Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while will know that my eldest daughter, Matilda, has a passion for politics. Matilda’s favourite TV show is Behind the News and she would be happy to watch footage of Clive Palmer trying to get out of a sports car all day long. A couple of years ago, when asked to write a story for Religious Education about two friends who had a big fight and then forgave each other, she wrote about Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard.
When I first started to think about homeschooling Matilda, before I’d even started to think about curriculum, I knew I wanted to go on an excursion with her to Parliament House in the city.
At first, we had hoped to go on a ‘Role Play’ tour (where school kids get to dress up as the Speaker, the Serjeant-at-Arms etc), but I would have needed to organise a larger group. I had also toyed with the idea of going to watch our local member give a long and boring speech on some local issue, but that proved a little tricky too (seeing as though I never did anything other than think “that’s a nice idea“). In the end, I decided to keep things simple for our first visit and do an ‘off-the-street’ tour, which run on the half hour.
The day started pleasantly enough. We caught the tram in without any issues. Harry happily counted trams out of his window (he went nuts when we passed the depot), Matilda read her library book, Annie had a nice long nap and I was able to sneak in some crochet time. When we reached the city, we explored Fitzroy Gardens and had an early picnic lunch at Treasury Gardens (I didn’t want them to be hungry and cranky when we got there). We then wandered up to Parliament House to catch the 12pm tour. It was here we hit our first snag: tours did run on the half hour, but took a break from 11:30 – 1pm for lunch. No matter. I set my phone alarm for 12:45, and after running a few errands, we traipsed over to Treasury House next door to have a look.
The little museum at Treasury House was so interesting that Matilda asked if we could stay there a little longer and take the 1:30 tour instead. Accordingly, at 1:25pm, we stumbled up all the Parliament House steps, dragging the stroller behind us.
We walked through the metal detectors, got our bags scanned and were emblazoned with security stickers. As we approached the main door, I noticed the tour guide was glaring at us and gesturing that we hurry. We were late! I checked the time. No. We weren’t.
We had to leave all our bags at the front desk, along with the stroller. My heart sank and I panicked a little at the thought of a free-range Annie. This was going to be harder than I’d planned.
We were soon joined by a small group of tourists and an attractive young woman who looked like she might be studying for her PhD (based on no evidence at all. My brain just decides these things for me). She was fascinated by the Parliament and seemed like a grown-up version of Matilda.
The tour guide peered down at Annie and Harry the same way a nurse might study an infected wound. “Will they be able to cope with this tour?”, she demanded in a tone that left no question of her severe doubts.
I flashed my most charming smile, “I’m sure we’ll manage,” I cooed, in a display of radiant confidence. The voice in my head disagreed loudly.
We walked into the Queen’s Hall. Annie and Harry skipped joyfully around the large space, which we had to ourselves, whilst Matilda listened politely to the rules. The tour guide stopped mid-sentence, “you really mustn’t let these children stray too far from the group.”, she snapped at me (her tone said: “you really are the worst mother I’ve ever seen”). In scarlet confusion, I scooped Annie up and grabbed hold of Harry’s hand. Annie began to grumble. I shushed her.
The tour guide was now telling us some facts about Australia’s levels of government. It would seem she was less confident of her material when she wasn’t talking about the rules. As she floundered through State and Federal jurisdictions, an evil thought entered my head: perhaps she might ask Matilda for help? Tilly knew all this stuff back-to-front. The tour guide abruptly yanked me out of my reverie. “I’m sorry, I can’t do this!” she exclaimed, “that is really disturbing me. I cannot do my job while he is doing that”, I looked to where she was pointing. Harry was quietly twirling on the spot, arms outstretched. She glared at me as I ushered Harry and Annie to a step at the side of the room. “This really isn’t a tour for children. They just don’t have the attention span!”. My scalp prickled with shame.
Annie, sensing my stress, was becoming more and more agitated. She made booming announcements for everybody’s benefit. “Let me GO, Mummy! I want to WALK!”, “Don’t say ‘SHUSH’, Mummy!”, “I don’t LIKE this!”, “LET ME GO!”. I let her sit on the step next to me and she calmed down a little bit. In my bag were toy cars, crayons, dinosaurs and finger puppets. Unfortunately, my bag was locked in a cupboard at the front desk.
