Educate your parents about COVID-19 – They may be stubborn old fools, but they’re stubborn old fools we want to keep in our lives for as long as we can

It’s been pretty appalling to hear the way some people dismiss the value of our elderly at the moment. This is what happens to equal rights in the face of a crisis. And while I understand the theory behind “survival of the fittest”, I’ll be the first to admit that it never crossed my mind that I’d experience the personal implications of it in my lifetime.

But worse is the sneaking suspicion that our parents and grandparents – many of whom survived world wars – aren’t taking this Coronavirus thing very seriously at all. Which means that while the majority of us are doing everything in our power to alleviate their risk, they’ve putting their own lives and ours in further jeopardy.

Only this morning as a threatening tribe of heaving shopping trollies (stacked to the ceiling with the sort of rations you would normally only associate with wartime) cornered me into the sweet section of the supermarket, an elderly lady tapped me on the back and pointed to my basket – containing tonic water and dog food because for this crisis I’ve got my priorities right.

‘It’s so surprising to see anyone still using a basket at the moment,’ she commented.

‘I suppose so,’ I replied vaguely, eager not to have to admit to my early morning raid of Aldi or to have an unnecessary conversation – that was definitely more than 1.5m apart – which might put her at risk from the light cold I’m still recovering from, (which is one of the downsides of working with children).

‘I’ve just come back from holiday and my children are worrying about me,’ she went on, as my brain imploded with the implications of this information. I put my hand over my mouth without thinking. ‘They told me not to leave the house. It’s quite ridiculous, isn’t it?’

‘Maybe,’ I replied, lying.

I mean, I get that there’s an admirable stoicism that comes from surviving wars, but it’s no excuse for naivety. We need to listen to what the experts are telling us. If we are to learn anything from Italy’s experience of the spread of this virus, that sort of “fight them on the beaches” bravado is not going to help lovely old ladies like this one when it takes down millions and she finds the value of her life measured against the life of someone half her age in the ER, is it?

Educate your parents. If you think you’re confused by the advice coming from the government and the media, imagine how they feel. Offer to do their shopping for them, visit them more to help alleviate the loneliness that self-isolation may cause, value their contribution to all of our lives.

We’ve reached a time in our lives where many of us are losing our parents to natural causes – and none of us have any control over that. But we can reduce their risk to the exposure of this virus. And while they may be stubborn old fools, they’re stubborn old fools we want to keep in our lives for as long as we can.

John Marsden has a point: Let’s strive to build our kids’ resilience, rather than trying to turn them into something they’re not

Many of you won’t be aware of this, but quite a large chunk of my career has been spent in education – working with kids with special needs. At the beginning of this year, I returned to the field to become the co-ordinator of a new after-school care facility.

Child sitting in a tree with her doll.
Photo by Vivek Doshi on Unsplash

Last week, we completed our first week of vacation care. For reasons of confidentiality, I can’t tell you too much about what happens on the job, but what I can share is the wonderful experience of working in a progressive school, ie. the type of school that encourages the type of childhood that most of us Generation Xers experienced – with its focus on outdoor play and exploration, and the inherent dangers therein.

While I try not to waste too much time reflecting back on my own parenting fails these days, it’s hard to ignore the ongoing evidence of the relationship between our kids’ deteriorating mental health and “helicopter parenting”. The link has made me think about how I would do things differently if I had my time again.

The school in which I work is a green, progressive school, set in beautiful, lush grounds in the bush where the kids spend much of their day, with the option not to wear shoes – apart from during funnel web season, when (obviously) I wear full body armour. And the focus is on learning through exploration and play, using nature as the primary resource for teaching. Technology is used minimally and the culture of the school is based is on kindness and respect.

I have never seen happier, more fulfilled children. Perhaps, because there are fewer rules, but most likely because they have the freedom to explore and take control of their own learning. That approach makes it the perfect setting for kids of different abilities and the responsibility it encourages boosts their self-esteem and confidence in their own abilities. It is such a privilege to watch them make up their own games and then extend them, and to work out their own problems. During after-school care, they sit together and play board, construction and card games, they colour in, they play together outdoors, they craft out of recycled materials, and even help cook their afternoon tea. Some of them are happy to simply sit and read a book.

While it is a child-centred environment – there are still expectations in terms of behaviour and respect for our resources, of course, but most of the time the kids sort out their own issues among themselves because they are encouraged to problem-solve at every stage of their learning.

As you can imagine, I was horrified in my interview for the job when I found out that the children were encouraged to climb trees and retrieve balls from snake-infested bushes. Hence, I have been forced to learn how to keep my own anxiety in check. As my supervisor explained to me, if a kids falls out of a tree and breaks their arm, they won’t climb as high the next time.

Humorous meme.
Found on Pinterest from http://www.shopatartworks.com

Raising my own kids, I know that I was guilty of the type of “helicopter parenting” that educator and author, John Marsden, talks about in his new book, The Art of Growing Up, so with this new responsibility I have been mindful of my need to relax and let go more. John worries about the effects of this parenting on the resilience of our children. ‘When I hear parents say ‘I want my children to enjoy their childhood; there’ll be time when they’re older to learn about those things’, I hear the voices of those who are scared of the vastness of the universe. These adults have a view of childhood as some kind of discrete interval, rather than just a few years from the continuum of life. How fortunate that the spirit, courage and curiosity of many young people remain largely undefeated by such adults.

One of the points he raises is the danger of putting our kids in a bubble to “protect” them from outside influences, which means that once they grow up and enter the real world they are unable to cope with its demands. Worryingly, when he interviewed a group of children and asked them what they wanted to be when they grew up, many said that they didn’t want to grow up at all.

