
Strictly Ballroom is a gloriously tacky early Baz Luhrmann film about competitive dance sport. It’s a chick flick complete with plenty of dancing, a comedy with one of my favourite horror moms of the screen, Shirley Hastings, and underneath all the sequins and cake makeup is a message I think we need to hear: “A life lived in fear is a life half lived.”
It seems to me we’re living in an age of fear. Across the board of human interaction we’re afraid. On the large stage we’re afraid of terrorism, afraid of our government, afraid of our political opponents, afraid of our economy, but it doesn’t stop there. Right down to the very smallest denominator we’re afraid. We even parent in fear. I think this is a result of being saturated with information. The news, the blogosphere, advertising, Facebook posts, magazines, advice books, all bombard us with statistics, facts and opinions, worst case scenarios or rosy ideal outcomes. Let’s take a moment to think of all the things we’re afraid of.
We are afraid of strangers: Everyone is a potential abductor, abuser, or attacker. Not to mention strangers have germs, and boy…
We are afraid of germs: Every bug is carrying the newest worst possible sickness and is waiting for the perfect moment to infect you. The nice lady at the store who coos over the baby is breathing disease all over her. Every surface crawls with all manner of horrific invisible bacteria and viruses. In case you weren’t creeped out enough, lets run tests on them and look at everything with a black light so we can all be 100% certain of just how gross the whole world around us is.
We are afraid of injuries: Remember when playgrounds had fun equipment? I do. Now it’s so safe that there’s nothing left to do. Remember skinned knees and palms? Remember climbing trees or slipping in creeks?
We are afraid of food: First we were afraid of packaged and processed foods and now we’re afraid of milk and wheat too. The list of things that may be slowly killing us is so long I’m not really sure what’s left to eat. Unless I have lots of time and money and live in the right place. We’re scared of anorexia and obesity. Food, which should be one of the joys of life, is becoming the adversary. No wonder so many children are growing up with a bad relationship with it of one kind or another.
We are afraid of the sun: The sun is basically just one big dehydrating cancer source lurking in the sky.
We are afraid of sleep: Lying down with your infant could kill him in his sleep. Putting him in a crib in another room could kill him in his sleep. Feeding him formula could kill him in his sleep. Letting him sleep on his tummy or in a swing could kill him in his sleep. You are only ever one night’s sleep away from losing your child.
We are afraid of accidents: Or more precisely, we don’t believe in accidents. Everything is somebody’s fault. We live in an age of handwringing about how much time children spend in front of a screen everyday (7 hours on average!) and yet also a world where no child should be left unsupervised at any time. No wonder moms are parking their kids in one spot for longer and longer parts of the day when they’re not allowed to do anything else. Forget going outside, I saw a mother being berated for having her two year old in the living room while she was around the corner in the kitchen. If something awful happens to your child because you let them play in the sun, get dirty, be bitten by a mosquito, eat a peanut, or just live outside your gaze for five minutes it will be Your Fault. You will live with that brand forever. Even if you can forgive yourself there will always be the judgement of others, and that’s another thing on my list.
We are afraid of judgement: Even if you decide that you’re going to relax some of these societal norms in your own family, there’s always the fear that someone will “catch” you. Catch you letting your kids play outside in their underpants in the yard while you do the dishes. Catch your kid with a black eye from smacking her face on the corner of a swing while playing with her brothers. Or a scraped knee from a game of tag. Catch you forgetting your Purell or your Coppertone at home one time. Catch you letting your kids eat candy.
Of course every one of these fears has a basis in fact. And every one of them leads to deeper fears that are entirely natural. Fear of pain, suffering, death, loss. Having awoken to find my own child blue one morning after which I thought I would never sleep again, I do not wish to belittle anyone’s parental nightmares. However, I do think it’s worthwhile to take stock of our fears and make sure we aren’t just labouring under a whole pile of baggage because it’s the accepted norm rather than because we ourselves choose to. That’s the other lesson in Strictly Ballroom. Just because there is a list of approved dance steps doesn’t mean you can’t try some of your own. Life is full of tradeoffs. We all have to decide what risks to take for what reasons. If we look at the information and decide that the risks of a particular parenting choice are too much, then we should certainly act on that conviction. For myself I am very careful about some of the things on this list, take some with a grain of salt, and pretty much scoff at others. On no account take away from this that you should leave your child with a diseased stranger offering transfats on a metal merry-go-round on a hot summer’s day, at least not without putting on a hat and sunscreen. But maybe ask yourself: is my family so afraid of ill health that it’s unhealthy? Are we so afraid of sadness that we can’t be happy? Are we so afraid of death that we can’t live a full life?
Now go watch Strictly Ballroom and determine to fill your life with plenty of flashy crowd pleasing steps.
“Vivir con miedo es como vivir a medias”