Monday, March 31, 2008

The curse of the age gap

Our boys like to play together, but sometimes the distance between 2.5 and 5 yrs is just too much.

Ben called to Charlie to ask him to come and play a game in the other room. Charlie raced out to join in calling "Going to play with Ben" on the way out. Then we heard a long description of the rules of the game from Ben. There was a brief pause and Charlie was back in with us saying "Can't play with Ben". I asked "Too hard?" and Charlie said "Too hard."

Big Kev and his booze campaign

I've been kinda sorta following the government's response to Steve Fielding's campaign against binge drinking. As usual it seems that the media is presenting it as no booze vs the status quo. The government's first response is to consider banning certain drinks and raising prices. Yeah great, let's legislate our way out of a cultural problem. It's worked so many times before. I especially like the concept of banning the drinks that young people drink (pre-mixes and so on) - because after all, before Breezers teenagers never drank...

All political and media nonsense aside, I really do think we need to take a long hard look at our drinking culture. I was listening to Hack on Triple J and they were talking to young girls about the fact that more than 5 drinks in one night is considered binge drinking. Most were concerned that the definition was wrong, since they all drank more than that in any given drinking night - generally at least once a week.

I should make it clear, I drink. I like a few different kinds of alcoholic drinks, and I have been known to be completely stupid in this department. At one point, for years at a time. Now it's a much rarer event, and I always feel like a bloody idiot afterwards. Having said all that, I enjoy a sensible drink, and don't want to see it get more expensive, or harder or anything else that some do-gooder government committee wants to institute.

So what to do? I have a Plan. I don't know if it would work, and it would need some awesome marketing types to make it fly. But I think there is one really significant factor contributing to binge drinking - the desire to always have a drink in your hand. You may know you don't want another beer, but this one is empty and someone is going to the bar so.... Added to this is the fact that most pubs charge only very slightly less for their post mix than they do for the beer. There is a very strong attitude that if the softie is only 50 cents less, they'll have the beer.

We need a change in attitude, a public education campaign to suggest that "One beer, one softie" is the way your evening should progress. Combined with some serious pressure on pubs to reduce the cost of post mix to something sensible (say between $1.50 and $2.50). Profits won't be damaged too much if people start drinking a lot more of it.

Anyone a brilliant marketer that can make this concept cool and sexy?

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Woo hoo! A Festival!

Yesterday I went to my first and only music festival for the season. V Festival kicked off yesterday at Centennial Park. It's not the most accessible location for public transport and requires a lot of walking, or a lot of waiting for buses. I chose the former, which apparently I am too old for. But apart from every muscle in my body screaming by the end of the night, I had a good time.

The first band I saw was Modest Mouse, who I knew absolutely nothing about. They were pretty cool - punk, blues, country all mixed together, with a lead singer with very freaky eyes.

I wandered over the hill to see Roisin Murphy, but decided quickly that her kind of pop was not for me, so back over the hill to The Jesus and Mary Chain. This is a band that passed me by at the time, but they seem to receive a great deal of reverence from the music industry so I was interested to see why. I still don't know why. They were ok, but I don't quite understand what the hype is about.

Then back over the hill for Air. What can I say? They looked like particularly tragic Little River Band film clip and the music was.... lift music. On the plus side I got to organise some logistics for our upcoming weekend away.

Back over the hill (you're starting to see where the aching muscles came from) for Queens of the Stone Age. Tight and professional, the problems with the sound that I hadn't really noticed before became much more apparent. They kept losing the top end. Very annoying. The music was good, no surprises, but they rock.

After that, I wandered around, bought the world's most expensive corn cob ($5!) and drifted past Duran Duran. I don't know - the sound was good, but I haven't become a fan in the last 25 years.

And then back over the hill to The Smashing Pumpkins. They were everything I expected. Self indulgent, arrogant and really good musicians. The sound was a little better than it had been, but was still irritating at times. They didn't play my favourite song (Zero), but they did play a medley of covers including Britney's "Piece of Me" and AC/DC's "Let there be Rock". What more can you ask for?

