The Set Up

I’m around seven years old. My big sister has a collection of dolls that break my heart every time I look at them. They are perfectly groomed, dressed and arranged. Whenever she deems to play dolls, she spends time getting them just so, a complete change for all, a new tableau. And then abandons them until the next time.  

By contrast, my dolls are in various states of undress.  Some have been iceskating while the others jazzercise.  It’s hard work getting all those tiny legwarmers onto their vinyl legs. Over in the corner of my haphazard doll house layout, a small blonde family wearing Woodstock styled outfits coo over their blue eyed baby. The mother is wearing an apron over her floral maxi dress; the father’s wide collared, embroidered shirt is open to the waist. His plastic abs shine in the filtered light through our bedroom window, his brown eyes stare at me, unblinking. I wish I knew what he was thinking.

I’ve been playing this way for hours; my dolls are ready for bed, but there is only one bed, made from a cracker box and covered with various fabric scraps and beddings. I strip Sandy and Mandy off and share the peach nightie and bed-jacket combo between them.  I console myself that once in bed, no one will be able to see that Mandy has nothing on her bottom half. I hide Mindy and Sindy in the wardrobe wrapped in a t-shirt because there is no room in the bed for them. Meanwhile, the happy trio in the corner settle down under a fluffy facewasher. That’ll do.

As I get up to leave my dolls to their dreams, I look across at my sister’s perfect tableau. I’m not sure if her dolls have ever even spoken to one another. I ache for them.  How can they be happy if no one ever gives them voice? I send them a comforting thought,

Don’t worry, one day I might inherit you. We’ll make up some great stories, you’ll love it.

And I bounce out to the kitchen for a slice of Mum’s banana cake.

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The hubster and I were having a chat today about actors. I was telling him all about being at a rehearsal with Zed the other day and how something really struck me. It occurred to me as I watched these talented people working and re-working their scenes, that acting is a noble craft.  Ancient and important.  Those who have the talent for it are able to communicate so much through acting.  Dramatisations and enactments have passed our histories and culture to the wider community since time began.  And not being an actor myself, it was quite a revelation. I saw how clever, and how important it is that human beings have always done this.

And it made me quite proud of my wee boy, following that inner drive of his up onto the stage.  Up there with the professionals, listening to direction, pondering before a serious nod and “Got it.” Then doing it,  a nuance of difference here, a grander gesture there. He’s been cast in a play by the Auckland Theatre Company.  His first paid acting gig. We’re all a bit star struck by him.  He gets his acting passion from his Great Grandmother.  But in the generations between, none of us have travelled very far into the thespian realm, for me, it began and ended with my cast of dolls.  It is a kind of inner force he follows; undaunted by audition after audition, never knowing if this one might be the one.  I admire his ability to take rejection and keep trying. Mostly, we sit back and watch his acting interests unfold.  What will be, will be. Seeing him act is such a joy for me.

These photos are from when he acted with a troupe of older actors.  He played the young Astynax in the Trojan Women (a Greek Tragedy) opposite his Great-grandmother as Hecuba.  He is pictured below with his on-stage mother, and right, playing dead.

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So there we were, Hubster and I,  talking about that ‘thing’ actors have, the way they can travel outside of their own self and adopt other personas.  The way they can make that so believable.  Hubster lamented his lack of ability to do that, even when playing as a kid. He said that as a child, he preferred setting up his Action Men to playing with them.  It reminded me of my sister’s dolls. For me, it was always the opposite.

I would race through the boring old set up; using hardcover books for dolls house walls, positioning furniture so that it would hold the walls up.  And boom, straight in to the most recent episode. Would Sandy ever forgive Mandy for wearing her striped velour tracksuit?  And would another male doll ever join the action? (The answer to that was no.  The only man-doll I was allowed was a Mr Sunshine doll, because he came boxed with his legally married bride and infant child).  Mr Sunshine got to play more characters than just his own; given the scarcity of males. He was far more diminutive than the Amazonian’s living in my makeshift dolls house, but he didn’t mind.  He was good like that, generous with his affections.  It was perhaps not quite what my mother was hoping to achieve with the introduction of a safely married gentleman doll.

But the action, the playing, the creating of the story!  Oh, I loved that bit!  I wish I could still play like that.  Hubster commented on how these days, I like the kids to have their toys ‘set up’ and ready to go before a playdate, to maximise the amount of time they can be ‘in the story’ with their buddies. Likewise, I like things assembled before they go under the tree, because spending Christmas day fiddling with tiny screws and batteries drives me crazy. For him, that spoils all the fun. For him, the set up, the assembly, is the most fun part.

