Friday, May 22, 2015

Four Confronting Meetings...


It's been a long week. Looking back, I realised I'd had four confronting meetings this week - which would explain why I feel so tired today.

On Tuesday, I had a meeting at Uni with the manager of the Student Association about the behaviour of another student at the university towards me and a friend of mine. The other student basically lost the plot over a situation which was not of mine or my friend's doing, but as we were the only people in the student's vicinity at the time, we found ourselves in the firing line of rude and aggressive behaviour. Hopefully, in the wake of the meeting on Tuesday, there will be no repeat of that situation. For me, it was particularly distressing as I felt nailed to the ground, unable to move out of the person's way as they were abruptly moving furniture around me, apparently unaware of how this would impact me with low vision (this person knows me quite well, but they were not in control of themselves at the time).

On Wednesday, I had a much more pleasant, but still very confronting, meeting between myself and a guide dog handler. This was the very first step on the path to getting my own guide dog, and I'm so freaking excited about it! I don't go anywhere on my own anymore. My sight continues to deteriorate and with that I find I'm losing confidence. So, I only going out when someone can accompany me. I have started using a cane in recent months, but canes have their pros and cons. For me, one of the cons is the stimulation of the vibration caused by the cane being in contact with ground. Those vibrations in my hands really irritate me - much like when someone is sitting at a table with you and jiggling their knee and the table is rattling. Argh! Even describing it irritates me.

Anyway, the main reason Wednesday's meeting was confronting was that for years I've known my vision would deteriorate in my forties and fifties, but that was always some time in the future. The meeting on Wednesday made the future very much a matter of here and now. As well as that, the meeting was a bit like an interview, assessing my appropriateness for a guide dog. I passed the first round, and so I'm off to guide dog training school a week from Monday, to spend three days gaining hands on experience with a dog to see if I'm still suitable to go on the waiting list. They have to make sure I'm fit enough to have a dog, but also that I don't see too much to have a dog (if I see too much, I may be inclined to override the dogs training, rather than trusting the dog), and also to check that I have enough mobility skills without a dog to be in charge of a dog, that I'm not too reliant on the dog to make all the decisions.

The training programs are live in. So, first I'll live in for three days and two nights but then - if I go on the waiting list - when they find a dog they think will suit me (based on the dog's temperament, speed of walking, and also on any preferences I have for male/female. black/gold, escalator confident/not etc.) I will spend a further three weeks at live-in training with the dog (Monday to Friday, weekends at home).

Obviously, this now almost doubles the time I will be away from uni (and away from the Grumpy Old Man and the kids) in the second half of the year - from 4 weeks to 7 weeks, which will further push back my completion date. But, really, what can I do, I need this assistance and therefore I need this training. All quite confronting.

Thursday was the meeting with the primary school staff about moving the boys. While I sat out in the car with the kids, I still felt the full force of the confrontation in that I knew, pretty much, what the official school standpoint would be - and I was right. And it is both frustrating and disappointing.

Today, the Grumpy Old Man and I had a meeting at the high school with Erik, the principal and Erik's head of house. Primarily this was over an incident involving Erik and mate three weeks ago (which I won't go into), but also a discussion about how Erik is going overall with his studies because he's let a few assessments slide in Art Studio, which a VCE unit, and therefore attracts more attention if the kids slack off (he is actually doing better overall this year than last year, particularly in philosophy, but as Art is usually his best subject, I guess the staff are surprised he is dropping the ball).

I wish there was an injection parents could give teenagers to inspire them. Some teens are naturally inspired to pursue activities about which they feel passionate. Erik is talented in art, but I'm just not sure how passionate he is about it. The reason he gave for not handing in the assessments was that he knew they would be very easy to do (not challenging) and so he procrastinated on them. Sure, I get that. I have two flashes to hand in this afternoon, but haven't started on them, BUT he doesn't just do stuff last minute, he simply doesn't do it at all. Our high school is big on their students being self-motivated, but as the principal put it, Erik is still thinking 'old school'. Instead of going to staff and saying, 'I really want to do X!', he is resisting doing the stuff they ask him to do which doesn't inspire him. It's very frustrating.

So, that is the big week of meetings. I feel very drained, but life goes on and so must I.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

There are no guarantees this won't happen again...

This morning, the Grumpy Old Man had a meeting with the assistant principal of our current primary school, and Ari's teachers. We had initially requested a meeting two and half weeks ago to ask, again, if Ari could be moved to a different classroom as we have not been happy with his social interactions in his current room. The principal and assistant principal basically took their jolly old time responding to our request.

