Thursday, August 30, 2012

Get with it, already!

Earlier this month, Port Macquarie mum, Ana Amini lodged a complaint on Target's Facebook page about their 7-14 year old girl's range making little girls look like tramps. This comment received resounding support from parents on Facebook with tens of thousands of 'likes' and 1000 similar comments. I caught up on the news about this event on ABC's The Drum that evening and was shocked by the responses of the panel of The Drum. They blew this mum's complaint off as 'just another social media beat up'. The consensus was that if parents don't like the clothing offered at Target, they're not forced to buy their children's clothes there (of course, this was said by people who earn 100K per annum and can afford more expensive clothing stores). Parents can vote with their feet by shopping elsewhere (if they can afford to).

The issue with this is there seemed to be an attitude that offering only a restricted choice of items to children which forces them to appear sexualised didn't seem to bother anyone.

I've heard similar complaints from parents regarding colour choices for both boys and girls. The vast majority of girls clothing is pink, or purple. Yes, there are other colours, but they are few and far between. Most stores are the same no matter the price range offered.

For boys, the colours are neutral, or red, navy and green. Occasionally there might be an item in yellow, or orange or even pink - with a stupid and obvious slogan like, 'Tough boys were pink!'... These are often also emblazoned with monsters or skateboarders or superhero characters, in case anyone makes the heinous mistake of confusing the 'little bloke' with a girl - l'horreur!

This morning I saw this article about a German dad who started wearing skirts to show his five year son, who loves to wear dresses, that there is nothing wrong with a boy wearing a dress! Ironically, it is okay in much of the world for men to wear skirts and dresses, it is even national dress in some places.

It's just that in our Western Culture we have this narrow Imperialist view of what is acceptable, and we believe that only women and sexless men (monks and Catholic priests) wear dresses. We're stupid like that (and we're always forgetting the Scots are part of our Western Society).

German dad with his dress loving boy.
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Earlier this week Bryn took his amber necklace off and refused to wear it to school anymore.

The amber necklace was a gift for his seventh birthday. He's asked for one for weeks and weeks because he really admired Ari's. After only two weeks of wearing it at school, he'd discovered the hard way that 'boys don't wear beads'. The Grumpy Old Man and I tried to tell him that some kids don't know that everyone can wear whatever they want, but he didn't want to have a bar of it. The shaming he'd received was more powerful than any support we could offer him. It was just an amber necklace for crying out loud!

In the end, all this 'Blue is for boys, and dresses are for girls' seems to me to be about putting gender roles in little, very, very separate boxes - and I think it stems back to homophobia and it makes me sick and sad!

If girls want to wear Ben 10 t-shirts, we have to label them 'tomboys' so people will understand 'she's still a girl, she's just not a girly-girly', things are a little harder for boys, they can't be 'marygirls' and because it's not okay to be a 'girly-boy' - which is both offensive to boys who like dresses and pink and, god forbid, beads and also offensive to girls, because it infers that there is something wrong with being like a girl... Are girls less than boys? Is being a boy who likes 'girly stuff' somehow less of a boy...

Is it okay to be a 'tomboy' if you're a girl because aspiring to 'boyish stuff' is somehow understandable - because boys are the best, right? Actually, I think it is more acceptable, on the whole for girls not to be girly, because, you know, being more androgynous or masculine makes you a tough girl which is, you know, more like a man, and men are what everyone should aspire to be like, right?

No, of course not, I hear you all cry, but just think about the messages we send out children!

It's all so screwed up, really. If a boys wants to wear a dress, let him! If a man wants to wear a dress, LET HIM! Stop labelling things as belonging to 'the feminine' and 'the masculine'. Get that these are human constructs, and as such, they are mutable and can be changed if we want them to change - and I think a lot of us do! Stop shaming little children for not buying this narrow, scared little view of the world!

Get with it, already!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The bad, the good, and the AWESOME!

The Bad

Waking up at 10.55am (thanks generous Grumpy Old Man for letting me go back to sleep after kids left for school, but...) and realising you're supposed to be at an appointment you've waited six weeks for, in five minutes time!

The Good

Calling them and finding they are happy for you to hop in a cab and turn up to the appointment 40 minutes late.

