Friday, December 20, 2013

Vignette from a kinder waiting room

It's Wednesday, the last day of kindergarten, and more than the usual allocation of mothers are clustered around the kinder door, marking the moment, waiting for the session to begin and the year to end. I, who have had no part in Wednesday kinder since starting fulltime work in July, am sitting between two hijab-wearing mums, chatting, reminiscing. The capacity for maudlin sentiment is rising exponentially.

"So your girl is going to [local primary school]?" I say to one of the mums. She's a beautiful, blue-eyed woman from Palestine, her white hijab carefully embroidered with sequins. Like me, this child leaving kinder is her third daughter, but for her it's not the end of the road, as the bump under her dress attests.

"Of course, yes," she nods. "With my other two, like yours."

The mum on the other side of me, who originates from Saudi Arabia, says, "Mine is going to [local Islamic school] with her brothers, but I'm not so sure I'll keep them there..."

"Oh?" I say.

"It's good from a religion viewpoint," she says, shifting her curly-haired daughter on her knee. "But, you know..."

"I never would send mine to an Arabic school," asserts the other mum positively. "No, no, no. They live here, I want them to be Aussies." Her accent turns the word into a softer, prettier thing than it is - Osssssies, long on the sibilant, short on flat vowels.

"I know," says the other, and sighs. "Besides - and I'm not racist, but - all the teachers are Indians. You know," she appeals to the other mum, who makes a non-committal noise.

"It's just ... I drive a nice car, I own my own house, I want my kids to be taught well," she says plaintively. "And they don't ... I mean , I'm not a racist, you understand..."

The other mum appeals to me suddenly. "You, what about you? Your girls will all go to [local primary school]?"

"Yes," I nod. "Then to a public secondary, probably. I think."

The Saudi mum sniffs. "Not a religion school, then? Well, I don't know..."

I shake my head. "No, not for us, I don't think so..." I say.

The Palestinian mum says, "But you are not only Ossie, isn't it?"

"You look a bit woggy," interposes an Italian dad from the other side of the room, helpfully. "I mean, no offence, but..."

I laugh. "Mostly just a skip, sorry," I say. "A little bit of this and little bit of that, but all in the dim dark past." I don't go into my Spanish and Jewish ancestors; those one-off people are generations ago and while they gifted me with a lightly olive complexion and hazel eyes, I don't feel any cultural connection to their traditions. I am, like many white Australians, shallow-rooted, but such as they are, my roots are here.

The Saudi mum throws a friendly arm around my shoulder. "Never mind," she says consolingly. My best kinder mum friend, a Filipina woman, shoots me a sympathetic grimace, and I grin back.

My daughter tugs at another mum's hijab and says, "It's so pretty. Mummy, you should wear one!"

We all smile, and the door opens to the last of all the days.

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