I missed my normal dose of summer festivals, I'll be trying to head off to as many as possible next year. Even if I am an old fart. :)

Monday, March 24, 2008

Babies all look the same

I was reading about The Pioneer Woman's Easter, and came across this photo. Were it not for the blue eyes (Elissa's eyes are heading for green or hazel) and the swimsuit, I could so easily mix this up with my daughter. They really do all look the same, or at least fall into a small number of categories... :)

He was nearly so cute

Another Charlie story: as I was putting them to bed tonight and finishing with Ben's goodnights, I thought Charlie said "I want you!". As I came to give him a cuddle, thinking, "Oh that's sweet" he repeated, "I want ute!". Oh well. I provided a red toy ute, standard kisses, cuddles and daily debrief, and went on my way.

Sunday, March 23, 2008


Tonight's Charlie-ism took a little while to decipher, since his speech is not so clear. We were having a roast chook dinner, and he started repeating something over and over and giggling to himself. Eventually we realised that what he was saying was "banana toes", and he was referring to the corn kernels on his plate.

I don't ever want to forget that one. :)

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Defining moments

I was cleaning my teeth tonight, wandering around my bedroom looking at the lights in the valley and I remembered the moment that made this moment possible.

When I was at uni, one of the guys in my year (who I still know) was telling a story whose details are lost in the mist of time. An apparently crucial element of said story was that he was wandering around the house while cleaning his teeth - "as you do". "A you do"???? My god, people leave the bathroom sink when they clean their teeth!!! I was flabbergasted.

Strange how I have no trouble accepting differing sexuality, maybe even voting conservative, but leaving the bathrooom while cleaning your teeth? It took me ten years to come to terms with this element of diversity.

So it seemed fitting that on this "Harmony Day"* I realised I had fully embraced this subculture and made my peace with it.

Oh, and Ben got "Student of the Week" today, and for some reason I chose today to turn up to the assembly at which it was awarded for only the second time this year, so that was cool. I'd be proud if I had any idea what it was awarded for. I guess it must be good stuff. :)

And yes, the Dummy Fairy visited, the dummy is gone, only to be replaced by a bouncy bouncy ball. For some reason I consider this a victory.

*Harmony Day was celebrated by state schools today by wearing orange. I have no idea whether this extends beyonds NSW public schools, but since I coincidentally wore an orange skirt today, I was totally down with it.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Impending visit

It seems the Time of the Dummy is over for Charlie. He lost it this afternoon whilst not sleeping in his room. We spent a good 10 minutes looking for it, which I suspect tips the balance into "more trouble than it's worth".

I told him tonight that if we don't find it tomorrow, the Dummy Fairy will come tomorrow night and bring him a present. He was a bit torn between dummy and present, but he went to sleep without fuss. Now I have to make sure he doesn't find it tomorrow...

Monday, March 17, 2008

My son is strange

Charlie has started to be more interested in interacting with us all. As such, he has decided all interactions should involve him. He regularly tells someone to stop talking to someone else.

In the car yesterday, I was talking to Crash, and Charlie started with "Stop talking to Daddy." I told him he had to wait until we finished before I would talk to him and we duly finished our conversation.

After a short pause we heard "Are you finished?". "Yes, Charlie, we're finished, what did you want to say." "I said it." And that was it. Have we told him he's strange today?

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Strange Googleness

Googling me has always resulted in a lot of French sites and a blog of someone I went to high school with, but I now hold the dubious distinction of being the second hit listed on a search for "ugly underarms". I know this because someone searched on it and came here. Weird.

What will the neighbours think?

We have a new lawn ornament:

This is one of the standard rotations involved in keeping her amused throughout the day. We leave her out there on her own often, somewhere we can see her from where we are inside, but I'm guessing passersby can't see us. I sometimes wonder what they think when they see her out there by herself.

I also wonder whether she would take offence at being called a "lawn ornament" if only she knew.

Lesson of the day

Don't confuse the blender base with the grinder base on your new, fancy, all-in-one food processor. They may look identical, but one is water tight and the other is not. The former provides a much more fulfilling smoothie making experience than the latter.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

One of those days...

The day started well. I got up on time, had a shower, did the quick clean of the bathroom and managed to throw some clothes on before having to feed the baby. Made porridge for all, remembered to give the baby breakfast (apple and rice cereal). After that it all started to go to pot. I don't really know why.