The policy at the school is that parent requests for children to be moved will not be supported - and apparently there is no reason they accept as valid, which to me is a sure sign of inflexibility and not being particularly interested in the best interests of their students. I should say here, I sympathise that there are parents who badger schools about letting their little diddums be in class with their best friend, but this was not that kind of situation at all, in fact, we were attempting to separate Ari from his besties.

Anyway, as it took the principal and assistant principal so very long to respond to our request, despite multiple reminders from Ari's class teachers, we eventually decided we really just needed a more responsive situation for Ari. So, we started looking at other schools.

So, when the Grumpy Old Man went to the meeting this morning, it seemed like a moot point. Still, they wanted to know why we were moving the kids. The Grumpy Old Man related that we were not happy with the social situation in Ari's class a year ago when we asked for him to moved, but had accepted that our request was denied, and given the teachers a chance to 'implement strategies' to try and deal with the situation. In the mean time, Ari's wrist had been fractured in a school yard altercation and we had had reports that he was as distracted in class as ever, if not worse.

So, with the behaviours having become further entrenched, we felt the best recourse was to move Ari to an altogether new environment.

The assistant principal's response to this was, 'Well, there is no guarantee this won't happen again at the new school!'

Of course, she is absolutely right, I cannot deny her argument.

But here's another take on that same point...

We can guarantee that if we don't move him, things will not change.

We can guarantee this because we gave the school a year to effect change, and they were unable to do so.

We can guarantee that if no change happens in this situation, it will be to Ari's detriment and we can guarantee this because he has already suffered physically and socially as a result of no effective change in the past year.

The future is never certain, but if you continue to stand in the river, you will continue to be wet.


Monday, May 18, 2015

Strictly Ballroom!

On Friday night I had the pleasure of attending a performance of Strictly Ballroom at Her Majesty's Theatre, thanks to sponsorship by Nuffnang!

It was amazing!

Even as we entered the theatre to take our seats, we knew it was going to be a special night. All the seats were rainbow coloured, and I joked with my friend, Robbie, that we might be expected to participate in the performance in some way. That was a pretty good guess on my part!

At this point, I would love to show you a picture of us sitting in our seats, but blue is not a particularly flattering colours, especially when reflected of our shining faces, and Robbie made me promise never to let the photos of him see the light of day... I'm such a great friend, really, I am...

The show was dazzling, and I'm not just talking about the sequinned dresses. It was wall-to-wall gigantic personalities with the broadest of broad Aussie accents. Of course, there was also dancing, a lot of dancing! In particular, I was very impressed with the dance work of Fernando Mira who plays Rico, father of Fran. His flamenco dancing was flamboyant and dramatic and made my heart go pitty-pat! Bravo!

The voice of Natalie Gamsu, who played Abuela, Fran's mother, was astounding in it's strength. It filled the theatre, and I actually think I heard the doors rattle a little, too.

The use of set of clever and affective, moving us from within a competition setting to the home of Fran's parents behind the milk bar seamlessly. 

The audience did get involved in the performance, but to say how would be giving too much away - you'll just have to go see for yourself!

After the show, patrons were invited to meeting cast in the foyer and donate towards crisis relief for Nepal. This was a great photo opportunity for the crowds, but I prefer my place behind the camera.

If you love musical theatre, you will love Strictly Ballroom on stage!

Monday, May 11, 2015

Stepping into the void...

Today we told Bryn and Ari's teachers that next term they are starting at a different school. Apparently, they were surprised, but they shouldn't have been.

Our boys have been at this primary school since January 2007. When we enrolled Erik and Lukas it was with trepidation, but also optimism. Trepidation because we had planned to homeschool and felt that formal education was always going to be a compromise between what our children needed and the 'greater good of 400+ students'. This has been the case for the past 8 years, but Erik and Lukas were both extremely happy at the school, socially, and so even though we asked them regularly if they would like to be homeschooled, they never took up the offer.

There were often run ins with the school, particularly over our financial constraints. The area in which our primary school is located is an area of financial affluence, but we are not a financially affluent family. There were times when we couldn't afford book packs before the start the school year, or school camps or incursions or excursions, and while not making allowances for this, the school also often made us feel like an inconvenience when they had to find alternative accommodations for our kids while the other kids were on camp, or doing swimming etc.

But our older kids were happy with their community and their friends, so we stuck it out.