Finding out someone can come to your house to tutor you in the voice over commands on your own computer - because you've tried to teach yourself (it's supposed to be user friendly says Apple) and find it all very, very confusing and lumpy to use.

Hearing that there are employment services you can access as soon as you feel the need of them (considering I've just applied for a PhD, I'm kind of in a grey area regarding work, though part time work would still be acceptable, I think, under a certain limit of hours. I need to find out. If I don't get into the degree, well, then full-time work is very much needed).

Realising *just in time* that you were just about to drop your phone into a large public rubbish bin, instead of the empty drink bottle in your other hand!

The AWESOME!!!

After having a look at a variety of electronic magnifiers, ranging in price from $160-$1000, and making an appointment to see an optometrist for a more in-depth assessment then heading off to the occupational therapist for an assessment... Being called back into the caseworker's office to be told she has a couple of electronic magnifiers which people have donated to her because they no longer have use for them and that if one of them suits your needs, she wants you to have it because she realises the cost of a new one might be prohibitive for a family of six living solely on pensions.


This is going to make such a massive difference to my ability to read to research material which are not available online or through kindle etc!

The Greens announcement of DentiCare! Woot! Finally, getting the kids and our teeth attended to, will no longer be a matter of money (although we both still need to get over our horrendous cases of PSTD from childhood abuse at the hands of dentists - I kid you not!).


Yay!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

I feel like I just finished my final exam!


Since the first day of Masters of Education at Melbourne University way back in February 1999 - when I was just into my second trimester of pregnancy with the biggest boy, I've been working towards being able to apply to do a PhD.

Circumstances led to me transferring from a research Masters to a coursework Masters in early 2000. That was a very hard decision to make, I have to say because I knew it meant I would not be eligible to apply for a PhD at the conclusion of the degree. Nonetheless, I carried on and before I finished that Masters degree I had a second baby and postnatal depression, and a deferral for six months, but eventually I did complete it.

I gave up on doing a PhD for a few years, or rather I put it on the way, way, back there, back burner - something I might try again after the kids were grown.

But then in 2006, I heard that the tertiary college mum was studying and working at, was offering a Masters of Arts in Creative Writing by distance education and there was talk of them offering a PhD in Creative Writing as well. I found I could get recognition for prior learning from my previous studies which would lighten the workload I needed to do for the Masters as well. Suddenly going for the PhD was back on the books.

I worked my way through the second Masters and it wasn't as easy as I thought it was going to be. Of course, by now I had three boys and was pregnant with my fourth - no one can ever accuse me of making things easy on myself!

I somehow managed to finish the Masters - it's all a blur now - and that was amazing to me. Finally, I was in a position to apply for a PhD.

Applying for a PhD is not a matter of filling in a few forms and ticking of your preferences. Mum did try to warn me I would have to do a fair bit of research just to write my application - I didn't believe her (hey, that's the prerogative of the child, right?).

I thought I had a topic, but after much research and soul-searching I realised I had no deep understanding of this topic or of right sort of questions to ask. So, I did more soul-searching and asked myself, what do I really enjoy in the field of writing? What is it I have the most experience with and the most knowledge of? The answer was, of course, flash fiction. When I started to look into the scholarly literature on flash fiction, I found there was a massive black hole which needed filling.

Now, I'm just hoping Deakin with allow me to start the process of filling it!

Filling in the forms and gathering all the 'proof of' documents and having them copied and certified has taken the better part of a week - also because somewhere along the way I managed to lose an entire transcript! I mean, who does that???

Finally, this morning I got to click the 'submit' button on the screen and then a new screen appeared with the message you see at the top of this post.

I've mailed hard copies of all the documents and sent my academic referees the forms they need to fill in and send back to the University, so now all there is left to do is wait for the result.

It feels a lot like the marathon students run leading up to final exams and handing in of final assessment tasks. Suddenly I have nothing pressing for my time, but in the back of my mind there is anxiety over whether I did enough preparation, and did I dot all those 'i's and all cross those 't's? I hope I sleep better tonight than I have over the past few months. I hope it all pays off!


Monday, August 27, 2012

Homeschooling on my mind - again...

No, I'm not thinking of homeschooling Ari, or pulling any of the boys out of school, but nonetheless the topic of homeschooling is on my mind again.

