Monday, August 31, 2009

Another one of them milestones

Today was Elissa's first official haircut (I figure me hacking at her fringe doesn't count). This morning she looked something like this:

After half an hour of sitting on my lap in the hairdresser's, marred only by a little boredom and absolutely no crying or obnoxiousness, she looked like this:

It took less than 10 minutes for someone to call her a boy, and to look sceptically at me when I said she was a girl. Of course, if you can see any similarities between these two photos: may understand why some people might think she looks a teensy bit like a boy. The top photo is Ben at almost the same age (about 2 months older).

Just in case you were wondering whether boys and girls really do look any different when they are 2.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Creativity with socialising

Twittering with Mim, we have hatched a plan for a bit of a handicraft group. Time is short in most people's lives, so we were thinking maybe once a month. Having sat here knitting and singing along to the better of the Max playlist tonight, I was considering music in the background, to be turned up as required for singalongs.

So I'm thinking creativity meets Singstar meets Ladies-Please-Bring-a-Plate. (All Gentleman also welcome (with a plate!) - Eric where are you? And are you still knitting?)

Would any Sydney-siders be interested? If so, would a week day be better for you or a Sunday?

I am also considering one weekday (Friday probably) and one Sunday a month, if there was sufficient interest.

I do accept this may be just me and Mim. I'm good with that option too. :)

So if you have been considering learning a craft, or returning to one long discarded, let me know if this might work for you. Can't tell you the benefit of it when I go to my mother's shop and knit surrounded by women doing all sorts of stitchery. They've taught me useful knitting stuff, and passed on all sorts of other wisdom.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Ceding Power

I think that the dynamics that children observe in their own families are not just sources of amusement (although they certainly are that too) - they shape the dynamics of our culture for the next generation.

In the email quoted in Jo Tamar's post, kids fairly clearly expressed a belief that mothers held the domestic power. I suspect this is where the guff that women really hold the power in the world by controlling men comes from. After all, it is mostly true that women are the household policy makers even now. Even in families where men share the domestic duties, it is still rare to find those where the style of parenting, choice of cleaning products and chore schedules are determined by both partners equally.

Historically, any women who wielded any power often did it through their sons. Some random doco on the Ottoman Empire I caught the other night highlighted that the mothers of the princes represented a significant power base, and that a few in particular were extremely powerful by virtue of their influence over their sons.

How exactly anyone concludes that a small number of women wielding a small amount of power through their sons equates to women holding all the power by controlling all men is completely beyond me, of course. Still, even now it's not uncommon for women to feel more entitled to run their grown son's lives than their daughters. You can still buy horrible wall hangings with sayings along the lines of "Sons are your babies forever".

There is a clear power imbalance in the domestic sphere, and it's a catch 22. For many women, this is the only domain in which they are the ultimate decision maker. Giving up this power to their partners is unthinkable. It also looks impractical. Men, for generations, have been raised seeing their mother's power in the home as unassailable. It follows logically that when they enter into a domestic setting with a female partner, they wouldn't question her authority either. Nor would they feel any obligation to take on the responsibility that the authority entails. So women still end up doing most of the domestic work, and even more prominently, just about all of the domestic policy-making. I know lots of men do the dishes, but how many recognise when it's time to clean out the kitchen cupboards, or vacuum behind the lounge? How many decide on what to do with the 4yr old that is having immense difficulty controlling his emotions? How many know who needs to be where and when and which homework is due which day without being told by their partners?

I know there are men who do some or all of these, but they are still very much the exception (and if you are one, well done you). The workload in our family is pretty evenly spread, but the responsibility is all mine. As is the right of criticism. I was horrified and affronted when Crash complained about the amount of mess I leave in the kitchen when I cook. I am perfectly justified in leaving a huge mess - I prefer to clean up after I have cooked unless I'm preparing a dinner party. Which is fine when I'm running the show, but he is starting to step up and take a smidgen of responsibility (for which I have been asking for some time) and that means I'm not running the show entirely. That's a little hard to come to grips with.