Of course, backing off and letting children with special needs like Kurt fail isn’t quite as straightforward. It is important to advocate for them at every step of their education, but towards the end of Kurt’s schooling I had learned not to sweat the small stuff and to pick my battles in relation to homework and lost uniform, a change that has stood me in good stead for this job – particularly on the days the kids make slime and potions, or when I catch one of them at the top of a tree!!!

But, perhaps, my enjoyment of this more relaxed approach to childcare has something to do with my appreciation for less drama in my own life right now, as well as my personal appreciation of nature and mindfulness that has developed with middle age. This new simplicity to how I live my life, boosted by my greater respect for nature, is empowering. And it is so much more fulfilling than the exhausting drive of my thirties and forties that I see evident in modern parenting, where parents are continually striving to turn their kids into something they’re not.

There Is No Better Education In Love, Compassion And Empathy Than Having A Child With Special Needs

A few weeks ago we went to a fundraiser. It was a black tie event to raise money for the family of an old colleague of the old man’s whose son broke his neck and damaged his spinal cord in a freak rugby accident recently.

Alex Noble is their son’s name, and if anyone feels like funding a real cause, as opposed to other, less noble causes, please feel free – here is the link to his GoFundMe page.

At one point in the evening, Alex’s parents stood up on stage to tell us a little about his story, his progress, and their plans for the future – should they reach their target that night to secure the funds they need to renovate their house, meaning he can eventually come home.

“There’s not a lot of joy in my life right now, but there’s a lot of love,’ his mother said.

It was a comment that hit me hard, because albeit that in terms of bums on seats that night, there was a wonderful level of support in the room, as a mum who is also a part-time carer of an adult dependent, (as well as being a professional cynic), I did wonder how many guests would be there for the long-haul of Alex’s journey, once the glitter is swept away.

Many of the guests were close friends of the couple or friends of their son, so in some ways it felt almost voyeuristic to be there, to witness the pain and rawness caused by such a cruel twist of fate; to sense the fears that his family feel in terms of the uncertainty of Alex’s and their future.

When we plan our children, we never anticipate for one moment that things won’t work out like the parenting manuals told us they will, so I understand what Alex’s Mum was trying to say. I’ve felt that way many times with Kurt – because let’s not underestimate the devastation caused by mental illness or disability, either. Indeed, it was only a week before that I thought that we had lost our son?

Scratch the surface and there is heartache in every family. I can’t tell you the number of times people open up to me about siblings or relatives with mental health issues who have been hidden, the skeletons in their cupboards.

But Alex’s Mum was right about how adversity cultivates love. Because in return for the pain caused by our son’s neuro-diversity, we have been given an education in love, compassion and empathy, and we are better people for that. We are as proud of him as we are of NC – much to her horror. While his steps forward have been slower, they have been celebrated with the same enthusiasm as hers, and his progress has provided us with an invaluable insight into how society should be measuring success.

Admittedly, there have been times when there’s not been a lot of joy in caring for someone who may never get better, and I wouldn’t wish our experience or that of Alex and his parents on anyone. Before his accident, they would have been looking forward to the last chapter of their lives as independent once again, but the ramifications of his physical disability may be lifelong, and they will affect not only them, but his siblings, and possibly future generations of their family.

I’m glad that they feel loved and supported. I hate cliches, but shit like this does make you stronger, because you have no choice but to be strong. But as I said, there are hidden benefits to life’s knocks such as this. While they will have to reset their expectations of Alex, his milestones will be as meaningful as those of his siblings – if not more so. And though it may feel painful at the time, this tragedy will draw a line in the sand between their true friends and their fair weather friends, because they won’t have time for games.

But they will be tired all of the time and there will be days when they feel like they can’t go on and will question why me? So I suppose what I really want to say to all those parents battling through each day with kids with disabilities or dependencies, is that your joy may well be diminished, but like a flower in summer, your heart will be opened to maximum capacity.

We Can All Be Heroes, Without Firing A Single Bullet

Today makes me sad. Anzac Day confuses me because it forces me to question the sacrifice of those millions of men and women that gave up their lives to protect our future. And what makes it worse, is that so many more of them continue to risk their lives for the same empty promises.

Kids On Guns Hill by Banksy from Pinterest and mymodernmet.com

We like to call them heroes, but I’m certain that many of the men conscripted in the two World Wars would have preferred to stay at home, get married, and see their children grow up, while here we are, still living in fear of terrorism and war.

In many parts of the world, war remains a reality of daily life, and more often than not, the bigger players that instigate it don’t stick around long enough to pick up the pieces once they leave. Innocent people continue to be discriminated against – just like the Jews in World War 2. Even in the West, (in our so-called “democracies”), man’s overwhelming greed for power and control blinds it to the cost of human life as countries are disabled by religion and race.

Surely, the best way to honour the dead and our forces today is by demonstrating to them that their sacrifice was worth it? That we have learned from it? And let’s also teach our kids that heroes can be people who use their voice for change as well; who stand against discrimination, without firing a single bullet.

You Don’t Have To Fit Into Society’s One-Size-Fits-All Box

As, once again, we compile the memories of twenty-five years together into boxes ahead of our next move, it seems appropriate to have a discussion about them.

Dog climbing out of a packing box.

Boxes.

Because I’ve noticed how good society is at putting people into them, as NC reminded me the other day when we were discussing the assumptions people make about her personal choice to become a vegetarian.

