It’s been four months since Ben and I moved back to Melbourne post-sabbatical, and it has been anything but dull.
Since arriving in late January:
We apartment hunted for the perfect rental and were elated to get a place in the heart of the city with an incredible view. It has an office for me, enough space for Ben’s VR set-up, a guest room, a winter garden and a wrap around balcony. I love it.
I job-hunted and landed a plum role in professional development (a field I love) at my pre-sabbatical employer, which just happens to be across the street. As in, my commute is about one minute (please don’t hate me). So far, I haven’t bothered to wear a coat or take an umbrella, because, well, one minute – plus most of the walk is under cover. My work has already taken me to Adelaide (twice) and I work with incredibly smart people, who maintain an impressive chocolate stash in the office (this may be why I choose to work from home a couple of days per week – too much temptation).
This was my desk when I arrived at work on my birthday.
Ben has become an Australian! I wept like a weeping willow throughout the ceremony, but at least had the presence of mind to take photos. When the Lord Mayor of Melbourne had the Aussies in the gallery stand up and make the oath to Australia, just like the newly-minted Australians, I could barely get the words out. #ProudAussie #SoProudofBen
We’ve caught up with friends. Our friends in Melbourne are our family-away-from-family and we adore them. Especially fab are the ones who popped around to put together flat-pack furniture, although they all assured me that they love doing it (weird). My bestie personally made our couch from scratch – impressive stuff. I promise I plied them all with good food and booze for their efforts.
We’ve had visitors! We love having people come and stay with us. The most recent guests spent the week of my birthday with us, my dad and step-mum. They helped me celebrate a milestone birthday with style. Here’s my pre-party dad rocking a fab new outfit at the age of 71.
We’ve planned a trip across the country. This week we head of to my home state of WA to celebrate some more milestone birthdays in the family, and my belated birthday trip. (I have pretty much perfected the concept of the birthday festival, which can extended several weeks in either direction from my actual birthday.) We’ll be catching up with family and friends and then heading south to the stunning wine region of Margaret River. I’ve checked the forecast and can’t believe that the first week of June (winter down here in Oz) will be sunny and 25C (high 70s).
Maybe not so surprisingly, we haven’t been in a hurry to travel. Home is so precious to us post-sabbatical. This is our first trip together since we landed back in the country in January.
And there’s the author stuff. I’ve secured an agent; I’ve written more than half of my fourth book; I’ve edited my first book for my publisher, Avon Books; I’ve been marketing my little bum off: organising a book blog tour with my agent, doing interviews, securing quotes from other (amazingly supportive) authors, planning a book signing, and engaging with readers daily on social media; and I have celebrated all the little milestones on the journey to publication – T-minus 3 weeks and 6 days for the ebook and just under two months from the print version being in my eager little hands. Squee!
So, yes, 2019 has been an incredible ride so far. We’re looking forward to the rest of it.
Nearly ten years ago, I moved from Sydney to Seattle. Ben and I had been dating long distance for more than 2 years and we wanted to live on the same continent and in the same city.
Seattle was a big move for both of us – Ben was moving from Minnesota – but we’d visited together before the move and knew we liked it. So, we took the leap and signed a lease, hoping that we could live together as well as we travelled together.
Ben moved several months ahead of me to get us an apartment and to get settled in his new role with the same company. In that time, he also managed to get us a new group of friends.
By the time I arrived in late 2008, Ben had been welcomed into a group of 20- and 30-somethings who had moved to Seattle from around the country, and a couple of people who are Seattle natives (a rare find).
Less than a week after my arrival, a lovely couple, Jeff (from Iowa) and Lauren (from California), threw a ‘Welcome Sandy to Seattle’ party.
I also got a few comments that suggested that some people were surprised that Ben really did have an Australian girlfriend – which made me laugh – but on the whole I was warmly welcomed and immediately felt at home with this incredible group of people, all of whom are still close friends.
Flash forward to May 2018: Ben and I are in Seattle for a couple of weeks before we head to Minnesota for the summer. We’ve both been back since we moved to Australia five years ago, but this is our first time back here together.
We’ve thoroughly enjoyed seeing our old stomping ground – what’s changed, what hasn’t – as well as catching up with the many, many people here that we love.