Go figure. I guess it is like so many of the personal preferences we have.  Are you a ‘set up’ kind of person, or a ‘play’ person? Crunchy or smooth peanut butter?  Sweet or savoury foods? Summertime or Winter wonders? Indoors or outdoors? Toilet roll over or under?

And what are your thoughts on acting? Have you ever done it?

 

Second-Chance Me.

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I wish I’d had the chance to do that.

Have you ever played this record in your conversations with your kids? Er, yep! Like so many parents we strive, sacrifice and stress out about the extra-curricular lessons.  About making sure our babies are keeping up with the full gamut of opportunities.  “Who knows what their ‘thing’ will be?  They certainly won’t be left behind their peers, let’s try them all!”

In our particular parenting story, it began with swimming at 8mths old.  I had read somewhere that the earlier lessons for swimming begin, the better for the child.  So she began.  We’d rock up to our sauna of an indoor swimming complex with all the bells and whistles to make the lesson thing run smoothly.  Towels and nappies and spare bum-cream and a bottle for after and a snack just in case, organic baby wash for the showers, a fresh set of clothes for after, the pram, water and a snack for us.  Seriously, we were prepared!  The whole palaver took three hours.

Baby gym was next, because according to my sources, without the right/left brain coordination she would never develop correctly.  We ran around the obstacle course lifting, flying, chanting “Good!  Aaaaand, left leg UP, good girl!”  By the end of each session she was sound asleep in the car seat and I was ready to curl up with a blankie and a dummy myself.  And yet we pushed on. No way my girl was going to have my coordination issues, my fear of water, my mediocre ballet career….

Ballet.  Shoes, tights, leotard, videoing on my phone so we could practise the steps at home.  Mums all peering through the studio windows, desperate to see their babies dancing, anxiously comparing, heads nodding with the beat, toes flexing in their shoes, hands occasionally fluttering away from their sides.  Aaaaand, breeeeathe.

Netball Mums, yelling from the sidelines “SHOOT!  FIND A SPACE!  !!!REF!!!  C’MON!”  quiet conferences between Mums and sideways glances, passive aggressive conversations with coach.  Pep talks on the way home from practise, try harder, use your head, toughen up, listen to your coach, mark your opposition!

Gymnastics, Tennis, Hip hop, Art class, Trampolining, Ukulele, Theatre Arts, Mind Lab, Digital Music Composition.  Oh goodness.  I list them all and I am ashamed.  How many hoops has my baby jumped through to satisfy my vicarious ambitions?  So many. Too many.  How many dollars have we funnelled into the accomplishments of our daughter?  How many times have I berated her, and behooved her to make more effort? I try not to, but I confess, often I see her as second-chance-me.  She can have the opportunities I lacked, try the things I wasn’t brave enough to try, be the girl I wanted to be.

But what does she want to do?
Only one thing.
The only one thing that she has ever wanted to do.
The only one thing I know nothing about (ouch.  ….any wonder why?!)
The only one thing she has ever enjoyed, out of all of them.  My girl will do anything to be near a horse, to ride a horse, to scoop the poop of a horse and pick the hoof of a horse.  At first I didn’t encourage her, isn’t horse riding for the elite?  That’s just not us, sweetie.  She persistently begged me from four years old.  Horse themed birthday parties were as far as I went.  But her innate passion wouldn’t give up its grip on her.  She is a horsey girl through and through.  And so, I let go of my other ambitions, I had to.  Horse riding isn’t fiscally friendly!  She has proven across the years that this horse thing is no passing phase.

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So there she goes.  Taking a chance, that is nothing to do with what I didn’t get to do.  We were forecast for a tropical cyclone today.  I woke to the sound of the wind whipping around the house in the dark of early morning.  I hoped that maybe, she’d say “Let’s give it a miss today, Mum”. But no, she was already up, already in her gear and chomping at the bit (pardon the pun).  I watched her circling the arena in the rain, her little face peeping out from under her riding helmet and raincoat, wreathed in smiles.  It makes me laugh at myself.  She’s found her bliss.  If only I had listened to her a little earlier I might have discovered my own.  Because there is no joy like watching your child do something they love to do.  Even in a storm.  

My girl enjoys jumping over hoops more than jumping through them, and at last, I understand what she is teaching me.  “Let me be who I am Mum, not who you wanted to be”.

Guess I am a slow learner!

Photographed by Beverley Couper