But all the partnership negotiations aside, if we don't want to be having this same conversation with our daughters when they're 30, we have to raise our kids to understand that the domestic power is shared, as well as the work. We have to cede the power over our households and our children if we want them to have balance and equality in the future. That's really hard. It's also not without it's risks. Asking men to do stuff they haven't been brought up to do is going to involve a learning curve. Stuff will fail to be done. But they aren't genetically incapable. It's something I need to do more of, although I was pleased to see that Ben wasn't real sure who was the boss in our house. I am quite determined not to treat my sons as though they are less capable of domestic responsibility and authority. They are not "only boys", they are just as able to be responsible as girls, we just have to demand it of them.

I've been thinking about practical ways to implement some of these things. I was thinking about making specific rooms of the house entirely Crash's responsibility. You know, everyone helps to clean it and so on, but it's his responsibility to make sure it is done. To ensure that there is no poo smeared on the walls when visitors come - that sort of thing. And then generalise as the kids get bigger - they get a room each too (as well as their own).

How exactly that translates to kid raising I don't know. Somehow I doubt I can divide up the kids into his problem and my problem. I'm thinking maybe when Charlie starts school, I might make one school his problem and one mine. That could work.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Kids on domesticity

Jo Tamar recently posted some amusing, and some disturbing, questions about domestic life and their answers from 2nd graders. A few people posed the questions to their own kids of about the same age - Mim's are here. Lauredhel's are on the comments on the post.

I thought I'd do the same and reproduce Ben's answers here:

Q1. Why did God make mothers? So we can have people

Q2. How did God make mothers? His really good sort of magic

Q3. What ingredients are mothers made of ? Bones

Q4. Why did God give you your mother and not some other Mum? Because she looks a little bit the same as me.

Q5. What kind of little girl was your Mum? Curious.

Q6. What did Mum need to know about Dad before she married him? What he was like

Q7. Why did your Mum marry your Dad? So you could have a husband (questioning)

Q8. Who’s the boss at your house? Daddy (why?) Oh no you. (why?) Because you know more.

Q9. What’s the difference between Mums & Dads? Girls and boys.

Q10. What does your Mum do in her spare time? Knitting

Q11. What would it take to make your Mum perfect? Learn a lot.

Q12. If you could change one thing about your Mum, what would it be?

Interestingly, he has been telling me for some time that he doesn’t believe in god, but then he’s a rule follower, so I guess he tried his best to answer the questions as presented. I like the idea that I married his father to have a husband – it was said much the same way as I might do something to have a hat.

I wonder how little he thinks his father knows, based on his answers to Q8 & Q11....

Rather damning about the yelling – didn’t realise I did it that much. At least he doesn’t want more stuff.

Hopefully tomorrow's post will be the what came out of my mind wandering away with the ideas raised in Jo Tamar's post and the comments that ensued.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The official cocktail party thread

Twitter is not the best place to plan an event. Hence this post. Who wants to host? My place is an option, but an uphill walk from Ashfield station. Anyone got the perfect pad? Have at it.

Dinner or the Beans - Update #3

The great social experiment that is my children's life has continued - I am still offering the Dinner or the Beans every night.

Last night Ben asked for the Beans. I gave both boys beans, and Charlie had a meltdown demanding the dinner. Dinner he got, making it 4 nights in the last week he has made that choice. It seems my evil plan to make him so sick of beans he'll try anything is paying off. Not having to listen to Ben whinge every time we have meat in a shape that offends him is also a bonus. (I have no idea what that shape is - it certainly isn't the type of meat.)

This has really de-stressed dinner. It hasn't resolved all issues - you know, there is still whether the chair is perfectly aligned and the correct distance from your brother's chair, and whether you have the correct spoon, milk or water to drink, who interrupted who in the conversation and so on. However, since pretty much every single meal was begun with someone complaining loudly about the food on offer, removing that has genuinely helped.