We have family here, Ben’s aunt and uncle, and his cousins who have families of their own. We have friends we made at work, the friends who attended that very first party, and those we know through them. We were very fortunate to have such a wonderful network of people for the four years we lived here.
It’s been important to us to maintain those relationships, even though we’re so far away. And, I’m very glad we have.
Since being back, we’ve met the many children who have been born since we left, tiny versions of our friends who we’ve watched grow up on Facebook, but who initially eye us warily until they warm up to us.
With our friends and family, we’ve caught up on travel adventures, houses sold and bought, health challenges, plans to move out of Seattle, plans to stay put, job changes, political bafflement, and the everyday stuff that we don’t get to talk about unless we’re face to face.
It’s been been brilliant, a top-up for the soul.
Someone back in Australia asked if Seattle feels like home. And it does – but mostly, that’s because of the people, our Seattle peeps.
I am writing this one-handed and I’m wearing pyjamas in the middle of the day.
Eleven days ago I had a shoulder reconstruction and since then I’m sporting bandages on my left shoulder and a sling. I have at least 3 more days off work in ‘complete rest’ mode, and then maybe I can start back at work doing light duties from home.
I have pain in my shoulder and arm and it is different day to day and hour to hour – throbbing, dull ache, sharp at the site of my stitches, not painful at all. They gave me really powerful painkillers, but these make me nauseous, so I’ve been OTC-only for a while.
The shoulder pain was expected and actually doesn’t bother me as much as limitations imposed on me as a patient recovering from shoulder surgery. I mean, I knew I wouldn’t be able to do a lot of stuff, but I wasn’t prepared for how that would affect me.
I don’t like it.
I am getting better at asking for help as I get older, but it is still hard for me. It is not a pride thing as much as me not wanting to trouble others with my needs. It’s probably a little bit of a pride thing too, because I am fiercely independent and self-sufficient. I do know the limits of my abilities and at those limits is where I ask for help, but the limits have suddenly and drastically changed.
Things you can’t do when one arm is in a sling and you can’t get your bandages wet and you can’t really lean forward and it hurts if you move too much:
make a meal – even putting cereal and milk in a bowl – this is a two-handed activity if you’ve been doing it that way your whole life, and can go very wrong if attempted one-handed – in the mornings, I sit at the breakfast bar and tell my boyfriend, Ben, how many flakes to put in the bowl – I am usually chief cook in our home so it’s frustrating not to be able to whip up dinner in 10 minutes like I usually do
wash my hair – the 1000s of times I took this simple activity for granted! My recent hair washing experiences have included plastic wrap, masking tape, the laundry sink, and for the first time ever, Ben
putting my hair into a pony tail – girls with long(ish) hair, try it – or even just mime doing it – you can’t do it alone. Ben can now do a neat low pony, but we have yet to graduate to the more advanced messy bun
drying off after a bath – when you’re an adult, bath time should be fun or a luxury – at the moment, it is neither – it is solely perfunctory – I feel like an overgrown toddler, needing help to wash under my right arm and to dry my back and legs
typing – actually I can do this – it just takes a looooooong time
car doors and seatbelts – sure, I can open the car door one-handed, but when I did it hurt like hell – I realised how much that one action relays to my other shoulder, so in this condition, it’s best done by someone else so I don’t bust a stitch
opening jars, bottles, etc. – see ‘car doors’ above
washing dishes – see ‘opening jars’ above
walking – yep, walking hurts – you move a lot of your body when you walk, and here’s a shocker, your body parts are all connected! Ow!
carrying – you can can more with 2 hands together than with 1 hand x 2 – this means lots of trips when moving rooms – and see ‘walking’ above
working out – I know this is an obvious one, but daily exercise has become vital for my general wellbeing – it gets the kinks out of my body and my brain – I rely on the endorphins, I like being flexible and strong – it keeps the aches and the blues at bay
general chores and stuff you do around the house 50 times a day without thinking – I am bumping up against this one a lot
How have these limits on my self-sufficiency affected me?
If I’m honest, I’m a little blue. I don’t like being helpless. I am a doer. I get shit done. All I have gotten done in the last 11 days is read 4 novels, watch 3 complete series on Netflix, trawl Facebook and Reddit 3 times a day, and develop an excruciating headache that sent me to bed for 2 days.