In recent times I've happened on homeschoolers without looking for them. I've been out of the homeschooling loop for a few years now, but in May I ran into an old acquaintence from a homeschooling group we used to attend. Late last year one of my eldest son's friend left school in year five to be homeschooled because the primary school was unable to meet his needs. Last month I met a friend of a friend who is homeschooling - something I only discovered after we became Facebook friends. Then last week a friend of my second son left school - again in year five - to be homeschooled, though she is still attending school for sports and art.

I have other friends who homeschool, so I never completely lost contact with homeschoolers, but I guess the most recent contacts have been more and more from unexpected quarters, people who don't seem 'alternative', but there you go, that's just my projection showing, isn't it.

Recent changes to funding, in Victoria at least, seem destined to encourage the growth of the 'private-private' education sector. As money is taken from public school funding and poured into the private sector, I believe more and more parents will find dissatisfaction in the underfunded public sector, while still not being able to afford private education.

I've heard arguments that 'equality in education' means the Federal and State governments should put equal funding behind each student in Australia, regardless of whether they attend public, private or independent schools. This is somehow supposed to make private schooling (supposedly the 'best' sort of schooling) more viable for the working and middle classes.

That argument is based on the idea that governments will subside private education for parents, but that would only work if private schools deduct the governments' contribution from their exorbitant private school fees... They don't and they won't.

So, private and independent school parents pay large fees, which the school pockets and then the governments contribute more money, which the schools pockets. Private and independant schools continue to gain ground in the education stakes - more and better resources, facilities and prestige. Parents pay as much as ever for private education. Those who couldn't afford private or independent education before still can't afford it...

However, the biggest loser in this scenario is the public school system which loses money (because governments regig their education budget rather than simply increasing them to accommodate the private sector), who must attempt to maintain the same standard of education on less money - which they simply cannot do.

In this scenario I predict homeschooling is set to become ever more mainstream and common.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Patterns in child development - a.k.a the benefits of and to a child second.

I'm a first child, so I can't claim to have any idea what it is actually like to be a second child.

My brother is a second child and says that I used to boss him around a lot. That's probably a fair call, in hindsight - but I can only admit to that after many, many years of self-reflection and pushing myself to see the good, bad and ugly in the mirror.

I was often quite envious of him because he had a talent people could see. He could draw with ability far beyond his years. Once, when we were nine and seven we entered a Father's Day drawing competition. We had to draw our dad. I drew a very 'proper' picture of my dad with a perfectly oval face and almond shaped eyes, a straight nose and neat ears and his beard was nicely trimmed. Michael drew an irregular head shape and big puffy beard and oddly shaped eyes and funny ears and completely nailed the 'feel' of my dad. Michael won the contest, I didn't even get a commendation. It was a hard life!

I had a talent for writing, but it's not easy to get people to read a manuscript. A drawing on the other hand can be shoved under the nose of any passer by and receive instant feedback, and because Michael was unexpectedly awesome, the feedback was always positive. Jealously is a curse, and I had it.

Decades later my brother and I get along very well and I've even let him put his artwork on my body in form of tattoos - I'm very proud of his talent!

I now have a second child of my own. In our household the roles are a little reversed, in that it is the older child who has the instant-feedback talent (but also the bossy nature, like his mum), and the second child struggles for recognition.

My second child's 'talent' has always been his ability to be autonomous and relatively responsible. He's the child who gets things done without being monitored every. five. seconds. By things, I mean schoolwork, not housework.

This year though, he's been struggling. He has been putting off doing his homework until he is made to do it, and a couple of times, he hasn't handed it in at all. Yesterday he told me his teacher wants to have a chat with me because he's been having trouble concentrating in class.

Other things have been happening, too.

A friendship with a new kid at school led to incidences of bullying of an old friend of his. Apparently, he didn't actively participate in the bullying, but he didn't move to prevent it either - which in our book is the same as supporting it. The bullied friend is now being homeschooled. I don't know if being homeschooled is as a direct result of the bullying or something that was in the works and was moved forward because the child was unhappy at school. The second child has had playdates with his old friend since the decision to homeschool, so the two friends still seem to be getting along, but I think it has rocked the second child's world to have this all happened. He was not able to predict it and likely feels some responsibility and confusion.

He benefits from being a second child, though. You see, at this same age with the first child, we had similar problems with homework and lack of concentration in class - except with the first child it went from mild to major in the degree of difficulty, with the second child it has gone from non-existent to mild... I hope!