Whenever you choose to veer off the straight and narrow or do something different, it seems to encourage the more cynical to shout louder from their soapbox. To use the example of NC, she is often criticised for those rare occasions she indulges in fish, even though her vegetarianism is nothing to do with animal cruelty. Sometimes her body craves fish, and she can’t resist tuna and salmon Sashimi and my smoked salmon and cream canapes at Christmas. As she is a vegetarian for sustainability reasons, she doesn’t see a problem with this. Her detractors, however, suggest that she isn’t a “proper” vegetarian.

Haters gonna hate.

It’s the same with feminism. The uneducated like to put feminists in the box for people that stand against inequality between the sexes, grow out their body hair, and hate men. I wax… and I don’t hate men because of their gender.

In the same way that not all Muslims are radical terrorists, not all feminists hate men.

Making assumptions and boxing people into a group is a lazy path to take. It is also naive and potentially dangerous. For those who don’t bother to look more carefully at a person’s reasons for their beliefs and behaviour, their premature judgment can have have life-long repercussions.

Society – and the old man and I must take some responsibility as well – has tried to fit Kurt into a box for most of his life – an expectation that has made him miserable. The sad truth is that society only provides one box for everyone to fit into and so those that can’t fit comfortably in it risk being ostracised and isolation. The laws of society have limited tolerance for “difference”, which means that there is not enough “give” in the box for the neuro-diverse, the traumatised, or the outward thinkers.

Anyone who has made a profession out of moving house and packing – like the old man and myself – will know that some things don’t fit in standard-sized boxes.

Women, in particular, have always struggled to fit comfortably in the box, because it was designed for men. Meghan Markle is experiencing the claustrophobia of that situation right now. A bi-racial, divorced woman, she is attempting to fit into a box of privilege that has little desire to move with the times. Hers was never going to to be a smooth transition – a plight that Nikki Gemmell summed up in her brilliant piece, “The Audacity of Meghan Markle”, in The Australian last week.

Personally, I hope that Meghan doesn’t make a smooth transition. I hope that she lifts the lid off that bloody box and sets it alight with her critics inside.

We need more Meghans. We need more Kurts and NCs and people prepared to stand up for their beliefs, for those that don’t fit squarely into boxes – whom in many cases, are demonised by society. We should be encouraging society to think outside of the box, not closing the lid on it.

What Are We Teaching Our Children?

himanshu-singh-gurjar-106819-unsplashChange scares people, and none more so than older people. I can personally vouch for the fact that many of us seek comfort in our dotage. Comfortable sofas, with just the right amount of back support; comfort food; comfortable clothing, and comfortable, flat shoes. We like what we know and we know what we like and what scares us most is the threat of something rocking our foundations or the idea of losing control, and change can do that.

Progress is another thing that can be contentious and scary for some, and I’m the worst offender when it comes to elements of progress such as technology. Albeit that it has improved my life immeasurably, on days when updates fail or my computer crashes for no reason, I begrudge it because I don’t fully understand it. My paternal grandmother was the same. She never got over the arrival of the first wave of West Indian immigrants to the UK in the fifties, and I remember how my toes used to curl at the launch of one of her racist tirades. But I forgave my grandmother’s discrimination because everyone had to adapt to the changes, and I was aware that at the heart of her bigotry was her age and a genuine fear of the unknown.  She never saw the changes that immigration would bring in terms of progress and growth. She would never read black literature, listen to hip-hop or go to the Notting Hill Carnival. She never saw a western, black president.

We, on the other hand, have no excuse for our bigotry, and that is why I feel nothing but shame for the right-wing propaganda that currently plagues our news feeds. Accusations of racism in Australia are rife at the moment, and the same poison that seeps into our culture is seeping through politics around the world – this, in spite of what history has taught us and the promises our grandparents made.

But what I find hardest to understand is how people – and particularly educated people – can ignore the very essence of human life. The first things we teach our children are to love, share and give freely. We teach them kindness from a young age. Kindness is ultimately what keeps everyone alive in a world in which equality is imbalanced and the gap between rich and poor is constantly widening.

And that’s what why this moment in history is so baffling and scarily defining. We are witnessing the very real possibility that the evil that permeates certain circles of the political forum may catch fire and engulf the good like a bush fire, in the way it did at the beginning of the twentieth century.

And what is more amazing is that most primitive animals – those that have far less intelligence than us – protect and demonstrate kindness to their own. Who saw the Orca that carried her dead calf around with her for a week in grief, or any of the hundreds of videos of dogs saving other dogs or humans? And yet us humans, seemingly at the top of the pack, can turn on one another, so viciously – and I’m not talking here about the small percentage of radical nutters.

I blame our sense of entitlement, which has turned some of us into greedy, self-serving xenophobes rather than loyal members of a world community, blinding us to the needs of others. Somehow, irrational fear has justified the removal of lifelines to the needy in the same way that German villagers justified the camps next to them. It is a flock mentality that needs to be curbed.

It was reported in The Guardian on Sunday that 2% of our population is Muslim, and yet we continue to treat these people as a threat and a scourge of the nation for their religion. We talk about them as though they are second-class citizens. We persecute them. We create a sense of fear around them which ostracizes and makes them targets of bigots, and it takes the son of a man killed by a Muslim radical to denounce our country’s racism.

How do we justify such accusations when the statistics don’t add up?

Kon Karapanagiotidis posted this on Twitter at the weekend:

Number of people killed by terrorism in Australia by people from backgrounds in last 100 years: 6

Women killed by male violence since July 2nd 2018: 10

Guess which one we are told is a threat to our way of life & values according to , and co?

LOOK AT THOSE STATISTICS! Think about how much we have to gain from other cultures, rather than what we might lose. Think about what we can take from these other cultures and implement to improve our own – a sense of community is just one.