It seems we've handed over just about the right level of control to the kids. Providing baked beans costs me at most 60 seconds, which is a sacrifice I am prepared to make. The kids have a feeling of choice without giving them total control over their nutrition since they aren't old enough for that yet. We get to eat a much wider range of food without feeling guilty. I'm pretty happy, a month and a bit down the track.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Unsolicited careers advice

One of the things that struck me on my recent trip to Taree, was that high school kids up there are much, much less likely to consider going to uni than their counterparts in Sydney and there is a greater focus on getting a trade. There are no doubt a bazillion reasons for this, which I don't have the energy to go into at the moment, but it struck me that either way it's all arse up.

The approach to What To Do After School is based on social expectations and some vague nod to the subjects kids like at school. Oh, and a goodly helping of What The Parents Do, or possibly Not What The Parents Do. None of this is particularly useful - except conceivably Not What The Parents Do.

So this is my advice to teens considering what next.

The very first thing to consider is that what you choose now is highly unlikely to determine the rest of your life, despite what the Powers That Be would have you believe. I know you've been told this before, but seriously, I hardly know anyone who didn't have some change of tack post-school and I know lots who have had several (like me, for instance).

Still, you need to start somewhere. The important questions are:

Do you want a career or a job?
It's OK to want the latter, but you need to remember that the top "job" incomes will be less than the top "career" incomes. Having said that, there are plenty of careers that pay less than many jobs, so taking the job option doesn't necessarily mean earning less. Ask any academic. Don't dismiss the job path, it might give you more time to pursue unpaid passions.

Do you want to go to uni for its own sake?
Does the idea of lectures, bars, irrelevant politics, and no money for a few years sound attractive to you? Are you interested in uni for the undergraduate life and the stuff you can get out of that? Personally, I had a ball as an undergraduate, and that's a good thing, because realistically that's all I got out of my degree (along with a solid demonstration that I can learn - the primary thing that any degree gives you). I believe that it is an experience worth having, but not everyone does. How do you feel about it? If you are in it for the experience, you might want to consider not taking too much time between school and uni, because it will be a different (although still valuable) experience if you are much older than most of your undergrad mates.

What do you like to do, and more importantly, what can you not stand to do?
I am not talking about what subjects you like here, I mean what do you actually like doing? To give you an example, I love astrophysics, that's why I did a degree in it. However, it turns out I don't like doing astrophysics because I have a short attention span, and I like working with people on a constant basis. You need to consider whether you like doing things that require attention to detail, or whether you are more a "big picture" person. Do you prefer to work on your own or with other people? Would you prefer an active, physically demanding role or a sedentary one? Can you handle other people being stressy around you without getting stressed yourself? Do you get a buzz out of helping people or is it a draining experience for you? I'm sure there is a massive list of things to consider, but the point is, when you are considering What Next, make sure you know what it involves day to day, hour to hour, minute to minute. If there is an element that horrifies you beyond belief, it probably isn't for you, even if the subject matter or some other part seems like your dream come true.

So now it's time to start considering roles. This is genuinely hard - it's difficult to find out about things you haven't had some contact with.

If you answered "yes" to the going to uni question, you don't have to think too hard here. Choose something approximately in the direction that you want to go, and if in doubt, start the generic degree (science, arts, engineering, economics) because it's easier to specialise later than to change from one vocational degree to another. If you are considering a vocational degree just for the undergraduate experience you need to think very hard about where you are going. An economics degree will buy you kudos in most areas of business, however a marketing degree is useful pretty much only for marketing. Of course, a marketing degree is more useful in marketing than an economics degree, so if you are really sure of your direction, go for it.

If your feelings about uni are closer to "meh", then you really need to come up with a bunch of possibilities. The most important thing here is that getting a degree straight out of school is not compulsory. Sadly, a lot more roles demand degrees than actually need them, but that doesn't mean you have to get them straight out of school. If you don't have a passion for the degree process, you might be better off going out and doing some jobs vaguely related to what you want to do. Sticky beak at your mates' lives and jobs and see if you like the idea of their roles. Then when you think you know what you want to do, go back to uni full time or part time.

