Menu Sian Prior

Writer, Broadcaster, Singer, MC & Teacher

Other people’s children [October 28]

I don’t have any children (because we never get everything we want) but I love ‘em. I’m the woman who smiles at your bored child in the checkout queue. Not a crazy smile, just a hello smile.

Not long ago I was watching a group of kids playing on the grassy foreshore at Byron Bay. A bunch of them rushed down a steep concrete slope onto the beach, but one small blonde boy stopped at the top and considered the ramp for a long time. Finally, stepping gingerly in loose gumboots, he walked down the ramp onto the beach. Then he turned and climbed back up the slope again. Ignoring the calls of the other children, he trotted across the grass towards the top of a rock wall.

Jagged grey boulders were lodged unevenly against the edge of the foreshore park, a barrier against the ever rising tides. The boy took off his floppy gumboots and placed them carefully where they wouldn’t fall. Then he slowly climbed down, barefoot, over the boulders. I wanted to applaud. Bravo!

There was a mother there, watching and waiting as her son negotiated the treacherous rocks. Patience and trust. Is that what it takes to be a good parent? Bravissima!

Childless people like me are not meant to have opinions about parents like her. We haven’t been there.

Another beach, another small boy, playing with his father. From a distance they look picture perfect, the son digging a hole, the father crouching in front of him, staring intently at the activity. Closer up it looks different. The father is not watching his son shovelling sand. He is staring down at his phone, reading and tapping and swiping.

As I near them the father is shouting ‘no no don’t, just don’t, why on earth, can’t you, no don’t, you IDIOT!’ He’s shaking his phone, which has copped some of the wet sand. He turns and strides towards the boy’s mother, waving the phone under her nose and gesturing back towards the scene of the crime. Dobber.

As I pass them the mother is shouting at the boy. ‘You’ve been very, very bad, you hear me? Why are you so bad? What do you mean you don’t care?’

Don’t judge, Sian. You haven’t been there.

The wind blows most of her words away, but some linger. So bad. Don’t care.


(This column was first published by Fairfax in October 2018)