I've had a talk with him about why he's struggling and his response was, 'Grade five is so much harder than I thought it would be.' The first child was in grade four at this age, which tells me that as well as whatever is going on within the second child that might be age related, he is also experiencing added pressure from the increase responsibility that comes with upper primary school.

Because he's our second child, he gets to avoid the initial panic reaction the first child had to endure while we were trying to figure out what the hell the problem was. The second child gets parents with a little more experience and some sort of a plan. The plan is a mix of compassion and tough love. A little, 'We know honey, it's definitely harder this year than anytime before, there is more work and you get into trouble a lot quicker if you muck around.' with a little 'You cannot afford to feel sorry for yourself or give up, this is life and you need to get with the program and we will help you do that.'

It never hurts to offer support, even while maintaining an expectation.
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We've also given him the opportunity to develop a talent of his own - playing the guitar - though right now he's finding it difficult to stay motivated with practicing and he's generously offered for the third child to 'have a go at something', which we're not letting the second child get away with as it removes the responsibility for giving from his shoulders and later he could (and would, with his personality) say that he was forced to give up guitar because number three wanted to do something, too.

I'm thankful for the experiences with the first child which have given us some indication of how to react with the second child (although, of course, the individual temperament of each child always needs to be taken into account). I'm also thankful because it's shaken us from type-casting our second child as 'the independent one' and has reminded us that he can also struggle with demands and expectations. Finally, it has indicated a pattern that might repeat with the third child when he's eleven; the sense of overwhelm that leads to a child being less focused or able that he was at ten. We'll see what happens in 2016!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Everyone has their own challenges to overcome, their own measure of success.

Earlier this afternoon I posted this poster on Facebook.


And told a story of how an ex's cousin had put me down many years ago because my ex had a degree and I had deferred my own degree - and the cousin assumed I'd dropped out. I ended the story by saying he may have one degree, but I now have three. In other words, I turned out not to be the failure this cousin had thought I was.

To my surprise the first comment in response to this post was set to dress me down, saying that letters after your name is not the only way to succeed. I realise this comment came from a place of hurt and upset in the person who posted it. That person has had a lot to deal with lately, I totally get that. I have offered my support where I could.

Nonetheless, the comment was wholly uncalled for. I was not saying degrees were the only sign of success.

All my life I've had to work pretty damn hard to be consider 'equal' to other people. I have two disabilities which affect my life. I have low vision and ADHD. These disabilities create significant challenges for me. I can't read as fast as other people, for one thing, and I have serious organisational challenges as well. No one was surprised when I failed year ten at high school and was forced to drop out.

In fact, on many occasions my parents were told if I ever worked, it would only be in a sheltered workshop.

When I did my Grad. Dip. Ed.. I learned about Howard Gardner and his theory of multiples intelligences and since that time, I've been a huge advocate of this theory. I don't believe academic intelligence is the only one worth measuring. Likewise, I have always argued that high intelligence quotient and high achievement at school is not a guarantee of success, but more than that, I've always be a strong advocate of happiness being the measure of success!

I've always said that if my boys grew up to be beach bums, but were content in their lives, then I would consider them successful.

So, right now I feel deeply hurt. That comment sent me in a steep downward spiral. I've worked so, so hard to achieve the degrees I have.

I can't get work like other people, so cannot measure my success in money earned or hours worked, but studying makes me happy and gives me a sense of purpose. Having those degrees is a measure of the hard work I've done over the past twenty years. I'm hurt that I can't be proud of that without being passively accused of academic elitism. Besides my kids, I have nothing to show for my life other than these degrees. I have no house, no business, no career, no savings. I have letters and for a person who is legally blind and has ADHD, that is a big deal.

Ari loves trains, trams and buses! Musical clocks? Not so much!

Ari is constantly pestering us to go on train rides. He just loves trains! He also loves trams and buses, but trains hold some sort of magical attraction for him.

Yesterday, I had to go into Melbourne University to get a new copy of my Masters transcript, so we decided to make a day of it and the Grumpy Old Man and Ari came with me. Ari was thrilled to be able to go on a train!

He's such a little man on the train. Unlike his oldest brothers who have only learned to sit quietly on trains in recent years, he sits very still and quite.