Then there are trades. These provide a great career/job option. You can make it a career, working up through big companies or running your own business, or you can work for someone forever with no responsibility over and above the trade itself. You can also switch between these two options with relative ease. Trades provide fantastic flexibility and are much under-rated by lots of people. They also provide the possibility of big cash, although it probably won't rival a hedge fund trader.

I'm also going to put in a plug for teaching. It can be done in a range of settings to a range of ages with a range of career/job type options. And it's a critical role in our world. It's also something you can opt into later in life and those generic degrees are most handy for that.

Finally, don't forget you have a life that doesn't relate to paid work. You may not yet have any idea whether you want a partner (or two, or three or - no, that's starting to get bogglingly complicated), and/or children, however it's worth remembering to make time to find out. There's no point discovering that 24 is the ideal time in your life to have kids when you're 33. Or indeed, that you wanted to spend a few years living in London before you settled down with a permanent partner, 5 years after you marry. Put some real thought into your unpaid life as well as your paid one. In the end it's likely to be the one you care the most about.

Another xkcd win

I can't add to perfection.

I'm sorry, but...

...there is just about nothing I could be less interested in than whether or not Malcolm Turnbull ever considered joining the Labor Party, and if so, why he didn't.

As if what politicians are doing isn't uninteresting enough, why are we also inflicted with speculation about what they may or may not have been doing a decade ago?

For gods' sakes, main stream media may as well report my son's opinions on vegemite sandwiches - they have as much relevance as this rubbish.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


The youngest brother of my grandmother died this week, and the funeral was on Friday in Taree. My extended family is pretty large - my grandmother was one of 8 and my grandfather was one of... 11? I haven't been to most of the funerals of that generation, and really can't keep track of my father's cousins. (Except for the one that is the father of the brothers in Tumbleweed, who I am happy to claim association with since they are in a band.)

I decided to go to this funeral because I haven't made it to the last few gatherings. The logistics were fun - Mum was coming up with me, and we both had commitments on Thursday night. (OK, my commitment was to spend a thoroughly enjoyable evening with Mim and Wildly Parenthetical, but I was genuinely committed.) So in our infinite wisdom we decided to take Elissa and drive up on the day. This meant a 5am start for a 5:25am (5mins ahead of schedule!) departure.

There was a comedy of errors, involving failing to take shoes or a stroller for Elissa, grabbing shoes from Vinnies and then having them create inch long blisters all before afternoon tea, but mostly it all went smoothly.

There was a huge turn-out for a man who was 78 when he died. It's lovely to see so many family and friends remembering a long life. My uncle hosted a barbecue in the evening and all but one of my father's siblings was there, along with two of his cousins (not ones I had previously managed to keep track of). At these gatherings, I always hear one story I haven't heard before - possibly because the stories change and get made up as time goes by - and this time I heard a wee bit more about my grandfather's experience at the Fall of Singapore. There were more stories from childhood, as well as updates on everyone's lives now. There was some discussion of genetics and the discovery of a cancer-causing gene in my grandmother's family.

Apart from just enjoying the company of my family, all of these things have affected how I got to where I am, how I'm raising my kids and how the rest of my life might play out. You can't grow up listening to the universal horror stories of Catholic school experienced by my father's generation and not feel some instinctive bias against them, no matter how much you know academically that things have changed. You can't be in a place where generations of your family have lived without feeling a connection to it, even if you know there is no way you could live there again. I couldn't take the boys with me because of the short notice and the fact that it was a weekday, but they'll be at the next gathering.

And I have a desire to create a pictorial family tree, so that I can work out who all these people are, and also so that my kids can. There are some practical issues with this - not least that I don't have an artistic bone in my body and can't work out how to do it - but I might make some attempt nonetheless.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Parenting is easy

I asked Charlie if he wanted a cheese and vegemite sandwich, which was met with an almost meltdown and screams of "JUST VEGEMITE". I asked if he'd like a cheese stick with his vegemite sandwich and he was jubilant and smiling.