I am very busy healing, and even though my current state frustrates me, I know this is my number one priority. I must heal so I can get back to doing all the other stuff.
Very special thanks to my darling Ben who has become my left hand. And thank you to friends for visits and driving me to the doctor and helping me do stuff I can’t do by myself at the moment.
I can’t tell you how many times I have been asked this question since I returned from Cape Town, South Africa just over two weeks ago. It’s a perfectly valid question, as I was doing something quite unique. In February, I spent two weeks with 12 others from around the world, working with small children in the township of Vrygrond, as part of the 2015 Pearson Global Assist Fellowship. In the mornings, we worked in pairs and threes in one of the many crèches in and around Vrygrond, that are supported by the organisation, True North. In the afternoons, we gathered at True North’s community centre, where we partnered with Pearson South Africa to deliver a 2-week literacy program for 5 and 6 year-olds.
For the first few days after I returned, I was fighting horrid jetlag and trying to catch up on the hundreds of emails that had filled my work inbox in my absence. The question was wasted on me then. “How was it?” ‘It was exhausting,’ I wanted to say. It’s been over two weeks since I landed in back in Melbourne and I feel like I am still catching up on sleep. However, ‘exhausting’ is not a satisfying answer for someone who wants to hear that it was amazing and life-changing. Initially I trotted out the usual clichés, just to hold everyone at bay until I could wrap my head around exactly what it was. At that point, I just didn’t know. I remember saying to my room-mate sometime in the middle of the fellowship, “I know there is a lesson to be learned here, but right now, I just don’t know what it is. I hope it will reveal itself when I’m home.”
And it has. Now that I have stepped back from it and have had time to reflect, I feel I can answer the question with greater depth: Exhausting, humbling, replenishing, amazing… Still, listing adjectives just doesn’t do the experience justice, so I will attempt a better response to the question here.
“How was it?”
Most of the people I met had so much to give – their time, their experience, their laughter, their wisdom. I sat down with people from True North and Pearson South Africa who are literally saving the world, one school, one crèche, one child at a time. Their work matters. Their work can mean the difference between a child being protected and educated and fed, and being left out in the world to fend for themself. I worked side-by-side with teachers who are acutely aware that just beyond the lilac-painted fence of the crèche, there are knife fights, drug deals, prostitution and domestic violence – all on a regular basis. These women are educated, intrepid, and respected, because their work is noble and their work is hard.
The crèches in Vrygrond – and the extension of Vrygrond called Overcome, where I worked with fellows, Romeo and Esther – cater for babies through to 6 year-olds. The children are under the care of the teachers for up to 10 hours a day. They eat breakfast there – a tasteless rice gruel – and lunch – a protein-enriched rice. The children nap, play, draw, read stories, sing songs, and learn basics like shapes, colours, letters and numbers. In many ways, these crèches are just like any other childcare centre, except that they do all this with few resources, no sewerage, no electricity, and in a place that can be extremely dangerous.
The creche where I worked is called Little Lambs and in Overcome, there are no paved roads like in Vrygrond. The crèche has no electricity, a corrugated iron roof and walls to match. On the days when it is hot outside, it is even hotter inside. 45 children are packed into three small classrooms, and the children share the same toileting facility – a handful of non-flushable ‘potties’. The teachers use a port-a-potty, which takes up a large portion of the cemented play area. Water trickles from two taps – one on the front wall of the crèche and one in the ‘kitchen’ where the children’s meals are prepared. When children are given water to drink, they share the same four or five cups, each taking turns and waiting for their classmates to finish. The cups aren’t washed in between children. The children are told to wash their hands after toileting and playing outside and before they eat – yet for washing, they all use the same bucket of water which is replenished only once a day – and there is no soap.