CHECK YOUR PRIVILEGE.

Is change so wrong? Was it wrong to give women the vote or to give equal rights to black people?

We took in immigrants to increase our population and grow our economy when we needed them. We took these land from our indigenous people when we decided we needed it. So how dare we accuse immigrants of diluting our culture.

‘The 2016 Census shows that two thirds (67 percent) of the Australian population were born in Australia. Nearly half (49 percent) of Australians had either been born overseas (first generation Australian) or one or both parents had been born overseas (second generation Australian).’

 

What are we teaching the children of immigrants about love and kindness? What are we teaching our own children about the essence of human life?

 

How Do We Educate Our Kids About Sexual Harassment?

I posted this meme on my Facebook page a couple of days ago, and the response to it gave me a thought-provoking insight into the problem of how we educate our kids about sexual harassment and inequality.

26730684_2021987534494771_8316309779760555478_n

As a feminist, a woman that wants equality across the board, (and not a bra-burning man-hater, of which I am often accused), I want my daughter to feel safe in the world and my son to be respectful of women, and not seen as a women-hating predator.

 

Since the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace finally reached global awareness via the recent outing of many renowned predators in the workplace, backed up by the almost unanimous stand of women at the Golden Globes the other night, (the less said about that the better), it has been interesting to hear the opposing views between those who consider there to be a genuine problem, and those that deny a problem exists at all.

 

Frankly, I want to barf each time I hear someone say, ‘But that was how men behaved back then. They didn’t know any better. They didn’t know that it was inappropriate.’ REALLY? Can we find a similar excuse, I wonder, for celebrities and Catholic priests who have abused children? So men in the past didn’t sense that it was wrong to abuse their physical and professional power to belittle, sexually harass or sexually abuse women for their own gain?

 

Or the other argument, ‘you can’t deny that the casting couch has worked for women as well?’

 

Urghhhhhh!

 

Do these people, that condone this attitude, have any comprehension of the limitations imposed by inequality and male privilege historically? Women have always had to give more to get close to equalling their male counterparts.

 

Surely, a more constructive response would be to point out that not all men are bad apples, and while we pull out the rotten ones, it is important not to tarnish all men with the same brush.

 

However…

 

Gentlemen, please be aware that although you might not see yourselves as a sexual predator, that doesn’t mean you’re not guilty. Unfortunately, I’m afraid that many of you don’t seem to view the less blatant acts of harassment for what they are. For example:

 

It’s not okay to pat or pinch a woman’s arse

It’s not okay to demean her verbally in any environment, but particularly in a professional environment, with condescending words such as ‘sweetheart’ or ‘love’

It’s not okay to yell out at her in the street with lewd comments

It’s not okay to interpret skimpy female clothing as an invite

It’s not okay to recount sexist jokes at a dinner party, in much the same way that you wouldn’t joke about disabled people, people of other races or sexual orientation.

 

And finally, ‘the world’s gone mad,’ has to be my favorite comment, usually followed by, ‘you can’t do anything anymore.’ No, you can’t abuse women… mainly, because it’s fucking wrong.  Without meaning to sound Oprah-esque, this is a wonderful time in our history – we are making progress and imposing necessary boundaries – and I’m sorry if this emergence from the wrongs of the past, when slavery, racism, and women unable to vote were all acceptable regimes – cramps your style, but there it is.

 

I have also been told over the past few months – by both men and women – that the cases highlighted in the media are in the minority and that many women who have come forward with their stories of sexual harassment are lying for financial gain. They go on to quote the couple of cases, (ignoring the thousands that have been proven to be true), where there has not been enough evidence to ensure a guilty verdict.

 

How the fuck does anyone know what really happens in any situation between two people behind closed doors, when women are afraid to speak out due to the stigma attached to sexual allegations? And many a rape victim will vouch for that. Think about how Amber Heard was treated in the press. I have done my own research, and even within my small peer group of privileged middle-aged women, eighty percent of us are the victims of sexual harassment or worse; in fifty percent of examples, we are talking about more than lewd, threatening comments or an innocent smack on the bum.

 

And finally, to that other wonderful argument – from women this time: ‘I quite like the attention. I don’t mind a compliment from a man. What’s wrong with it?’ What’s wrong with it is that you are educating men to believe that all women want to be treated in that way, and my belief is – feminist or not – most don’t. What’s wrong with it is that you are educating your children that is okay to be disrespectful to women, to treat them as second-class citizens – a permission that might start with a wolf whistle before it escalates to rape or murder. Rape and domestic violence statistics are increasing – and many cases are still not reported – so if you are into sado-masochism or like the idea of your in control, that’s fine, but as my son would say, ‘get a room.’

 

So where do we go from here? What we don’t do is advise our girls that all men are sexual predators, not to drink and not to wear provocative clothing when they are out; in the same way, that we don’t generalize and label all men and boys as sexual deviants. What we do tell our boys, is to treat women in the same manner that they would like to be treated.

 

Creativity Is Open To Interpretation

aboriginal-art-1540115_1920

Creativity is open to interpretation, and nowhere is that more obvious than in the world of modern art.

Now, I’ll admit that I know zilch about art, apart from what I like and what I don’t like, like the majority of people. I stand in front of a canvas and for the most part, I have no fucking idea how to interpret its meaning, although I try to keep an open mind. I understand that the enjoyment of creativity is generally subjective, and so when I look at a beautiful Aboriginal artwork – an abstract of colorful dots and circles that is supposed to represent a man fishing in a creek, I accept that’s what it is, even if my head is saying Fuck Off! And while I do have more difficulty connecting to the sort of contemporary art that looks like the artist tripped with a full pot of paint on their way to the easel, I can still appreciate the craft behind it.