By the time I got out the door, I was stressed and it was later than I was hoping for. I was going to Campbelltown (just over half an hour away in good traffic) for the day and I needed to exchange something at a shopping centre, take the baby to the doctor and get my hair cut/coloured. Because I was late, I didn't have time to go to the shopping centre first, so I ended up killing some time at Grandma's shop. I then headed off to the doctors, only to discover that in the chaos, I had left my wallet at home.

I rang home and got the Medicare number and doctor accepted that. Then the doctor informed me that the baby couldn't be healthier - but for that cough she's had for two weeks. The right answer, but it just meant I needn't have gone.

So then it's feed the baby again and rush off to the hairdresser, where I discover that they made a mistake and had booked me in for tomorrow. Apparently my face was quite clear on the subject of coming back tomorrow, and they fitted my in. The only problem was that this meant the entire exercise took 3hrs rather than 2.

So then it's feed the baby again and rush off to the shopping centre. That all goes well. I get back in the car and head home, leaving myself 45 minutes for a half hour trip. Yeah right. 45 minutes later I have travelled about 5km. Total trip about an hour and a half. Did I mention that Elissa screamed all the way through the traffic jam, and Charlie tried to talk to me the whole time too?

Why would anyone want to work full time?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

That silly book

I am constantly astounded at the magic of this cheap little book my mother bought my kids. Whizz! has the most amazing ability to captivate very young babies. I can put Elissa in bed to screaming of the "Help! Help! She's cutting my throat!" variety, and within five words (Benny Bee and Lucy Ladybug to be precise) she is quiet and by the time I'm finished "were playing in the vegetable patch" she is giggling. (Of course, by kid #3 I am reciting rather than reading.)

This week she is even looking at the pictures. The boys were the same. If you know someone who is having a baby, buy them this book. It is a blessing to anyone's bedtime routine. I don't really know why. Sound effects have something to do with it, but other sound effect books don't seem to do so well.

Sunday, March 09, 2008


Yesterday evening we had Ben's friend from school over along with his mum and her husband. It was a very pleasant evening, but it required one of those top to bottom, inside and out cleans that you have to do when you haven't been doing nearly enough of that Flylady stuff.

While removing all the grass from the front raised garden bed, we found this little critter in the lawn. Both boys were completely fascinated, it was quite gratifying.

I tried to move him to protect him from stomping kids, but he disappeared. A little later, after the grass had been removed, I found him on a leaf in the path. Since the day was going to involve mowing and sweeping and other stuff, I thought it best to move him into a garden until it got warm enough for him to be able to move around himself longer than a short dash. I hope he makes it to adulthood. At least Bailey (the beagle) showed no interest whatsoever.

And this was my own little critter today, in her device. No reason for this photo except that it is one of the first with her upright and looking a little more like a human. (Go look at the big version, for some reason the little one looks fuzzy.)

What comes naturally

I was reading about the death (or otherwise) of sexism and racism on Feministing and one of the comments mentioned a hardware store guy assuming she didn't know what a screwdriver was.

This got me thinking again about stereotypes. As is said, stereotypes have to come from somewhere. Well many of them anyway.

Where I live, there are 3 groups of drivers over-represented in the group that induces exasperation from me: white van drivers, green P plate drivers and asian drivers. This makes an asian, green P plater driving a white van the scariest thing on the road. Or not.

The problem is that human beings are spectacularly good pattern matchers. So good,in fact, that we often see ones that aren't there. Our ability to infer inductively is almost certainly a huge factor in our pre-historic survival and also continues to drive our search for knowledge now. We all work with the logic 1,2,3...many...all. Which works exceptionally well with poisonous red berries, tasty black berries and the laws of physics - not so well with other human beings. At least not that last step. 1,2,3...many is actually pretty valid, especially when based on culture rather than genetic race.

The "isms" come in when you make the leap from many to all, and our normal language doesn't differentiate well enough. When I say "white van drivers, green P platers and asians are bad drivers" I mean "many" in the area I live. I believe they are valid statements with those limitations, others may be able to prove to me that I have been selectively observing, but that is another matter. If I move from many to all, I make the conclusion about this specific driver being bad on account of fitting into one of those groups. That is a Bad Idea.

However, it is very difficult to tell people not to make these generalisations. We are strongly programmed to do it, and more importantly, it is an effective strategy. Assuming the observation is correct, I definitely benefit from being more alert when I see a white van. I have avoided several accidents because I am hypervigilant when I see a white van or a green P plate (less so with asian drivers, I know from observation that the correlation is not as strong as with the other two groups). Of course this is why P platers have to wear them, so that the rest of can compensate for them on the road. It is a necessary part of becoming a driver.

