by Susan Ryder
Yesterday morning I awoke to the news that former MPs Don Brash and Katherine Rich, together with author Lynley Hood were calling for a new enquiry into the Peter Ellis case. For those who were not in the country at the time, me included, the former Christchurch Civic Creche employee was jailed in 1993 for 16 counts of sexual offences against children, but has always maintained his innocence.
The last few posts have seen me speaking up for white men, (although God knows why -- there’s a few commenting here I’d gladly sacrifice to the feminazi godless!), arguing the merits of drug legalisation and open immigration, (guaranteed to make the blue corner see red, those two), and calling Muslim terrorism for what it is: terrorism by Muslims.
Being so close to Christmas and already having a seasonal message lined up for next week (bet you can’t wait!) I was in the mood for something light. I’d been toying with the idea of having a laugh at either a bunch of sopping wet green mush I came across in a magazine at the hairdresser’s last Friday or the .. wait for it .. Miss World 2008 contest I stumbled upon on TV yesterday while sitting down to lunch. This latest saga in the ongoing Peter Ellis story changed my plans in a trice.
I returned to New Zealand permanently in 1995 two years after Ellis’s sentencing, to find the case still raging. I cannot comment upon it per se, except to say that it sounded a mighty nasty affair.
The call for another enquiry prompted some interesting calls to Leighton Smith’s programme. Several men, all fathers and grandfathers, recounted their being frightened of bathing or even playing with their little children/grandchildren around that time, lest their actions be misinterpreted. I remember having a conversation with a late friend, then a father of little kids himself, on that very topic whereby he was adamant he was not going to acquiesce to the nonsense. I applauded him then and still hold to that viewpoint.
I’m quite dotty about little kids. They crack me up. I just don’t get those who don’t have an affinity with them. I blame it on my parents and grandparents, all of whom were and are the same. I’m the sort of person who openly coos at strangers’ babies. Provided you communicate with little people in tandem with their parents to rightly disarm the stranger-danger thing, nobody in my experience has ever taken offence. On the contrary, they have always been delighted that someone has taken the trouble to be nice to their kids. I’m sure it’s because most people share a soft spot where babies and little kids are concerned.
So it wasn’t onerous for me to be a nanny, au pair or mother’s helper, call it what you will, on several occasions in past travels. In all, I’ve cared for a dozen children aged from three months to 10 years, in various international locations. The duration ranged from a few weeks to 12 months, all consisting of feeding, washing and playing with kids together with light housework and ferrying them around. The upshot was that I found myself living in gorgeous places in affluent surroundings in between bouts of travel, meeting lovely people along the way.
One such job was in the San Francisco Bay Area of California, living with a great couple and helping out with their three children while they ran their business from home. They acquired membership of the nearby country club so I could take the kids to the pool whenever I wanted. It was a generous gesture: the membership was expensive and they personally loathed the place on account of its largely plastic members, who were all teeth, tan and little else.
If you can’t beat them short-term you may as well join them short-term so I befriended lots of the weekday Barbies, all of whom had little kids, too. (The Kens were all hard at work making squillions in Silicon Valley). I used to leave the baby at home with his parents, while I took their 5 year old son and his little sister, aged 3.
If it all sounds like a recipe for easy money, I’d be the first to admit that the jobs were not overly-taxing. But every time I buckled the kids into the car, I was conscious that I was responsible for their parents’ greatest treasures. You can double that responsibility where water is concerned, particularly in the world’s most litigious country, all of which brings me to the point of this wee story.
‘Missing children’ is the euphemism for snatched children in the US. I was acutely aware of this horror every time I poured a cup of coffee, milk cartons sometimes displaying images of missing children, together with relevant details. It is a family’s worst nightmare and beyond comprehension. On the strength of that, I tried to never take my eyes off the kids which, as any parent or guardian will tell you, is much easier said than done, especially in a busy, noisy pool environment.
Little people attract a disproportionate amount of stuff; the smaller they are, the more stuff required, which routinely saw me packed up like a carthorse. I used to grab a table close to the pool so that when I wasn’t in the water with the kids, I was only a couple of feet away. When it came time to leave, the 5 year old was understandably upset that I wanted to take him into the women’s changing room with his sister .. “but I’m a big boy, Sus!” .. and I wasn’t having him go into the men’s on his own on my watch, so I settled on a compromise: to quickly and quietly change them poolside, there and then.
We were surrounded by tables, chairs, umbrellas and bags for Africa; in other words, barely visible. I dried them from the waist up and put their tops on, then whipped their togs off, drying & dressing them in seconds. Sandals and hats on, bags repacked and loaded (on me) and we were gone. I never thought anything of it.
I should have. The first pilgrims were Puritan by name and puritanical by nature and more than 300 years later, I discovered that the feeling was still mutual. Nothing was ever said to me, but casually mentioned to the couple with whom I lived. They, bless them, responded that they were delighted I took their kids’ safety so seriously in their absence and that you’d really have to wonder at the sort of adult who was offended at the very brief sight of child nudity, impeded by outdoor furniture to boot! The three of us rolled our eyes at the silliness and shared a good laugh at their expense.
Needless to say I continued to visit the pool, smile and acknowledge everybody and then discreetly dry them poolside before leaving every day, joined by my Australian and Norwegian au pair friends who did the same with their charges. Nobody said a word.
And the moral of this story, ladies and gentlemen? Never be cowed by collective stupidity and small-mindedness. Stand up and scorn it. Laugh at it loudly. Give it the metaphorical middle finger if you feel so inclined. It deserves no better.
* * Read more of Sus at Sus’s Soundbites * *