 

Each year, the Art Gallery of NSW in Sydney holds a competition and exhibition for portrait painting called the Archibald Prize, as well as one for landscape painting or figurative sculpture called The Wynne Prize, and finally The Sulman Prize for subject, genre or mural painting. I try to attend each year so that I can consider myself cultured.

 

As per usual, this year’s submissions produced some truly incredible work as well as some complete shite. But that’s just my very unqualified opinion.

 

Obviously, I’m not going to point the finger at the works I thought a two-year-old could have done because I am a philistine, and it is probably short-sighted of me to expect a portrait to look vaguely like a human face.

This piece, for example, is a work by Juz Kitson entitled: That which provides safety and the possibility of growth, that which you can put your trust in .I’ve linked it to the information given by the artist (I assume) about what it represents because I haven’t got a fucking clue what even the description means, yet I can still appreciate its beauty and the thought and craft behind such an amazingly complex piece of work. My interpretation of the piece might be “My uterus during menstruation”.

 

The point is, any form of creativity is a personal expression and it may or may not resonate with everyone. Think of some of the “crimes against fashion” that appear on the catwalks each season. How many times have you seen some new fashion trend that you decide you wouldn’t be seen dead in, only to fill your wardrobe with it the following season?

 

Ankle boots? I rest my case.

 

I like the idea of giving your “personal best”, even if the concept sounds like a cop-out to the competitive among us. Which it’s not because exposing your inner-most thoughts is terrifying. As the child of one parent who believed that my best was enough, and another who only acknowledged “first place” achievements – and was perennially disappointed – the idea seems a good balance to aim for. We all know in our heart of hearts what we’re capable of and although I have been known to achieve more with a push, there have been occasions when I’ve had to question afterwards if the pain was truly worth the gain.

 

This writing journey of mine has been a tricky one to navigate in terms of continued self-belief. One day I wake up and think I’m the next Thomas Hardy and the next, the fear of being rejected by Mills and Boon seems equally credible. Which was why I stepped away from the blank screen of my laptop and attended this exhibition – I needed to remind myself of just how subjective “creativity” can be. Because when you find yourself waist-deep in the sinking mud of a huge project, it’s easy to forget that everyone experiences self-doubt. I needed to remind myself that public acknowledgment for my work was never my goal. Indeed, very few people get that for their work.

 

‘Having a go’ is what is important – a part of the process that can be the most fulfilling of any journey and something we tend to lose sight of in a society that bases “success” on fame.

 

The lack of public acknowledgment for our work does not mean it is inferior. That’s why when friends ask me about the progress of my book and I find myself searching for excuses for why it is neither fully finished nor published yet, I feel like I have to remind them that I have completed a manuscript – an achievement in itself – a work that is the result of years of toil, passion, commitment, and pleasure, that has helped me grow, shaped me and allowed me to leave a legacy to my family. 

 

 

When The Education Of Your Kids Finally Pays Off

sKurt and NC move out of the family home in a few months time, when the old man and I move back up north, about an hour away, to an area they refer to as the hinterland of Sydney. It’s not quite the Outback, but it’s far enough away from them to help us get some semblance of our “lives before children” back, before we die. stork-838424_1920

 

Their imminent move out of the nest has unleashed a spectrum of emotions. While the old man has hung up the bunting, ordered the balloons and written his speech, my emotions veer between despair and embarrassing displays of unfettered joy at the prospect of sleeping through the night again, depending on what part of the month I’m in.

 

Although Kurt is ready in some respects for his first grab at independence, I know that he is far from competent in others areas. So even though I am heeding the advice of my therapist – who has reminded me time and time again that he will only reach the level of maturity required to fly, through trial and error – I have formulated some contingency plans.

 

I know I mustn’t enable him, but these safety nets may help him get through those early wobbles in his transition, at the first signs of the wind leaving his sails. I know from experience that homesickness can catch you unawares and most of us have experienced it to some degree at some time or another, with the reality checks that cleaning fairies don’t exist and that money only stretches so far.

 

My biggest fear is how he will cope when he finds out that the Money Tree doesn’t really exist. This vulnerability to want to believe in the impossible is a trait he inherited from his maternal side, and I know that it means he will have a distinct disadvantage in terms of survival, and there is a very real chance that he may starve.

 

We can’t bail him out with cash because we learned a long time ago that Kurt’s ideas of priorities do not match ours. So I have come up with the idea of an emergency food drop that I can organize online. That way, he won’t be able to convert food money for cigarettes… or anything similar… like the system he set up at school with his lunch money, that contributed to his second expulsion.

 

The old man and were discussing this plan the other night, when NC’s ears pricked up.

 

‘Will I get food drops as well?’ she asked, to which the old man replied that he believed it highly unlikely that she, like her mother, would ever allow herself to starve.

 

‘What about wine drops instead?’ she asked. ‘You could get a bottle of wine delivered to me each day…or maybe one in the morning and one in the evening?’ she said, thinking aloud.

 

There are very few times in parenting when you feel overwhelmingly proud of your offspring, but as I looked at my daughter I felt my eyes well up in a similar way to the day of her graduation a few months ago.

Graduation Photo Smugness and The Sacrifice of Parenting

graduation-2038864_1920The big day came and went last Friday when NC graduated from her university with her degree in Advanced Science. Three years of hard work for her and eighteen years of hard work for us culminated in an hour-long ceremony. The Dean reminded his graduates to go and do what they feel passionate about – as he had, (he turned out to be a Doctor of lizards or something similar) – then he sent them on their merry way with a reminder to thank their parents for the support through their umpteen years of education. A nice touch, I thought.

