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[The 1970s]

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The 1970s

my isolated but well-travelled infancy

Best thing that happened
My trip through Europe and North America
Worst thing that happened
Being isolated from other kids

The Beginning

I was born on a spring day in the early 1970s at Sydney's Royal North Shore Hospital. It took Mum 36 hours to deliver my 4½kg body, or, as they said in those days, over nine pounds. That made me the biggest baby that hospital had seen in a long time, and apparently one of the hungriest as well—Mum tells me that upon seeing her breast feed, one of the nurses said "he sucks like a vacuum cleaner!"

5-year-old MikZ admiring a small Amsterdam traffic light

Traffic Lights

The oldest memories I have of my home are of my bedroom. It overlooked the intersection of State Route 40 and what they used to call Ring Road 3, and traffic was regulated by a set of traffic lights. Thus began my eccentric obsession with the things, an obsession that still shows streaks in my personality today. (As an example, look at the name of this web site!) I didn't get to see much of the outside world other than that. Mum would take me shopping regularly—the shopping centre was one block up the street—but other than that, the vast majority of my early life took place in the two-story Top Ryde house that was my home.

This naturally changed when I started going to preschool, half a block up the street, and eventually infants school, two blocks up the street. My parents reckon that when I first went to preschool I could only speak Dutch, but I don't think this is true. I'd watched enough Sesame Street to be able to understand English, and I didn't have any trouble communicating with the friends I made at school.

Isolated Childhood

8-year-old MikZ with his Lego town

But I almost never got to see my friends outside of school. My childhood at home was very happy and I didn't really notice the absence of other kids at first, but it prevented me from developing the social skills that most kids at that age had. This made me quite a social outcast through pretty much all of my school life. Throughout infants school, primary school and high school I was constantly picked on by other kids. As a result, I didn't like my life outside of home very much during the 1970s, or even through the majority of the 1980s. I prefered to just stay at home and play with my Lego.

For a long time, the only friend I regularly got to meet outside of school was Richard, my parents' best friends' kid. We were only really friends by default, however. We had a lot of fun times, but he only really played with me because my parents brought me to his place whenever they went out, and I only really played with him because there was nobody else.

My parents' most likely motive for the isolation was the overprotective feelings that many parents with sole children have. The fact that I lived on a small block that was surrounded by arterial roads probably didn't help either. Even in light of this, and the fact that my parents were both hard-working people, I think they could have provided me with more social opportunities with kids my own age.

In some ways I'm happy that I had this isolation, because it taught me to form my own opinions on things rather than just agree with all the other kids. Still, it made the few social situations I did have with other kids rather torturous. It's not something I'd do to a kid.

First trip overseas

I have to give my parents credit, though, for the travel opportunities they gave me. The first was in 1978, when for three months I could take a break from the woes of kindergarten and travel through Europe and North America.

Most of my extended family lives in Europe, and particularly in Holland. The paternal side of my family tree is a long line of only kids, but my mother had four brothers and four sisters, and most of them had two or three kids. That gave me a hell of a lot of family to meet in Holland! I also got to meet my only surviving grandparents: my maternal grandfather, and my dad's stepmother. I found it strange that they didn't live with each other.

I have an Aunt in Germany, so I got to see some of that country as well, and my Dad had some business to do in Italy, so we spent some time there too. I also spend a few days in England. As we travelled, the thing I noticed most was the differences between the traffic lights in each country. Traffic lights in my home state of New South Wales all had yellow poles back then, but in Holland and England the poles were striped black and white, and in Germany they were plain white. German and English traffic lights had this nasty habit of lighting both the amber and red lights before changing to green, and Italian traffic lights would show green and amber at the same time before changing to red. I recorded all this vital information in a scrap book. I hope my parents still have it somewhere.

5-year-old MikZ at Disneyland

After two months in Europe, we flew across the Atlantic to Canada. I have an Aunt with family in Toronto. Actually, my cousin Janneke is the relative who I contact most frequently, but lately that's only happened once or twice a year.

I kept my traffic light log up-to-date as we travelled by coach from Toronto to New York, and then flew to California. My memories of North America in 1978 are scattered and limited, but I remember the summit of the Statue of Liberty, Niagara Falls and the Grand Canyon, and buying ornaments in a tourist shop in Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico. All of my other memories were of Disneyland: riding the monorail, pinching Goofy on the bum, and being disappointed to not see Donald Duck, because he was in the travel brochure that my parents had shown me before we left Australia.

Overall I view mine as an untroubled childhood. I lived in a stable environment with loving parents and had a lot of opportunities that other kids didn't. The lack of contact with other kids my own age troubled me, though, and the repercussions from that were to continue throughout the 1980s.

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Mik Scheper, 19 February 2002
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