For Bryn and Ari the social aspect of school has not been as fruitful. Both boys have struggled with making friends, in different ways. Both boys are able to make friends, but also seem to be attracted to, or attract, dominant, often manipulative personalities into their friends circle. For Bryn this has meant a lot of sadness, but also some poor choices on his part as he's tried to navigate impressing his friends. For Ari this has meant that to play with one of his friends, who is as energetic as him, but also quite lovely, has meant also playing with a child who is in his face all the time, and will hit him if he doesn't comply with that child's wishes. Ari has struggled with anger over this situation, feeling frustrated and powerless.

A year ago, we asked for Ari to be moved to a different class, as we felt the dynamic which was developing in his class was not to anyone's benefits. We were denied that request with the standard, 'If we moved every child parents asked us to move, we'd be forever moving children around.' I'm sorry, but there is moving a child so they can be in a class with their bestie, and then there is moving a child because of toxic relationships occurring in that class - these are not the same thing.

We were told strategies would be implemented. For a while, things seemed a little better. Then one day Ari was pushed over in the playground and fractured his wrist. We accepted that that was an accident and said nothing more about it.

This year has been one of great upheaval in Ari's class. One of his teachers left at the end of last year to having a baby, and was replaced by another teacher who was also pregnant. Subsequently, that teacher has had many days off sick, and there has been a succession of substitutes who don't understand the dynamics in the class and don't look out for or head of trouble. I guess substitutes are only invested in the day they are actually in the classroom. They are place holders until the real teacher comes back.

Consequently, Ari has been extremely distracted in class, particularly this term. In the playground, he has been targeted for being small over and over again. When he retaliates, it's a mark against his reputation, and obviously we don't support him retaliating, but with no proper intervention or prevention in place, I understand his frustration. I feel so sad for him, and angry too.

We asked for a meeting to discuss the possibility of moving him again. That was a week ago. This morning his teacher still hadn't heard back from the vice principal. This is endemic of a school philosophy which does not put the well being of its students first. I realise those are strong words, but what other conclusion can I reach.

Perhaps it is that we do not pay voluntary fees because we cannot afford them?

Certainly, this primary school is in the business of business. The fees for the school our kids are going to be going to next term is half the size of the school they are currently at. The offer more to the students in terms of student oriented programs (two art shows a year, a writing competition, an industrial kitchen to cook in, a choir to sing in), but only charge half as much. They invite their students and families to make use of the school grounds on the weekends and in the holidays, while our school strictly forbids students to enter school grounds unless they're attending a program at the school. Our currently school forever has its hand in parents pockets, but when a parent asks for something in return, they are faced with a wall of silence - or worse, on one occasion I left a message with the vice principal that I needed to speak with her, and when she rang me, after I said hello, she literally said, 'It's Mrs X, what's the problem now?'

If asked why we're leaving, my answer will be simple, 'We're fed up.'

Still, I feel sad. I had thought all our children would go to this school, and all of our children would have an unbroken experience of primary education. We've weathered a few storms with this school, but ultimately, even though Ari is a very bright child who is doing exceptionally well, academically, we feel his social interactions are being ignored and this will be detrimental to him if it continues. Bryn will also benefit from moving away from mostly toxic friendships and hopefully making much more healthy friendships at the new school.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

I'm going to Iceland!!!

My fieldwork travel grant was approved this week and the money should be in my account early next week (of course there would have to be a public holiday on Monday), and then I'll buy my tickets!


I haven't been there for thirty years and to say my Icelandic is rusty would be a massive understatement, so now I'm desperately trying to 'get back into it', because, quite frankly, I would be horribly disappointed in myself if I went over there and spoke English the whole time.

I have to talk to Centrelink. This Federal Government has decided that disability pensioners and students cannot leave Australia for longer than 4 weeks in any 12 month period or they will lose their payments. I guess the theory is that if we government payment types can afford to travel overseas, we shouldn't need money from the Government.

The thing is, I can't afford to travel overseas, the University is paying for me to go, because this fieldwork is essential research for completing my thesis and graduating. Having the four week restriction (keeping in mind I spent 5 days in Wellington in November at a conference, which is also all about my degree), is going to reduce the amount of time I have to do research, and with my vision impairment, everything takes longer. The degree is all about improving my chances of becoming gainfully employed, which would reduce my support from the Government, but hey, let's just slap an arbitrary travel restriction on people with a disability or who are studying.

I worry about how this will impact my future employment. In a world which is becoming ever more global, international travel for work is becoming more and more common. You may be thinking that if I'm on a pension and get work, I'll no longer be on the pension anyway. Well, you see the blind pension is not means tested because our adaptive technologies are so expensive, so it continues even once we are employed to ensure we can continue to purchase adaptive technologies (a braille digital diary costs $5000, for example).