I’m reading an excellent book called “Beautiful Failures” at the moment, which is an examination of why our school system does not suit every child. Although it may be “a narrow vision of success”, as the writer Lucy Clark describes it – and I more than most can appreciate that description – it was wonderful to take pride for a few moments in an example of its success. NC will now continue to sate her thirst for learning for altruistic reasons rather than financial gain, and that makes me all the more proud.

All those mornings of frantic searches for sports kit, cold toast and tea, tantrums about ponytails and shoes that hurt, as well as early starts for practice paled into insignificance as I watched my girl stand proudly amongst her fellow alumni, resplendent in her Harry Potter Gown and Trencher.

The piss-yellow color of the Science Faculty hood was unfortunate, (and quite draining on some), but it did give us plenty to discuss as we waited for the ceremony to start. Because imagine if the fabric of the hood in some way symbolized the subject studied, we asked each other? Eg. Green could represent environmental studies, blood red for biology, a thick fur for Antarctic Studies, (faux,  of course), and pink sequins or velvet for drama or social media?

For some of the Ph.D. studies, you needed a translator to fully understand what the fuck they’d been doing, (other than drinking subsidized beer), for three years. One was entitled “The ecology and behavior of ecalypt-feeding caterpillars in response to predation risk,” which did give the old man and I a giggle and provoked us to come up with our own potential studies.

His might entail: “The duration of time man can hold a remote control without feeling any sense of shame about the survival of his family, particularly during The Masters weekend.”

And mine: “A quantitive analysis of the nagging habits of a female when she shares the same environment of a man with selective hearing.”

The granny knickers were on a mission that morning, after the best-laid plans to buy myself something new were foiled and I ended up with the disastrous impulse-buy of a “mutton” bomber jacket. In the end, I settled on a Metalicus dress that has sat in my wardrobe for yonks that I’ve never had the balls to wear due to its inability to disguise absolutely any content in my stomach, least of all a full-blown time-of-the-month muffin top that is approaching winter and the next few months of “layering” with relish. Suffice it to say, all I could squeeze into my belly over our celebratory lunch was one bottle of Champers and a meager Salade Nicoise.

But the main mission/achievement of the day was to get the photo to splash over Facebook with smugness at our friends, and that was accomplished when the old man donned the trencher thirty years later than the day he was supposed to, because he was too hungover.

I’m joking. This was NC’s day, so here it is. I like to call it “Sacrifice.”

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Graduating With Your Child

graduation-2038864_1920Thank you to Em Rusciano for the inspiration for this post. See the video on my Facebook page about her being a NEXT LEVEL, FORMAL MUM on 2Day FM.

You see, there can be no better prize as a parent than those academic award days when your child’s achievement is unveiled publicly and you can revel in parental smug-dom and remind yourself that you made that happen. I always felt that I cheated my own father with my list of lackluster progress prizes that he was forced to witness my acceptance of, which has made it all the more gratifying an experience to have a child like NC.

At least it should be, because as many of you will be aware – and in spite of having SOME input into her gene pool – we are very different people, my daughter and I, and where I have always been a very vocal underachiever, she prefers to remain an annoyingly reserved over-achiever.

Several years ago, she omitted to tell me the date of her graduation day from Year 12 and while all her friends’ parents were gifted the opportunity to pat themselves on the back for successfully maneuvering their kids through school, I remained oblivious to the event until I saw the celebratory photos plastered all over Facebook.

I have never forgiven her, nor for one moment allowed her to forget that this was a selfish attack on my parenting prowess, and since then I have made her swear publicly on several occasions that she WILL graduate from university, preferably in the most sickeningly pink floral dress I can find as punishment, even if her circle of friends think it is uncool.

I get it. She’s just not that girl – she’s one of those anti-cool girls, from whom I had to take the reins even at her school formal, like the true stage mom that I am, while she dug her heels firmly into the ground and fought me over every minor detail. Her dress was pretty, but not the Disney floaty number I had dreamt about; her hair was tidy but she refused the expensive chignon I wanted, and such were her nerves on the day that the very ugly rash she broke out in somehow managed to compliment the scarlet tone of her dress – which was some form of Karma, I suspect.

Perhaps the skywriting was a little bit too much.

Anyway, I suspected a few months back that the date for her graduation must be coming up soon but she continued to remain vague about it. When even my poor interpretation of social cues informed me that perhaps I was stepping on dangerous territory if I continued to threaten her about it, I was left to trust that she would adhere to our negotiated “arrangement”. That is, I get the photo of her in gown and mortarboard, but she doesn’t have to wear makeup, shave her legs or buy a new dress for the occasion. Armpits remain a point of negotiation.

Presumably due to cuts in tertiary education, her university kindly provided us with about four minutes notice of the date. They must assume that we parents don’t have a life and WILL drop everything for the satisfaction of watching our prodigy walk across the stage, and that appears to be true, because although I had booked flights away to Queensland that weekend, they somehow knew that I would have sold Adele tickets or postponed my own father’s funeral to be there.

Where NC underestimated me was that she thought that this calendar clash might prevent me from attending her big day and I watched her reaction to my initial disappointment at the date – the barely contained joy, the shrug of the shoulders and the arm placed unconvincingly around my own in mock pity as she commiserated with me – with some pride, thankful that all those drama lessons had been worth the financial pain.

NC is a scientist so I will excuse her logical brain and ineptitude at interpreting the true power of a mother’s pride and dedication to her cubs. Let’s hope she’s better at interpreting climate data.