So how do we avoid the isms? I think we have to embrace our pattern matching and stereotyping behaviour, and then we can give them the analysis they deserve. Stop pretending that stereotypes have no use at all, and instead accept that they help, but really pull them apart and see their limitations. Show people how easily they can be misled by selective observation (you only notice the coincidence, not the non-coincidence) and even try to refine the stereotypes. Australians don't have kangaroos in their backyards, but we are lazy and alcoholic as well as easy going and tolerant*, at the stereotype level.

As a person who used to have to try to guess how technical the person at the other end of the telephone was based on their gender, and if I was lucky their job title, I can tell you that the poor hardware guy was between a rock and a hard place. You can easily cop as much flack for assuming contrary to the stereotype as with it. And saying "don't assume anything" doesn't help, because I had people get offended that I asked. I reckon up to date stereotypes with no stigma would be the best option, you can be upfront about matching or not matching the stereotype and we could all avoid a lot of awkwardness.

* We were tolerant pre-Howard, and I believe we will be again, especially if Alan Jones ever leaves the air waves. My mother and I were wondering why "Shooting Alan Jones" wasn't one of the options on the "If I had 30 days to live" list. :)

Friday, March 07, 2008

Real attempts at learning

I decided that talking about being bad at toilet training wasn't very constructive and decided to actually ask for help.

One of the mums at school was telling me about her methods - very old school. Remove the nappies and have potty on hand in an intensive way for a few days up to two weeks. She was also old school in timing - by age 2. She suggested it was easier when they were that age because they weren't old enough to say "I don't want to." I think she may well have a point, but since I have passed that window of opportunity (file it away for Elissa), I can't really take it on board. I have heard "I don't like it" more than enough already.

So I talked to Mum about her methods. She swears by a method that involves asking the child if they use the toilet after asking about everyone else in the family. This never worked with Ben, he gave random answers to all the questions throughout the process. So we discussed the motivation behind the method, which is essentially showing the kid what's in it for them.

We have a new Plan. Every morning we ask him if he wants baby nappies or big boy pants today. No argument about the answer. We talk a lot, casually, about the good things about being a big boy. Each night he is still offered the toilet before bath (a generally successful process currently) but no pressure is brought to bear if he says no. Other than that, no mention of toilets unless he brings it up.

I was pretty confident that at least one of my sleep methods would work, this I have much less confidence about. I hope to report a happy ending, but stay tuned, it could be a train crash. :)

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Case in point

I was just watching one of those Tanya Byron shows, and a young mother absolutely exemplified that thing about judgement. Early in the show (before much interaction with Tanya) this young woman brought me to tears the way she interacted with her daughter. They were playing, being playful with some crisps, and the 18 month old dropped one on the ground. She picked it up and ate it, grinning and laughing with her mum. Mum then called her a "scrag", scowled and turned away. The child looked like her whole world had crumbled. It was nothing short of awful.

Later, the back story becomes apparent and the situation rapidly improves. The only difference between this Bad Parent and the Earth Mother guiding her brood through tranquil gardens is circumstance and understanding (and in this case 5 days or so of intense training and therapy).

Strangely enough, she loves her kids and wants them to grow up happy and healthy just like everyone else. I'm guessing the mum in the supermarket was probably the same.

I should also mention that while this was a lone female parent, whenever there is both parents present, both are regarded as equally critical in raising kids. Tanya permits no patriarchal buck passing by dads.

Parents, kids and responsibility

A couple of blogs (here and here) recently have discussed the way parents are judged for their kids' behaviour and how much responsibility they have for it. I can sympathise with some of the "kid haters" because some children's behaviour is abominable. But where is the responsibility and how much should the rest of society have to tolerate?

I think I come down mostly on the "anti-judgment" side of the argument, in terms of commenting on parents you meet in passing. Because while some children's behaviour is abominable most of the time, all children's behaviour is abominable some of the time. When you see a child being truly hideous, you have no idea whether this is just his/her moment for the week, or whether this is standard. And furthermore, if this is standard, whether there is some very good reason for it (such as autism or other issue that no amount of clever parenting is going to address).