How am I going to work in a field which requires international travel if the Government restricts the amount of time I can travel in a 12 month period?

Frustrating. However...


I'll do it on a shoestring, but I'm still enormously excited!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Audacious Aud and some of my other awesome ancestors...

I've had a big week in my PhD this week. I spent nine hours at uni on Tuesday catching up on work I had not managed to do last week or over the weekend. I'm learning a LOT about historiography, which is something I could not have predicted. Specifically, I'm having to come to grips with Icelandic historiography, which turns out to be quite divergent - now why is that not surprising?

I remember learning history through the family sagas at school, but I couldn't tell you much about what I learned - my Icelandic was very basic and while I got by well enough, I guess the particulars of any one story did not stick with me.

Yesterday, I was researching an ancestor of mine - Aud the Deep-Minded. In the book of Icelanders, online, it is possible to trace an Icelander's family lineage back over a 1000 years and so I can see how I was related to this historical figure through my mother...

This list goes down to my maternal grandmother, so beneath her is my mother, and then me.

Aud was all sorts of amazing. She was living in the Orkney´s after she and her family fled Norway after losing  battle against King Harald Fairhair. When her husband died, she married her daughters off to Scottish kings and noblemen, then captained a ship and sailed to Iceland where she claimed land as matriarch of her family. She´s credited with bringing Christianity to Iceland, as well as bending the gender roles, and setting the tone for matriarchy in Iceland. So, it is kind of awesome to know I´m her descendant!

Another descendant I found out about today was the very first settler in Iceland Ingólfur Arnarson.

I´m a 30th generation descendant of him through my maternal grandfather.

But, let´s not stop there... Prose Edda, heard of the Prose Edda? Well the author, Snorri Sturluson is also an ascestor, going back 23 generations.

Okay, so I have a confession. My eldest´s son´s name is Erik and we´ve always told everyone he is named after my ancestor Erik the Red... Strictly speaking, we're *only* related through marriage. Erik's the Red's wife's grandfather's wife is my direction ancestor through my maternal grandmother...

But he totally counts, anyway. Besides, When Erik the Red was exiled for killing someone, it was Aud who gave him land in Greenland for his family to stay on.

Finding out all this stuff is a fun side-effect of doing this thesis!

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Rethinking my life...

I had a dream.

I wanted to be a doctor. Not a doctor of medicine, a doctor of philosophy. I wanted to teach people about writing. I was going to do this PhD and teach people about the flash fiction and all it can offer us as creative, reflective, constructionists of our reality.

I'm not sure about that dream anymore.

I'm not sure I will ever work, let alone as a lecturer or a tutor.

Some probably think I'm giving up too easily, but the fact is, I have been fighting to be able to work all my adult life and it has pretty much led to nothing. Sure, I can work for free, in a voluntary capacity, and that is worthwhile, I admire people who are happy to work as volunteers, they are truly self-less.

But I wanted to work and earn a wage. To see my work compensated with a dollar value. I don't think that will ever happen for me.

I was feeling depressed about it, but I think I'm coming out of that.

I want to get my philtrum pierced. Everyone hates the idea. Even the people who say they don't hate the idea, hate the idea. I don't care. I see my friend Julia facing death square in the face. There is a certainty about her death that most of us don't have, it's incredibly sobering. She has posted about how this knowledge has spurred her on living the life she always wanted. This has affected me deeply.

A family friend died on Sunday, he was 75 and had been living with cancer for six years. Seventy-five is a good age, and he was ready to go, so his death was not a shock. The knowledge of his own mortality softened him a lot in the last few years, according to his family. He started to enjoy his life more, and let go of the rigidity which had built a wall between him and other people.

So, I was told today, in all kindness mind you, that getting a piercing in my face would be the death knell of my academic career. This may well be true, the academy is a rigid, conservative place, even within the creative fields. I thought about it for a while and came to this conclusion. I can forget about getting my philtrum pierced and hope that somehow this will open doors for me into academia and into paid work, even though not having piercings in the past has not seen welcome mats fluttering to my feet...

Or, I can live my life, do the work I love doing, continue to live the life I have been living to this point anyway - no paid work, studying, raising kids, etc. and accept that the odds are well and truly stacked against me anyway, and if people like my work enough, they will not be so shallow as to overlook me because I have a tiny stud in my philtrum.

Also, maybe I just don't want to be an academic after all.

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