My Son Has Never Read A Book

To have to admit that at the age of nineteen my son has never read a book fills me with the sort of bad-parent angst and shame that I imagine I would experience if I stood in front of an AA meeting and admitted to being an alcoholic. children-studying-670663_1280

 

He reminded me of this fact yesterday when we shared a rare hour together when he didn’t hate me and we went to return a shirt that I bought for him for Christmas, in the hope that he would look smart on the day. Like a lot of teenagers, he is so particular about clothes that he would prefer not to have any, rather than wear something he doesn’t like, and he has a penchant for particular brands – expensive ones in the main, most of which do not suit our pocket – so when I saw the designer shirt at half-price, and it had the sort of insipidly hippy pattern that he loves, I jumped on it.

 

Inevitably, he hated it, although in fairness to him, he did some excellent role-play on Christmas morning that convinced me that those thousands of dollars spent on drama lessons were worth every penny, and that he did like it, but wanted to save it for a special occasion. Sorry Jesus!

 

Anyway, as bonding hours are few and far between, yesterday I managed to resist the temptation to trigger a fight in the way that only mums of teenagers can, which would have involved me asking any of the following questions:

 

WHAT THE FUCK HE INTENDS TO DO WITH HIS LIFE?

WHY HE EATS ALL THE CEREAL IN THE HOUSE?

DOES HE HAVE ANY PLANS TO LEAVE HOME YET?

 

Instead, I asked him if he would do me the honour of reading my manuscript, now that it’s close to the end, and maybe because one of the character’s bears an uncanny resemblance to him and I don’t want him to find another excuse to do fuck all by suing me when my book is turned into a movie.

 

‘How long is it?’ he grunted back at me.

 

’80,000 words,’ I said, proudly.

 

‘Are you f…cking kidding me? That’s like all the books in the world, isn’t it?’

 

It saddens me that my son is not a “reader” like the rest of the family.

 

Don’t get me wrong; it wasn’t for want of trying. We ruined most nights of his school life with those twenty-minute reading sessions and I remember visibly shaking as soon as I saw his book bag clutched in his sticky hands at the school gates. That was on the rare occasions when he remembered to bring it home.

 

Most of my exhausted comments in his school reading book were along the lines of ‘refused to read’ or ‘no reading tonight, Kurt was tired….’ Somehow, I refrained from writing the truth, such as ‘Kurt had an major meltdown and I cried all night.’ I tried reading to him to encourage him, bought him books that I hoped would engage him, but even when we snuggled up in bed in what should have been those special moments of togetherness at bedtime reading, he would struggle and squirm next to me until I lost my rag and stormed out.

 

Not entirely his fault, I now understand. The ADHD brain is only capable of digesting information of interest, and in hindsight, perhaps a book about the life and times of Pablo Escobar might have been a better fit.

 

So the only way he can have learnt to read is via the Internet, in search of articles in connection to his passion for music. It must have happened organically, and all those nights and parents’ evenings when I felt such a failure as a parent, reached for the wine (which I suspect ultimately caused me to become the functioning alcoholic I am today), were completely unnecessary.

 

We learn at different speeds and in different ways. I’m still learning now. So don’t be too hard on your kids if they aren’t reading Harry Potter at age 2. Kurt didn’t speak until he was three, and when comprehensible words eventually tumbled forth, there was an abundance of them, an array of intelligent vocabulary that even his sister couldn’t spell, and he’s never stopped talking since.

 

Reading, not so much.

 

 

The Idiot’s Guide To Baking Macaroons

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I know you’re impressed!

Frankly, I can’t imagine anything worse than a cooking class but I suspected that if my sister and I didn’t organise something to keep us busy for at least part of the day we met in London, we would spend eight hours in a pub somewhere getting shit-faced.

 

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

 

You’d be amazed at how difficult it is to find a mid-week cooking class in London that isn’t fully booked up, but eventually we found one at L’Atelier Des Chefs that suited our budget, and was also conveniently situated spitting distance to several great London pubs for our recovery afterwards.

 

The theme of our class was Sweet Treats – Petits Fours, which are delicate little cakes you eat after dinner and frankly not really my thing, but they appealed to my sister – that most hated of the female species who posts images on Instagram of perfect children’s birthday cakes she’s knocked up after a twelve hour day at work and putting three kids to bed – and her superior knowledge of cooking techniques. 

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Looking psychotically happy because I knew what ‘blending’ was.

 

Our mission was to make the following petits-fours in two hours, and did I mention that we were paying for the privilege of being kitchen hands?

 

Macaroons with Salted Butter Caramel

Mini Pistachio Financiers

Raspberry Ripple Marshmallow

Chocolate And Griottine Cherry Teardrops

Chocolate Truffles

 

So armed with my own in-depth knowledge of culinary terms, such as ‘blending’, ‘mixing’ and ‘spooning’ (or is that something else?), that I’ve picked up from Masterchef, I went into the class, fully prepared to fake it to make it.

 

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Apparently this is not ‘tempering’ chocolate. Who knew?

The only problem was that our chef Chris wasn’t playing ball, spotted me quickly for the faker than I am and decided he was having none of my half-hearted, ‘I’m the client’ bullshit. And living up to the stereotype of grumpy-ass chef, the New Zealand version of Gordon Ramsay in fact, I soon realised that he actually expected us to a) work quite hard and b) have some real cooking experience under our belts.

 

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Completely oblivious to the stares of hatred from the rest of my group as I volunteered to do everything

I thought he’d be impressed when I asked if slathering a piece of acetate with chocolate was ‘tempering’, but when the rest of the smug class sniggered with embarrassment and my own sister put some physical distance between us, it quickly became evident that I’d given my amateur status away. 