I was feeling a little bad for the tour guide. I remember what it was like to be a nervous student teacher. Maybe this was her first day or something. If she wasn’t confident of the material she was presenting, or was not a confident public speaker, distractions could be torture. At the same time, I wasn’t sure what I could do about it. The rules were very strict: once you joined a tour, there was no leaving the group (otherwise, the terrorists win).
But by now I had bigger problems. Annie had worked out that the step we were sitting on was, in fact, a small stage. She stood up. I looked at her. “NO.” I stated firmly. She looked directly back at me. A wicked grin spread over her features. She had already made her decision.
The next minute saw me desperately trying to hush and catch Annie as she sang and danced on the stage, just out of reach. If the tour guide saw her within ten feet of the lectern microphone, she would lose her na na.
I don’t know how I managed to get Annie off the stage without the tour guide seeing, but I do know that the moment I did it, Annie dissolved into ferocious howls. Harry clambered on top of us in an attempt to comfort his sister, and it was in this tangle that the tour guide approached us. “We are moving into the Legislative Assembly now. You can stay in the room next door until you have them under control.”
Thus I found myself in a small room with a few carved benches, a phone and a grandfather clock. Annie soon calmed down (the clock helped) and so we crept into the Lower House of Parliament. As I attempted to climb into the second row of seats, the tour guide stopped me. “You can’t sit there!” she exclaimed in exasperation, “front row only!”. I blushed and fumbled my way to the front row seat. As I sank down onto the chair next to Matilda (I would have preferred to sink through the floor), Annie climbed off my lap into the spare one next to me, muttering something about “my own seat”. Unfortunately, Annie’s legs are not long enough to extend over the edge of chairs designed for members of parliament. “There can be no shoes on the seat”, the tour guide barked. I quickly started working on the buckles of Annie’s Mary Janes. Suddenly my coat was far too warm for me and my eyes felt hot. “No! No! They are MY SHOES” Annie shouted in consternation, and promptly burst into tears. I tried very hard not to do the same.
“This just isn’t working at all. You need to get out.” The tour guide pointed at the door. Dragging Annie and Harry, I was already halfway there.
As soon as I was back in the naughty room, I unzipped my thick coat and removed the five kilos of liquid explosives I had sewn into the lining. I then leisurely constructed a large bomb which I placed in the grandfather clock, set to explode the next parliamentary sitting day. Then, left to my own devices, I went on my own tour of all the restricted areas with my plastic rocket-launcher.
No I didn’t.
But I could have, for all their security pageantry.
Instead, I’m sorry to say, I had a little cry. We had come all this way. We had been planning this excursion for weeks. I had called ahead and the man had recommended this tour. I said I was bringing toddlers and he said it would be okay. It meant so much to Matilda. I dried my eyes and managed to get a grip, but I had broken the seal. For the rest of the day it was going to be hard to stop the tears from bubbling up again.
I didn’t know what was happening in the room after I left, but Matilda filled me in later. Apparently, as soon as I was out of ear-shot, the tour guide exclaimed, “Honestly! I don’t know what that lady was thinking! I would never have brought children on a tour like this!” and continued on a miniature rant to everyone. Matilda was boiling with indignant fury. There was so much she wanted to say. She felt the wretched powerlessness of being the only child in a room full of adults. And then, she tells me, something wonderful happened.
“How dare you?”
The young PhD woman had stood up and was glaring at the tour guide. “You were so rude to that woman. Her children have a right to be here. They did not deserve to be treated like that.” Matilda told me that this woman (my hero!) went on to say all of the things Matilda had so desperately wanted to say herself. From that point on, Matilda spent her time shooting grateful smiles at the PhD woman and practicing her Julie-Bishop-Death-Stare on the tour guide.
When the group emerged from the Lower House, the tour guide approached me.
(get a grip, Kate, get a grip)
“I’ve been told off in there: they seem to think I was rude. I hope I didn’t upset you.”