Here he is sitting with his brothers.

Often he likes to read the paper if he can find one...


Sometimes, he likes to look out the window and spot all the other trains and buses and trams...


Yesterday, we got off at Melbourne Central Station. I love this station - not for the shops - for the architecture, well some of it, anyway...


I noticed we were just in time to watch the clock at Melbourne Central do its musical number. Ari had never seen this, so I thought it would be a lovely surprise for him. At midday, the bottom of the clock descended and the melody of Waltzing Matilda started to chime. Waltzing Matilda always makes me feel very patriotic. I'm one of those people who would have voted for it to be the national anthem if I'd had a vote back in the 70s. This rendition is especially beautiful.

Ari seemed totally mesmerised by the clock, he held one position the entire time it played and never shifted his eyes away from it...


I loved how transfixed he was by it...

That was until the music ended and he still didn't move. I tried to gain his attention, but he wouldn't shift his gaze from the clock even though it had stopped playing and the little figures had ascended back into the body of the clock.

I crouched down to talk to him and realised his expression was the same as when he's been told off and he goes into himself and shuts out the rest of the world. He slumped onto my shoulder and buried his face in my neck. He didn't cry, he just went completely passive. Something about the clock had upset him quite a lot.

He couldn't tell me what it was - he didn't want to talk at all.

The only thing I can imagine is that clocks aren't supposed to transform like that and play music and have little figures living inside them. This clock upset his concept of what clocks are.

This event has taught me something about Ari and how he interacts with the world. He decides how things are, for example, when people go on trains their sit quietly and read the paper or stare out the window. He is quiet happy to work within the framework of how something 'is'. He doesn't like surprises so much. He's not a big fan of the unexpected. Clocks are supposed to hang on walls or sit on mantelpieces or wrists and be looked at, they not supposed to move autonomously!

I'm glad I had the opportunity to learn this about Ari yesterday because it means I can help him adjust to the idea that sometimes things aren't what you expect them to be, and sometimes you need to adjust your expectations in order to enjoy something. Change can feel threatening, but it doesn't have to feel that way. Now I can look for ways to gently introduce the idea that the unexpected can be wonderful, funny, and interesting!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

PhD application - getting there...

I've been kicking on with the whole PhD application process since July.

I was fortunate enough to find a potential supervisor; a lovely, enthusiastic academic who seems as excited about my area of research as I am. She's also very prompt with her feedback, which is very, very encouraging! I've done a bit of online research about her and she's an overachiever who leaves me feeling altogether slack and lazy! I'm going to attempt to use that knowledge as inspiration to pick up my game!

So, anyway, I have written my proposal and she's happy with it. I wrote a first draft which was a bit clueless and she was very encouraging anyway, which led me to research proposals and bounce ideas of mum and the Grumpy Old Man and generally go back to the drawing board. I wrote a second draft last Sunday, with a much clearer idea of my thesis statement and research questions and my potential supervisor was very happy with the second draft. Now I just need to make a couple of minor changes (clarify a couple of rambling sentences) and I'll be good to go.

For the actual application itself I need all three of my previous degree transcripts. I can find two of them but the third is MIA - why didn't I keep better track of them???

Once they're all located, I also need my birthday certificate, marriage certificate (because none of my degrees have the same name on them) and a copy of my Masters Thesis. I need two academic references (which I've arranged, just need to send them the forms and get them to email the forms back to the University). Finally, I need to have certified copies of all paperwork delivered to the University as well.

The hardest part - assuming I find that third transcript and don't need it reissued - will be getting the certified copies done. According to any list of justices of the peace, you can find them on most street corners, but the reality is, chemists mostly refuse to do this job, as do most all other JP job types, leaving only the police, and I'll be showing up with something like twenty pages I'll need individually certified. Can't say I'm looking forward to that.

I'm going to apply for an APA scholarship when I put in my course application. APA Scholarships are given to the highest ranking candidates in each round. I have the marks to get one, but they also consider previous research publications and I have none of these. I really hope this particular round of applications are similarly under-endowed!

According to the website, applications take up to three weeks to process, so if I get it in by the end of August, or first week of September, I should know by the end of September whether my course application was successful (the scholarship applications don't end until October 31st, so a bit of a longer wait for that).