When I arrived each morning, I would set up an activity at one of the small tables, and the children would rotate to me in groups. Others worked on puzzles or crafts. There was a constant chorus of, “teacher, teacher, teacher,” as each child vied for a moment of my attention. After the table activities, they had a 1/4 of a piece of fruit and played outside on the rectangle of concrete. Then I’d usually read a story and sing songs with them – ones that had actions, so we could work on coordination and memory. ‘Incy-wincy Spider’ became an instant favourite. And there is nothing sweeter than hearing a group of children sing, “Twinkle, twinkle, little star, how I wonder what you are…” Then it was usually time for lunch. Before the meal, the children put their hands together, bowed their heads and sang, “Thank you, Father, for our food, many, many blessings, Amen,” to the tune of ‘Frère Jaques’. I suppose that they are blessed – or a least, fortunate – because although they often came to school in the same clothes several days in a row, and they may not have had an evening meal the night before, there are about 1500 children in Vrygrond and Overcome who aren’t in crèches at all.
The classroom I worked in was for three and four year-olds. Admittedly, they were a challenging group in the first few days, but they grew to learn that I didn’t put up with naughtiness and only paid attention to well-behaved children. ‘Time Out’ was my closest ally in the first few days, and I channelled the Super Nanny every time I said, “No. That’s unacceptable.” The naughtiest child in the class on day one – Daniel – was one of the oldest and biggest children in the class. He was loud, aggressive, and a bully. After the third Time Out in about 20 minutes, his teacher removed him from the room and took him in with the babies. He hated that and begged to come back to the class. For some reason and from then on, he worked very hard for my approval, and thrived when he was given important tasks, like handing out rice to the other children.
We had two trips to the nearby park over the two weeks. To say that I was nervous about taking 3 dozen children through the dusty streets of the township to the park, was a gross understatement. Firstly, as strangers in the township, we fellows were not allowed to walk around outside the crèche without an escort by someone from the township – or someone from True North. Simply, we were not safe on our own, and we got more than a few sideways glances as we chaperoned the children from one place to another. Then there was the aforementioned violence, drug deals and prostitution. It wasn’t as though those activities rolled to a halt because the local pre-school was on the move. And there was the fact that the children had very little road sense; we spent most of the journey corralling them off the road as though we were herding naughty little sheep. Once at the park, they were fine. They ran and ran and ran – something they couldn’t do within the small confines of the crèche. By the time we got back to the crèche a couple of hours later, they were ready for a nap, and so was I.
As a person who has opted not to have children of my own, I am sometimes asked if it’s because I don’t like children. That’s not why – and the reason why is a whole other blog post, so I won’t go into it here. The thing is, I love being around children. I loved being around these children. My time with them exhausted me physically – and even mentally at times – but it fuelled me emotionally. And what I learned from these little faces, was that it doesn’t matter where you go in this world, kids are kids. When I would sneak into the babies’ room – ’cause they were irresistibly sweet and affectionate – they would smile and reach their chubby little hands up to me. They loved clapping and singing, just like babies and toddlers anywhere, and they giggled with delight when tickled. And they craved cuddles, which I happily obliged them with.
The older children were funny, cheeky, inquisitive, and each saw themselves as the centre of the universe – just like any other group of 3 and 4 year-olds. They love being read to, cuddled, praised, and to sing. They wanted attention, affection, and someone to kiss it better. Over only two weeks, I went from a stern stranger to someone who could make them smile with just a wink or a silly face.
In the afternoons, we returned to True North’s community centre, where we each worked with two children on a pre-literacy program developed by a team at Pearson South Africa. The aim of the program was two-fold: to determine how much impact the proposed literacy activities could make in just 8 sessions (of 2 hours each), and to introduce a reading resource specifically designed for children who lived in townships. We worked from four newly-developed books, and the illustrations were just incredible. The children instantly engaged with the accurate representations of their world. Vrygrond is a place where most books they read are cast-offs, and are often irrelevant to their lives or inappropriate for their age group. It was incredible to watch their delight as each new page was revealed.
My two were called Trizza and Clever. Trizza was shy at the start of the project, but by the second week was comfortable enough around me to show her bossier side. She was extremely bright and sometime lost patience with Clever, who was slower to master the given tasks and concepts. Clever was a kind and warm child, gregarious and a leader on the playground, but I wondered if his moniker would set unreasonable expectations for him throughout his life. He struggled with some basic literacy tasks, but I admired that he never quit. He was often among the last in the room to complete a task, but he always wanted to finish. By the end of the two weeks, Trizza demonstrated an enhanced ability to recall details and sequences. Clever, who began the fortnight by roughly turning pages, creasing and tearing them, learned to respect books as something precious, and how to turn pages carefully. They were both excited to be given their own take-home copies of each of the four books. “Who are you going to show your book to?” I asked each time they got a new one. “My mummy and my sister,” Trizza would say. “My daddy!” replied Clever. Both of them smiled with pride at having something special to share with their loved ones.