 

And yes, I probably was the only one in the kitchen who didn’t know how to switch on a food processor, use a piping bag, recognise gelatin or how to separate an egg. But it also became apparent very early on that my sister and I were the only ones who had an evolved sense of humor, too.

 

Yet we still managed to have a lot of fun, and to learn some cooking know-how that I’ve no doubt I’ll never use again.

 

Even I picked up some of the super-cheffing skills on display, which may distract me from Matt’s suits and increasing girth the next time I watch Masterchef.

 

I learned that chefs are human too, and if you prod them enough that steely outer casing will eventually crack; I learned that you have to snip the end off a disposable piping bag or nothing comes out and that when Chef asks for a volunteer, you don’t always need to be the one to step in, especially if you want to make new friends; I learned that removing cold chocolate from acetate is not for the impatient or heavy-handed and that it is not ethical to swap your broken cake with someone else’s in the fridge when no-one is looking.

 

And in regard to our recipes, I learned that there are so many complex secrets to making a decent macaroon that it’s much easier to buy them; that ‘financiers’ are pretty gross and that the teardrop looks super-impressive even when made by someone as clueless as me, but it needs to be refrigerated or it becomes slop in a cake box; and that raspberry ripple is created by the technique of half-blending.

 

I also had an out-of-body experience when I accidentally sucked at the nozzle of my icing bag that was full of salted butter caramel at the time.

 

Finally, I learned that using the images of your sister’s macaroons makes for far more stimulating food porn than my uneven equivalents. Feast your eyes on these beauties.

 

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Trauma and Bullying And Their Link To Mental Illness

The Sharpest Pencil, one of my favourite blogs, by Lana Hirschowitz, drew my attention to this illuminating, but deeply sad post by Mike Cullen recently on the subject of bullying, after the investigation of the Safe Schools program here in Australia was announced.bully-655659_1280

 

An Open Letter To The Prime Minister of Australia

 

In their own words, ‘the Safe Schools Coalition Australia offers a suite of free resources and support to equip staff and students with skills, practical ideas and greater confidence to lead positive change and be safe and inclusive for same sex attracted, intersex and gender diverse students, staff and families’.

 

Unfortunately however, concerns have been raised recently at the explicit sexual content used in schools and what some see as its ‘indoctrinating’ influence, hence the investigation.

 

This investigation into something that many see as a highly positive arm of education, was designed to help school children understand the problems faced by the young LGBT community, and its investigation comes at a time when the suicide rate in Australia has increased by more than 13% over the past year, and the worst affected group are 15-22 year olds.

 

In is post, Mike describes his time at school, where from his kindergarten year he was bullied for being an LGBT kid, a sad indictment of not only our society but of the children we are currently educating, because this behaviour still happens today. As a parent, it is distressing to read about the terrible experiences and injustices kids like him are subjected to, just for being different to their peers.

 

Around the same time, I read a letter that was published by clinical psychologist, Richard Bentall, (a school contemporary of the actor/commentator, Stephen Fry, who is very publicly vocal in the mental illness forum about Bipolar Disorder, being a sufferer himself), to correct Stephen on his mistaken belief that all mental illness is linked to genes, but rather to social and environmental factors that may lead to trauma (which includes sexual abuse, Stephen).

 

What I Wish Stephen Fry Understood About Mental Health

 

But obviously it’s not only LGBT kids who are at risk of bullying, trauma and mental illness.

 

When I first read Bentall’s letter, my old friend ‘mother-guilt’ inevitably set in and I found myself wracking my brains to think how or when we might have traumatised our son Kurt, who as many of you know we have been through the proverbial teenage mill with over the past few years  as a result of mental health issues. Until I realised that although his ADHD has always been the root cause of many of his problems, the real shift from ADHD to depression and self-harm began in Year 9 when the bullies cranked it up a notch at his school, mentally but physically.

 

Looking back to that time now, knowing what we know now, I despise myself for the naivety that led me to accept the advice of a school that had shown very little in the way of interest in my son’s troubles, despite the many red flags, and which believed that making him sit out of the classroom was the most effective way to punish him. The school also intimated that bullying was a phase my son just had to go through, a kind of rite of passage for boys to teach them to toughen up; in fact the only real support the school offered would have singled him out for even more bullying.

 

The situation ultimately came to a head when Kurt made a stand and refused to return to the school; his innate terror of physical harm at the hands of his peers was such that it far outweighed any potential repercussions from the Department of Education for what we knew they would see as truanting. He lay in bed for days, depressed and disconsolate, until we decided something had to change, upped sticks, moved location and school.

 

I wish I’d listened to my son earlier, rather than a school that was ill-equipped and under-funded to cope with mental illness, but I thank God that eventually we followed our gut instincts as parents and acted upon them.

 

These days, sadly, too many parents don’t get to see the warning signs, and aren’t given that second chance before it’s too late.

 

Ironically, within a few weeks the school did threaten to report us to the Department of Education for Kurt’s unofficial absence.

 

I suppose what I’m trying to say is that the current suicide rate in young adults proves that mental illness is a big problem for our kids, that many of them are struggling and we still don’t understand what the triggers are. Suicides are not mentioned in the media for fear of copycat behaviour, but because of that cover up (which has valid reasons), many parents remain in the dark about the increase in the statistics or may not realise that their child may be vulnerable and at risk.

 

So remain vigilant, keep the communication lines open with your teenagers and don’t trust departments or schools to have the same instincts as you have when it comes to your child.