I have to decide when I want to start my research degree and this is giving me a bit of anxiety. What is the right time to start? Do I need to wait until a new trimester or the beginning of next year? Financially, the sooner I start, the sooner I can apply for Mobility Allowance, which would ease some of our financial stress (by a whopping $80 a fortnight!). If I say I want to start on October 1st, for example, that will mean I have two months to get in a proper proposal (the one I just wrote was more like a brief summary). That means before Christmas...

By the way, this is an example timeline for a PhD at Deakin.

Sample schedule: a starting point only
Commencement: 1 February 2012
Produce a project proposal:  1 April 2012
Ethics application: 1 May 2012
Literature review and essential chapters for colloquium: December 2012
Colloquium: 1 February 2013 (confirms candidature)
Carry out research/field work/experiments: throughout 2013
Draft and revise chapters: one every 2 months from Feb to Dec 2014              
Chapter 2: due end of February 2015
Chapter 3: due end of April 2015
Chapter 4: due end of June 2015
Chapter 5: due end of August 2015
Conclusion: due end of September 2015
Introduction: due end of October 2015
Revisions: November to December 2015
Final editing and proofreading: January 2016
Submit thesis for examination: 1 February 2016


You can find it here.

For some inexplicable reason I hadn't looked this up until last night - I freaked out just a little bit - it's one thing to have a vague idea of what is required, something else completely to have it laid out like this. I also read about how I'll have to present a seminar each year explaining my research and progress - I wonder if I can get someone else to read it for me, because seriously, reading something aloud is not one of my strong points (because of low vision issues).

On the upside, it looks like I get a 'computer station' in 'an office to share', with access to a photocopier, printer and computer software - though it doesn't actually say anything about a computer...

Ooh, and I can get money to present at conferences - though the very thought of presenting at conferences makes me a little nauseas!

So, it's all happening here, and I'm very excited, and scared, but mostly excited!

And at the end of this long journey, I'll get to wear this...


Stunning, isn't it? There has to be some sort of irony in making new 'Doctor's dress up like this - something along the lines of, 'Don't be tryin' to take yourself to seriously, now!' I never wear navy blue, so that's a little disappointing, but hey, I can live with it... Oh, and you'll all have to start calling me 'Doctor'... Doctor who? Well, that's a question for another time...

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Bryn Turns Seven - our parenting report card...

On Thursday, Brynjar Jonas Dal (Bryn to his friends) turned seven! In our household turning seven is a big deal.

I subscribe to the theory that a child's base personality and traits are formed from their life experiences in their first seven years of life. During this period, they form their schema of life. How life and the world around them works and what they can expect in response to their actions. So, turning seven is a BIG deal and it's the time when I do a bit of stocktake on how the Grumpy Old Man and I are fairing in the parenting stakes. It's when I write our first parenting report card...

Bryn was born on my mum's 55th birthday and this year we decided they should spend their birthday's together for the first time! I had been promising Bryn a solo trip to South Australia for about two years, and he'd waited [mostly] patiently all that time. On Wednesday we flew from Melbourne to Adelaide so he and his Amma could spend their birthday together.

Sitting on Amma and Grandad's bed in their caravan.

Our cabin was very comfortable. On the first night he decided he'd rather sleep in my bed than in the bunk.

He woke me at 4.30 on his birthday - three minutes before he actually clocked over to being seven!

We spent the day going to the Rocking Horse Wooden Toy factory and the Melbas Chocolate factory - and we had KFC for dinner, too. He said it was his 'Bestest Birthday EVAH!'

The queue for booking into the flight the next day was long and he was fairly patient, but did ask me, 'Is this EVER going to ENNNND???'

The night after his birthday we had a birthday dinner at home with all the boys; hotdogs and cake!

Finally, it was time to open presents; Lego, lego, lego, an iTunes card and these ├╝ber cool Moshi headphones - or as he likes to call them 'Cans'...
So, how have the Grumpy Old Man and I faired over the past seven years?

Well, for the first time, I feel like we might actually rate an A! With Erik, I felt like we got so much wrong and he paid the price of our mistakes (he developed chronic anxiety). Lukas had slightly better parenting because we were beginning to get a grip on the needs of little people for stability, security and lots and lots of patience, but we fell short all the same, and I felt that he didn't quite get the standard of parenting I would have liked him to have.