I nodded briefly at this apology-of-sorts (don’t cry don’t cry don’t cry don’t cry) and we moved on to the Upper House.
For the rest of the tour, the tour guide behaved towards us with a mixture of overdone politeness and stifled resentment. Thankfully, the kids behaved themselves. At one point, when describing carvings on the wall which symbolised the importance of the Next Generation, the tour guide made a simpering gesture to Matilda. Unfortunately, Matilda was still persistently and stonily channelling our Foreign Affairs Minister, so it was all a little awkward.
At the end of the tour, the tour guide approached me again. Poor woman, she must have felt bad.
“I really do hope I didn’t offend you earlier,” she began, (don’t cry don’t cry don’t cry) “That woman stood up in front of everyone after you left the room and told me off. I can’t afford for that to happen in my job. This really isn’t acceptable.” (wait a minute – was she scolding me?).
I drew a deep breath:
“…planning this excursion for a long time…” (don’t cry don’t cry don’t cry don’t cry)
“…when I spoke to the tour office…” (don’tcrydon’tcrydon’tcry)
“…Matilda is fascinated by Parliament and democracy…” (DON’T CRY DON’T CRY)
The tour guide seemed mollified and moved into a frenzy of over-compensation. As a result, we got an awesome showbag from the school tours office and, rather than having to struggle down the steps with the stroller, we were escorted all the way through the remarkably inaccessible and poorly-signed accessibility exit.
We stumbled into Spring Street and blinked in the daylight. That tour took far longer than I’d anticipated. I drew a ragged breath. I wanted to find a child-friendly cafe to collapse in. Then I checked the time.
We were late! We were late! We were never going to make it on time to pick Christopher Robin up from school!
I thought fast. The tram would take forever in school traffic. We’d be better off taking a train for at least part of the journey. We rushed to the nearest entrance to Parliament (underground) Station. Which was stupid. We should have rushed to the entrance with the LIFT. After I almost died carrying the stroller (with Annie in it) down a large flight of stairs and stumbled through the turnstile after swiping all the tickets, we were faced with the challenge of descending a double-length escalator at double-speed. That thing’s scary at the best of times! But we were fuelled by adrenaline and stupidity. Matilda dragged the collapsed stroller and held Harry’s hand (champion) and I carried Annie on my hip. Ugh. But we got to the platform in time to catch a crowded triple-express (and then a BUS) so that we weren’t as horrendously late as we feared. Two school boys immediately gave us their seats as we got on the train (don’t fall sobbing on his shoulder, don’t fall sobbing on his shoulder) and the otherwise surly bus driver was really helpful in getting us to our stop.
Safe at home, we flopped, all five of us, catatonic, on the couch. Matilda spoke up.
“I just worked out what I should have said.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, when we were in the Legislative Assembly and that woman was telling the tour guide off, I should have stood up after her and said ‘I second that motion!'”
That’s my girl.
Oh dear me! I would have cried too. I love that the lady stood up for you.
Me too! It was very validating! And I was so glad for Matilda’s sake as well.
I just love it. Half way through I was thinking, “So many of us have been in situations like this,” and I was nevertheless going to applaud you for writing about it so that non-homeschooling families could sympathise. Then I read about the PhD-type woman standing up for you all and I cheered inwardly. Hopefully the tour guide will be more sympathetic to families in the future.
Thank you so much! I’m so glad that lady was on the tour, I just wish I could have thanked her. Sometimes I feel like our society is so anti-child and anti-family. Sigh.
What a complete b*tch, she should be sacked. I think you’re heroic for taking three children *anywhere* (I rarely take my two, now they’re too big to be strapped in a double-buggy) especially anything involving buses and trains!
I know I have previously been that judgy person where kids in public are concerned (pre-kids of course – now I have them, I know what an idiot I was) but of course children should be allowed (and encouraged) to do educational tours.
Seriously, the way she spoke to you was outrageous: I can still feel my adrenalin pumping just from reading it (and feeling buckets of empathy for the don’tcrydon’tcry!). She is clearly not meant for a public-facing role. Yay for the PhD lady! If only there were more people like her in the world.