However, I can see the point of people who see parents doing things we know to be a Bad Idea thinking "That is a Bad Idea". The issue here is one of leaping from "Bad Idea" to "Bad Parent". Every parent has partaken of the Bad Idea on occasion. It doesn't make them a Bad Parent. (My often repeated favourite is my telling my son "You can't have an apple until you have finished your lollipop" - I have many justifications for this statement, but it remains a Bad Idea.)

Given that all children will have their moments, how much should the rest of society have to put up with? I walk a middle line here. I accept that people may not "want to hear [my] fucking spawn shrieking at the top of its lungs in the supermarket", but then I didn't want to listen to John Howard's smug, irritating voice for 12 years either. Nor do I want to wait in queues at the supermarket. Some things are beyond our control. If we want society to continue, even long enough for Gen Y to die, we need the next generation to pay for it. So kids are a fact of life, build a bridge.

Still, there are places kids shouldn't go, both for their sake and for ours. In general kids are worst behaved when they are bored. So don't take kids to adult places for long periods of time and expect them just to be happy to be with you. People know their own kids, it is reasonable to expect that people don't bring kids to a place that they will hate. Unless of course it's a necessity. This is the problem with the supermarket complaint. Sometimes kids need to be taken there. Kids don't need to be taken to intimate restaurants on a Saturday night. The kids will hate it, and the other people dining there have a reasonable expectation to eat their meal without my 2 yr old whinging loudly next to them (or worse!). I don't think this is ageism, this is caring for the comfort of everyone involved, especially your kids. My kids would genuinely rather be at home with the baby sitter than at an adult dinner party.

The other issue is how responsible parents are for their kids' behaviour. In all that follows, I am assuming normally abled kids, in all the stuff I've read and seen about child rearing, I've seen very little about dealing with problems over and above average child stuff. (Hence my feelings on judging people.)

I think for kids up to about teenage years, it is possible for parenting to address pretty much all behaviour problems. But it is very important to note that this doesn't equate to parents causing the behaviour problems. This is obvious, plenty of parents have one child who is a problem in some way, while their others are fine. Children have their own personality, and sometimes it is necessary to parent each one really differently. By extension, their will be times when a parent has a child who needs parenting so different they can't work it out themselves. The benefits of an outside observer can be enormous.

There is a really fine line here, but I think we have to get it right, rather than err on either side. If we blame parents, it creates hostility and guilt, but doesn't actually improve the situation for child, parent or annoyed onlooker.

If we say that some kids are just like that, it removes the power from the parents and again, the situation is not improved for anyone.

Parents need to look at parenting as a constantly changing puzzle we need to solve. Sometimes we will make mistakes, but this should not be guilt producing. We are always aiming for a better life for everyone, not worrying about what went before. As with all puzzles, there may be times when we need a hint from someone with a different perspective. There should be no shame in this, it is just being sensible and using all the resources available. Changing tack is not admitting wrong doing, just learning and adapting. I watch lots of what Tanya Byron does, and I like it a lot. Kids that any onlooker would judge as right little shits turn around so quickly with a different approach. It is never about Bad Parents, it is about working out the right relationship with this little person.

As they get older, other people have much bigger impacts on their lives, and so parents have less ability to change behaviour on their own. The better the relationship going into puberty, the better the odds of being able to help steer them, but there are no guarantees. I haven't been there yet, so I am only speculating and channeling stuff I've read. Time will tell.

With my own kids, I've seen spirals start, where my behaviour is not inspiring good behaviour in my kids. Then I'll watch something or see someone else doing exactly what I'm doing and I'll realise it's time to change tack again. Often what was working 3 weeks ago isn't any more. I can so see how a spiral can get out of control before you even realise it. I have no doubt some of the issues I have had have been caused by exactly that, and I never did realise it. Seeing that parenting can fix pretty much all problems is empowering to me, not condemning. Although I have often wished I had my own personal Tanya to tell me what I'm doing wrong right now. Like what I do wrong with toilet training. I seem manage to make it a mission. But I am the sleep Queen. :) We all have our strengths and weaknesses.

Having said all that, I still have an enormous amount of difficulty not having a knee jerk reaction to any advice my mother gives me. My sister pointed out recently that just because my mother said the problem could be X, doesn't mean it isn't X. Hmmm...