For Bryn though, I can look back over the past seven years and see that we met his needs 95% of the time. We were much more patient with him than with the first two boys and our expectations were far more realistic. I think we were also much more fun parents - we laughed more and were more light hearted. He was 'heard' more than his older brothers, but he also had better boundaries and better consistency in our expectations of him.

He has none of Erik's anxiety.

He has none of Luey's anxiety (which is far less than Erik's but exists surrounding issues of fairness and being heard).

Bryn is self-confident and kind hearted. He expects the world to love him, and it does. He has a glass half full attitude to life and recognises his blessings (to the extent of any seven year old). He makes friends easily and can maintain friendship well. He has a good sense of his abilities and isn't afraid to try new things. He is able to laugh at himself, and is willing to learn from his mistakes.

He's a great kid.

So, yep, I reckon we get an A for this kid!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Homelessness...

This week I've been thinking a lot about homelessness. In fact, I've been researching resources for homeless people in Melbourne. It has not been a good week and I'm not in a good way.

As things stand at the moment, we have just been granted a six month lease for this property. We don't know if the owner will include a rental increase in that lease, but it doesn't matter either way because we can't afford to move.

We specifically asked for a 12 month lease, but were offered a six month lease. We had our agent go back and ask if a 12 month lease would be at all possible, and the owner stood firm with the six month offer. Landlords only do that if they want to keep their options open. If they have plans for change in the near future. We're expecting a notice to vacate in November - well, that is to say, I'm expecting that. I don't know what the GOM is thinking.

The Grumpy Old Man has been unemployed for nigh on 3.5 years now. As I type this, he is at our local OfficeWorks asking for a job. He may be able to put his name down to get a call back, but these things often lead nowhere.

If he is still unemployed when the notice to vacate arrives, we will be homeless. I say this because our chances of having an application for a rental approved with neither of us working is slim to none. We have four children, and no jobs. Friends of ours who moved recently had two children and his income was double our annual income and she works as well, and their applications were denied a half a dozen times.

Money isn't even the problem. We could afford to rent a place - we could make it work - we've never been late on our rental payments, and we pay our bills on time as well, so it's not the money. It comes down to social status - landlords are not fans of children or pensioners. It's a crazy situation.

As I said, I've been investigating resources for homeless people and people at risk in Melbourne, and it seems resources are geared towards individuals, not families. There seems to be no place to go if you are a couple with children and can't find a place to rent.

I guess people just assume families without drug problems or alcohol abuse problems couldn't possibly become homeless. Well educated people couldn't become homeless. People who can afford rent and pay their bills on time, couldn't become homeless. I have to wonder - how can this happen to people like us?

We don't even have a car we could live in.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Water-on-stone theory of parenting...

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Now that I've vented my spleen in my last blog post, let me talk about something else that has been brewing away in the back of my mind for the past few days.

A few days ago I participated in a big reunion, on Facebook, of members from an attachment parenting site I used to frequent, um, frequently in the first decade of this century. It was a lot of fun to catch up on everyone's lives and see photos of the much bigger children I used to read about when they were babies.

Many of us have children who are now tweens or teens and I realised this might be a good opportunity to get some feedback on how parents are dealing with those non-baby issues that arise in parenting older children.

For me, the big issue was behaviour in one of my children I found unbecoming. Behaviour I wanted to change in my child because I felt it was too rough and pointy, like the edge of a rock. Behaviour I felt it was ugly and didn't fit the image I had of my child as a grown up, all smoothed out and polished and attractive (I'm not talking appearance, but personality or behaviour).

As I mulled this over with another parent, an idea emerged for me about the nature of parenting in the long term.

I think some parents - not all, but some - parents like me, have a baby and it's like discovering a diamond in rock. We see the rough rock, but we also see the jewel and we're amazed at our discovery.

The years pass and we work on diminishing our precious child's rough edges.

Some of us see a rough edge and we just want to knock it off, get rid of it, fix it - and quickly - because it is unappealing to us. So we use some force, we try to manipulate the rock, but if we're not careful, if we're too gung-ho about it, we find we create a new rough edge; we may even knock off some of the good stuff as well as the rough edge we initially intended to 'fix'.