I hope tour guide lady has kids one day…
I suspect she was more the type who already had kids, but they’ve grown up and she has that form of mischief amnesia that allows middle-aged women to believe that their children always behaved themselves.
Thanks for the buckets of empathy (and also for the beautiful comment on FB), it makes me feel so much better to know I have friends in my corner – even friends I’ve never met!
Poor Matilda has always wanted a day where we travelled on a train, tram and a bus all in the one day and I’ve always said no. She finally got her wish, but I think she was too stressed out to enjoy it!
My mum’s like that, I think she thinks my kids are completely feral and is always saying we weren’t like that. We were pretty well behaved as kids because we were terrified of our dad, but I still remember knocking over an entire electrical display in a shop because my sister and I were mucking around! Mischief amnesia, love it.
Very entertaining account – enjoyed reading every word.
Thank you, Travellers! Your epic journey has kept US entertained!
I’m just sitting here absorbing what you wrote. Oh my, I feel for you.
A: I can’t believe some of those comments the Tour Guide made, you were amazing to get through the day.
B: How disappointing for you after you had been looking forward to the day.
C: I can’t imagine how you carried Annie through the Tour and down the escalator,desperation must have given you strength.
And D: I laughed so much when reading about the plastic explosives.
Next book – espionage.
Love reading what you write, even if it is so real, it’s painful.
Thanks kw06! I’m still not sure how I tackled Parliament Station. My mind was so addled I didn’t stop to think about taking the lift entrance. My arm muscles ached all the next day! Your grand-daughter was very cute in the Legislative Council. She was naming all the Muses after her aunties and the cherubs after her brothers and sister. Thankfully, she was whispering!
Kate, GRRRR I am so angry with that tour guide. She should be fired!! Democracy is for everyone and Victorian Parliament is for every Victorian whatever age. You are awesome Kate.
Thanks Mark! That GRRRR means a lot to me!
Well-told story. I can relate. I planned a field trip years ago, only to have one of my kids go into full-blown meltdown on the floor while people from the tour tried to walk around us. I cried too when we got home. Your tour guide did seem extremely rude, and it’s great that the woman stood up for you.
Meltdowns are the worst! Wouldn’t it be good if you could distribute pamphlets to the people stepping around your child: “This is Daniel, he is four years old and likes trains and sunshine. On most days, Daniel is a happy, easygoing child, but today he is hungry, overstimulated, tired, and fed up. Your advice is appreciated, but we would prefer it in written form. Please write in the space provided and post to Sunnydale Waste Management Centre, where it will be filed accordingly”
Just a thought…
I don’t think you failed. You got three kids through a public tour under some very challenging circumstances. Well done!
Oh, thank you, Cheri! Most of the day was great, it’s just such a pity that one bad experience overshadowed the rest of the day!
Oh my goodness!! You are so brave. I felt myself boiling up so much as I read through this!! I just wanted to shake the stupid tour guide lady. The idea of Harry spinning around with his arms outstretched is just too adorable for words and was a great opportunity to make some cute comment, instead of making you feel shame. Aaaaarghhhh. I wish I was there to see Annie on stage! Eventually this will all seem hilarious but I really get how hard it must have been. My heart panged for you as I read the don’tcrydon’tcrydon’tcry!! I get it. Hahaha I wonder how the school boys would have reacted had you collapsed sobbing on their shoulders. That phd lady is my hero!!! I want to give her a big hug. I want to give you a bigger one though! I miss you !
I miss you so much! I understand that it all pretty much boiled down to the tour guide’s issues. She wasn’t confident in her job and it helped her to feel in control when she was telling people off. Towards the end of the tour, when she’d given up on telling me off, she was directing her wrath at some poor Japanese tourists for taking photos in the library (she’d never told them they weren’t meant to). The school boys were so nice. I really should write to the school (Aquinas College) to say thank you.
Oh, I MISS you!
Wow! Perhaps a quiet word with the person who recommended the tour so that they can provide her with some sensitivity training?
I’m so glad to hear that PhD-lady stood up for you.
As a former teacher I can tell you that the lovely boys’ school would be thrilled to have a letter or a phone call telling them about how great their students were. Positive feedback is rarely received.