It was mostly hard work, but it wasn’t all hard work. After preparing lessons for the following day, we gathered to drink wine and talk about our lives back home. We told funny anecdotes about loved ones, and learned the names of each other’s children, best friends and significant others. We exchanged job descriptions, because although we all worked for Pearson, we had a diverse range of roles. We debriefed about the highs and lows of our days, laughing and crying in equal measure. Half of us got sick: colds, food poisoning, and a mystery illness which seemed to combine the two. We shared gifts and goodies we had brought from home, teased each other relentlessly, gave dozens of supportive hugs, danced to Madonna, and drove each other crazy by hogging the bathroom or using up all the internet.
Over the two weeks, we became a sort of mismatched, semi-dysfunctional, supportive, infuriating, and endearing family.
Over the 17 days I spent in Cape Town I also got to catch up with some dear friends who live there – 2 couples I know through previous travels. I managed several early morning workouts and yoga practices, which were particularly memorable because Cape Town sunrises are so breathtaking. Over one weekend, we all went sightseeing (organised by the fellowship) and wine tasting (organised by us). We were taken out to dinner several times to lovely restaurants, and I must say, South Africans do incredible seafood, and have an extensive (super-affordable) repertoire of delicious wine. And, after the fellowship wrapped up, four of us did an overnight safari at a private game park (this must be saved for its own post). And, most happily, I made some dear friends, including my roomie, Jenni, from Texas and my crèche-mates, Romeo and Esther.
So, how was it?
It was something I will remember my whole life. I know how fortunate I am to have such an incredible opportunity.
When FRIENDS burst onto the scene in the mid-90s I devoured it with an appetite I hadn’t had since TV shows were named after addresses in California. Of course, I wasn’t alone – it was a juggernaut. It was refreshingly funny, it was aspirational, it was Seinfeld for Generation X. I can still watch any episode and laugh out loud; it’s my go to viewing when I am stuck on a long flight and all the movies are rubbish.
And while so many people were saying, “I wish I had friends like that,” I actually did. My uni friends. I loved the show back then, because it depicted the types of friendships I had in my 20s.
We were a theatre crowd. We smoked socially, precociously kissed each other ‘hello’, and we danced until the wee hours, sweaty, grinning, wrung out and happy. We had sing-alongs where someone played a guitar – yes, really. We were poor, so we shared plates of chips, our beds – mostly just to sleep – and our cars. Someone would always let you crash at their place or give you a ride. We drank gallons of tea and instant coffee, and ate Vegemite toast for breakfast, capping off impromptu sleep-overs. We sipped on cheap wine – Chardonnay and Cab Sav – thinking we were so sophisticated. I remember a stint of gin and bitter lemon on hot summer nights.
We fell in and out of love with each other, and crushes changed almost weekly. We were beautiful and talented, self-conscious, eager, brilliant, and naive. We discussed important things with the passion and youthfulness of those who had only just discovered Marx, and Freud and Steinem. We still are beautiful, talented, and brilliant, by the way.
We numbered more than 6, but our large group was fluid and many of the friendships forged then still run deep today. The others are there, vibrant in my thoughts, nostalgic bursts of happiness. We have struck out into the world, spanning all continents bar one (I haven’t heard any news of old friends taking up residence in Antarctica – yet). We have become parents, partners, spouses, actors, teachers, writers, intrepid business owners, corporate wizkids, and culinary geniuses. We even have a real life Ross and Rachel who married in a glorious beachside wedding in the noughties, and now have two gorgeous little boys. And there are other lovely couplings from those days who have made lives and families together.
I freely admit to having the hugest crush on Ross – the one on TV, not his counterpart who married my best friend from uni. Ross was thoughtful and loving, incredibly smart, and sexy as anything; the man rocked a turtle neck. And the very best thing of all, is that in my late 30s, I met a guy like Ross. Only he’s also got the wit of Chandler. So, in other words, I hit the jackpot.