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So, we trundle along, trying to fix the mess we created when we were too forceful, too rash, too careless and in the meanwhile the diamond continues to emerge, it isn't quite what we'd hoped for because it has blemishes and scratches we created while trying to knock off those rough edges.

But...

Another way to bring out the best qualities in a child and smooth out those rough edge is to parent like water on a rock*; gently and consistently flowing over our child with what we'd like them to develop. Modelling and whispering in their ears the qualities we admire, and allowing their natural beauty to emerge over time as the rough edges melt away.

This approach requires a lot of trust. It requires us to trust that if we gently but consistently influence out children with the behaviours and personality traits we want to bring out in them, without damaging their natural beauty, we will eventually see the jewel we saw in our child at birth - in all it's glorious beauty.

I realised I can't force my child to stop the ugly behaviours I perceive in him, I can only gently and consistently guide him towards the beauty I know he possesses (I know because I see glimpses of it all the time) and trust that my words of encourage will eventually allow the beauty to emerge when the roughness melts away.


*this is an imperfect metaphor regarding how diamonds are cleaned up and faceted, but the I couldn't come up with anything that fit perfectly - metaphors are rarely perfect.

Let me be clear about something...

I have a few things to write about, but my other two blog posts have been sitting in the back of my mind for a few days, this one has been sitting in the foreground. I'm not even going to advertise this one because, I know, no one really wants to hear it - next to no one, anyway. But I need it out and this is my blog for my thoughts, even if you don't like them.

I often hear people say that non-vaccinators piggy back off the safe places created by people who vaccinate. I hear that we don't feel we need to vaccinate because 'Well, it's not like measles is that common, right, and no one gets polio anymore.'

This may be true for some vaccinators.

It really isn't true for me.

I would prefer my kids to get measles, and yes, even polio. Seventy-five percent of polio cases are a-symptomatic. That means the vast majority of people who contract polio show no symptoms, no high fevers, no aching bodies, nothing. They have the disease and don't even know they have it. Of the 25% who do get, only 1% actually get suffer the paralysis everyone associates with polio.

I have no evidence - so don't ask me to prove my theory, I cannot prove it. Just as Ignaz Semmelweis couldn't prove that bacteria lives on our skin, which was why surgeons should wash their hands before performing surgery; to lessen the likelihood of post op mortality (he was put in an asylum for his unproven theory, only to have it proved two years after he died).

I have a theory that childhood diseases teach our bodies how to build immunity. Less than five percent of people who contract any childhood disease die in a society with basic hygiene (clean water and soap). These diseases are relatively mild and I believe they teach our bodies what disease looks like and how to fight it.

Then modern medicine comes along and injects 'modified disease' into a newborn's body and that teaches the newborn body to build immunity to a 'modified disease', not a wild disease, but a 'safe' version of a disease. We are teaching our children's body the wrong thing.

My theory continues that there are some really nasty diseases out there. We've seen some of them; ebola, aids, anthrax, even bird flu. In bodies that have learned to build natural immunity to wild bacteria, I believe there is some line of defence - a 'know how' developed through fighting childhood illnesses. I believe bodies who are vaccinated have an impaired ability to fight wild diseases.

I believe there are some really nasty 'extinction level' diseases coming down the pipeline if we continue to vaccinate and introduce new vaccinations all the time because we have lessened the chances of anyone developing natural immunity early in life - including non-vaccinated children, my children - we have hampered our ability to survive these nasty diseases.

We already know about the phenomenon of anti-biotic-resistant disease, it took fifty years to occur, but it happened and now doctors are urging people not to take antibiotics unless it is absolutely necessary. I believe we will see the same phenomenon with vaccines. They will lose efficacy because of overuse.

The natural world is very good at assimilation - this is how humans came to be as complex and wonderful as we did. But are we now building weakened versions of ourselves?

So, no, I don't bask in the safety afforded my children by other parents who vaccinate their kids. I worry that my children have not had the opportunity to develop an early natural resistance to relatively mild childhood diseases and I worry about what that may mean for them, and the rest of us when the really nasty diseases start to emerge (as they already have).

I just had to put this 'out there' because it eats me up to think that people who vaccinate believe everyone who doesn't vaccinate is somehow grateful to them for vaccinating. I am not grateful, I believe other people vaccinating is directly endangering all of us, including my children.

Teenagers and the failing parent...