Thursday, September 14, 2006


It's been a long time since I snuck off during the day and went to the movies on my own but yesterday I went to see the small budget independent Australian film 2:37. Wow. Go see it.

It's about teenagers and the hovering spectre of suicide. And while I am sure lots of old folks will be happy to say they think it is unrealistic and melodramatic, it captures very much what I remember of high school. A great big building full of half formed adults struggling to deal with the world and each other, unable to articulate and share their confusion, their worry, their fear, their desire. Under a surface of lighthearted joy and togetherness or cliched emotional displays of anger and teasing, sit real and complex dilemmas, problems and accomplishments.

But what I found disturbing, nay, terrifying, was to watch it knowing that one day all too soon I will be a parent to a teenager who will be experiencing this. I will have a child who will come through the door at the end of the day and when I ask her how she is she'll say fine, and I won't know whether that's true or not. She might not know whether it's true or not. Or it might be true now, but not in an hour's time.

And I suspect that when it's happening there will be very little I will be able to do that can change the course of events. Few teenagers are interested in the pleas of a parent to talk to me, to let me share your world, I'm here for you, I understand. I mean I know well enough that there are plenty of things I will be able to do to make matters worse - like being a constant nag, like judging and chastising, like being absent and self-absorbed, like being interfering and needy.

But I think if I am going to make it through that time with my daughter it will be because of all the things that happen between now and then. It will be because at every turn I have demonstrated to her that when I say you can tell me anything I really mean it. I gave her unconditional support and a non-judgmental ear, I was focused on helping her achieve what she wanted, not what I wanted for her. Because I was there for her when she needed me, even when it caused me to miss out on some of the things I wanted for myself. Because I was honest with her and didn't trivialise what she felt about things I might know are not so important over time.

And I have to say I feel more than a little daunted by the prospect. I feel daunted because to a large degree the trauma of adolescence is inevitable, and because just as inevitably the role of parents is to get in the back seat and let the crash happen, even knowing you'll get hurt too. Will my desire to save my own hurt lead me to try and stop Amy from making the mistakes which will mature and develop her? How thin is that line between keeping them safe and simply teaching them to lock you out of their real lives?

And if I thought dealing with the judgments and expectations of others when pregnant and raising infants was something mighty to contend with, I can't even begin to imagine what dealing with alcohol, tobacco, sex and parties will do to adult relationships.

So see the film if you can. The guy who made it is himself a suicide survivor and he dedicates the film to a friend who was not a survivor. It is powerful and engaging and the cast of unknowns turn in great performances. And it really got me thinking, and maybe that thinking will help me make our futures better.


Blogger stephanie s said...

i don't have children or a husband, but i love reading what both of you have to say about life. you both write beautifully, thoughtfully and honestly, and because of that i will continue to visit and enjoy your conversations when you hang your laundry out to air... thank you.

2:57 pm  
Anonymous Joanne said...

What a fantastic new blog!! Cannot wait to read more... Your honesty is very refreshing

8:35 pm  
Anonymous shula said...

Good on him for making the film, he's getting a lot of flak for it, from what I've read. But it's hardly surprising. It's a subject we still can't deal with in the West. Raise the issue at your next dinner party and watch people start squirming. Tell them you've tried it, and they'll treat you with suspicion forever. Tell them you have a family member who killed themselves, and they'll find an excuse to plant themelves at the other end of the table.


1. Because they are afraid.

2. Because they feel out of their depth and unable to respond appropriately so they prefer to avoid it altogether.

3. (and this is the one that still puzzles me) because they are worried about catching it. I could talk about this one for hours, it still fascinates me, but not here.

So, survivors of suicide learn not to talk about it, not because they have nothing to say, I can assure you that one acquires many valuable insights from this experience, but because they don't want to freak people out. Very occasionally they will find an audience where people seem genuinely interested, and then they will knock themselves out (cough).

My mother killed herself in 1991. It devastated our family, permanently. It was 7 years before I even knew who I was, I had to rebuild from the ground up, but now it's part of who I am, and although I rarely talk about it, its part of everything I do, the way I live my life, the way I mother my daughter (a particularly challenging area), the person I am. There's no other way.

Ok, down from the soapbox, and back to my own blog now.

11:32 pm  
Anonymous Linda said...

I have fears about that age too... but I have to wonder how much context makes a difference. I think of my pregnancies and postpartums -- well, they were all terribly hormonal, just like adolescence and young adulthood, but how I ended up dealing with them all was different depending on what was doing on in my life at the time, how supportive or stressful the environment was. The hormones make you open and vulnerable, so that anything negative that gets in feels all the more so. But whatever positive gets in does also. So, perhaps the key is simply limiting the negative while you're in that vulnerable place. I don't know, it just seems to me that if high school was not virtually mandated, if we had more outlets and opportunities for teens than to sit and listen to a boring lecture day after day and do pointless busywork and have to deal with peer pressure (which is really artificially intense, since most of these teens wouldn't choose to be there if they had a choice) we would see much less serious depression in that age group.

12:35 pm  

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