I love my uni friends – from afar when we’re apart, via Facebook (which for all its criticism, is my tether to friends around the world), and when we’re sitting down to coffee, or sharing a decent bottle of wine, or eating a great meal. It feels the same. The laughter is still deep, the love is still strong, and they are so very dear to me.
My sister was born, which at the time I was not particularly pleased about, but I’ve since come around. And many of my oldest (pardon the use of that word here) and dearest friends were also born in 1973. You won’t have to remember any of your 9th grade algebra to work out that because it is 2013, they are all turning 40 this year. Congratulations, gorgeous women! 40!! Woo hoo! This post is for you, from your ever-so-slightly-older sis.
What I love about being in my 40s:
In your forties you realise that it is okay that you don’t know it all. In fact, it’s great that you don’t, because who wants the pressure of being the world’s authority on everything all the time? It must be exhausting trying to convince everyone else how wrong they are about everything – just ask the 20-somethings (hee hee).
You learn what you are great at and passionate about and you dig deeper into those things and they bring you great joy. You accept what you’re not great at with less angst than you have ever before. I will never be a professional singer, and I am okay with that (now).
You slough off other people’s expectations of what you should be or do or want. You become a better friend to yourself. You see when you are failing, and you are brave enough to ask for help. And, you learn what a brilliant and powerful word ‘no’ is.
You also earn your feathers. Let me explain: You know the laurels that cup the prestigious awards earned by films at film festivals? They look like this:
Ben and I share a running joke about the laurels. I don’t know which one of us started it, but we call them ‘feathers’. “Look at how many feathers this film has! It must be amazing!!” Well, not too long ago I was playing with my nephew and smiling joyously and I caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror.
The laugh lines around my eyes reminded me of the ‘feathers’ – and in a way they are much like the laurels. I earned those feathers with all the laughter, and hilarity and joy that I have felt and shared throughout my 4+ decades. Cate Blanchett calls hers the songlines of her face, which I also love.
Your forties is when your feathers really come in – and how wonderful that we earn them through the joys of life.
Happy birthday, beautiful women. I toast you and your feathers.
Two years ago, I wrote a post exonerating myself from the resolutions I would typically expect myself to make at the start of a new year. For some reason I skipped this step at the start of this 2012, but as we approach 2013, I revisit the idea of absolving myself of things that are fruitless or frustrating pursuits.
I hereby absolve myself of the following:
Watching anything that has a hobbit in it. When the first trilogy came out, I was dating an awful man and I pathetically pretended to like the films to please him. Now I am with a wonderful man who doesn’t expect me to like everything he does. Hobbits just bug me. They’re so, well, hobbity.
Hoarding (just in case). As we are about to move internationally, we must pare back to the essentials. For a start, some things are cheaper to replace than to ship overseas. Plus, Australian Customs will charge you $150 to clean or destroy a $15 chopping board, so I am becoming less attached to things. We will be giving away a lot of things that I love – like our beautiful coffee tree – but when all is said and done, they are just things. Most important is that we are moving as a family (2 adults, 1 cat).
Having a spotless home. I need to hold myself to this one. Our home is typically neat, tidy and fairly clean. There are times, however, when I need to be less fastidious and more focused on more important pursuits, like writing, visiting with friends, taking care of my health, keeping in contact with loved ones overseas, being helpful, and being a loving partner.
Being (overly) prepared. I plan ahead. I make lists and I plan. I need to plan ahead, or if someone else is making the plan, at least to know what the plan is. Yes, being prepared can be essential, but sometimes it drives me to distraction (and sleeplessness – see my last post). I want to find an equilibrium. Somewhere between attending to dozens of details so our cat can immigrate to Australia (a process tailored for the detail-oriented) and choosing the type of bed we will buy in three months for our new guest room, is a happy medium.
Being Superwoman. No matter how hard I try – and I try very hard – I cannot do everything. I have no magic lasso, no invisible plane, and no golden cuffs to deflect the bullets. I must ask for help, I must give myself a break, and I must say ‘no’ more often. (I think #3 and #4 go hand-in-hand with this one.)
Just re-tracing my 2011 absolutions, I am thinking of buying a bike when we get to Melbourne. It is relatively flat, with lots of bike trails, and reasonably dry weather when compared with Seattle. Also, I not only finished Chapter 7, I have finished up to Chapter 16 and am still going strong. I no longer absolve myself finishing my book. In fact, it is the number two goal I have for 2013, right after ‘move the family to Melbourne and get settled’.
A few weeks ago Ben and I went to the local cinema with some friends to see Stand By Me. It was the first time in more than 25 years I had seen it on the big screen, although I do not exaggerate to say that I have seen it at least 40 times since it came out in 1986.
The film still holds up. The performances of the four young leads are terrific – both laugh-out-loud funny and teary-eyed poignant. And the story is simple and elegant.
It is no wonder that this was a film that resonated deeply with me and my fellow generation X-ers. Even though it was set in the 1950s, it was a nostalgic homage to an era that was coming to a close.
I grew up with parents who encouraged me – no, required me – to ‘go outside and play’. And I did. My best friends when I was in single digits were usually boys. When I was in first grade my besties were Greg and Rodney. After hours of playing on abandoned farm equipment, or making mud pies, or building cubbies in the bushland behind our houses, their respective mothers would clean me up and send me home in their son’s clothes with a note pinned to my chest, “Sandra got too dirty to send home. I will wash her clothes and bring them over tomorrow.”
When I moved into double digits, I could be found making miniature houses out of moss, gravel and sticks. The tiny families never moved in, because the fun for me was in the building, but I was always filthy by the end of a long day ‘playing outside’. I would sometimes come inside with sand in my pockets. There was a time when I loved my namesake.
At 11, my family lived next to an abandoned rodeo. Talk about the coolest clubhouse ever! My friends and I commandeered the announcers tower, which could only be accessed by a very dodgy ladder. When we got bored with the rodeo, we would play exhausting, involved game of cops and robbers. There were a dozen of us, and we would play – gun-sticks in hand – for hours, ducking between trailers and forming alliances. We were the cliched neighborhood kids; we only came in for dinner when our mothers shouted that it was dark and to get inside. Now!
As recently as three years ago I taught 11 year-olds. Most of them had cell phones and some sort of fashion sense. I can’t imagine that many of them played cops and robbers with their friends until after dark.
Back to 1986.
1986 was a big year for me. I turned 17 and was given a car for my birthday, and I graduated from high school. I saw Top Gun for the first time in a cinema filled with crew from the U.S.S. Enterprise, which was docked in Fremantle harbor. My girlfriends and I swooned over Tom Cruise while the sailors around us roared with laughter at the wanky way Tom and Val strutted about the deck of the Enterprise. It was an interesting lesson in truth versus reality.
And I saw Stand By Me.
I immediately fell in love with River Phoenix. Okay, I know I was 17 and he was a boy of 14 when he made the film, but I could already see the young man he would become in his subtle, skilled performance. And, as a side note, he did grow into that sexy teenaged smile. What a beautiful young man – and, so talented!
In October of ’93, my dad came into my study and announced his death, “That Phoenix River guy you like died.” I actually cried out, and pushed past my dad to the living room, where the television showed grainy images of the street outside Hollywood’s Viper Room. He had died before I had a chance to meet him. It sucked.
I watched Stand By Me again just after his death, and in the scene where Chris says, “Not if I see you first,” and walks into the sunset, fading away to nothing, I choked out a sob. Chris Chambers had died, and so had the boy who had brought him to life.
But again, I digress.
The film resonated with the seventeen-year-old me on a very deep level. I loved my ‘go outside and play’ adventures from my childhood. In fact, even though my friends and I were getting our driver’s licenses and our first – horridly cheap and run down – cars, once in a while we still got on our bikes and rode for miles, spending whole Saturdays having adventures in neighboring suburbs. And there was the ubiquitous bushland near home, where we would still wander on occasion, jumping the creek and walking along fallen trees, talking about all the things that were important to us at the time.
Is it a little weird that even in our late teens we did this stuff? Maybe…we were older than the boys depicted in the film, but the film’s themes rang true for us.
Stand By Me is about friendship, and adventure, and fear and laughter, and growing up. I cannot see it without remembering the friends who experienced the end of that era with me – Stace, Tara, Kerry, Jode, Tonia, Danielle…
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