Parenting is easy, you just have to be psychic enough to understand that cheese on the sandwich is an affront to all that is holy, but cheese beside the sandwich is happy-making and blessed.

Talking it without walking it

I've been thinking more about Melissa's post, and, because I am an absolutely obsessive problem solver, how best to explain (some parts of) the experience to men who talk the (misogynist) talk but don't walk the walk. They say misogynist stuff because that's what people say, but deep down, they really aren't misogynist.

That'd be my other half - he very definitely holds no misogynist views*, but I don't doubt he sometimes says some of the stuff Melissa refers to. He read it, and took it pretty personally (as I anticipated), but we managed to have a useful discussion anyway. (As it happens, he is more prone to racist and ablist talk, which he is trying to rectify - long standing habits are hard to break but he's working on it and he'll get there.)

As a result of that discussion and others, I figure I need a good strategy for telling men (and women, actually) why those remarks are a problem, even though they see them as meaningless. I have a great family anecdote that explains this particular problem as I see it:

The elder siblings in part of my extended family all told the youngest brother that he should never get married - all the usual crap: it's the end of your life, no freedom, whatever. Said youngest brother steadfastly avoided getting married, even to a wonderful woman he had been with for some time. The elder siblings started wondering why on earth he hadn't married this woman. They all knew they weren't serious about never getting married (most of them were happily married), unfortunately he didn't.

He is now married to a wonderful woman, and it is anybody's guess whether the siblings' comments actually had any effect on him or not, but the point stands. Repeating culturally accepted bullshit can do damage even when you think it's obvious that you don't mean it.

So my question is to the blokes who read this: what's the best way to explain this to other guys in general conversation? I feel like I need a lighthearted, probably sarcastic, fairly non-confrontational way of saying "I know you're not stupid enough to believe that, but how do you know everyone listening isn't?" or something like that. After all, my anecdote above is going to somewhat disrupt the flow of conversation.

Apart from empty female stereotypes, there's also the "You're not like other chicks" comment. I'm tempted to say "Have you ever met anyone who was like all the other chicks?". I understand why women balk at this, it leads to the obvious thought "So your default view of women is what exactly, that I am so lucky to be judged different from?" So, you blokes, is that what you mean when you say this? If so, quit it, it isn't flattering. If not, what do you really mean? Do you mean "You are not like all the other people I've considered dating"? or "You are not like most of the other people I've met"? Or something else again? What's a good response when someone says it? (On the understanding that ignoring it is something I'm going to try not to do.) Is "Oh goody, I get to be a freak or one of those awful girl things - careful your sexism is showing" (said in good humour) too confrontational? I'm looking for something I can say in most circumstances that doesn't let it pass, but doesn't look for a response either - I just want to inspire thought not create a defensive response.

I would really like to hear from men on this. Can you see what I'm saying? Can you think of good ways to make the point without demonising guys who are, after all, just doing what everyone else does and have probably never even considered that there might be unintended consequences? Surely you blokes can help a little? Would any of you ever consider responding to other guys saying this stuff? Would women around you doing it help, or make it harder?

A couple of notes: This is not me telling other people how to handle or respond to this stuff, this is just me thinking out loud and looking for input for something I can do to not let the stuff pass. To set the example for my kids that it's not ok.

Also, this only addresses the guys who say it and don't mean it. I am lucky enough that they represent most of the guys that I interact with anyway, but clearly light hearted remarks are not going to make the slightest difference to people who believe the misogynist line. I'm not up to thinking about trying to solve that problem today.

*There are some contentious points about pink bicycles for boys, but it has as much to do with protecting his sons from misogyny as perpetuating it, and since I have trouble walking that line too, I can hardly condemn him for it.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

I'm here to help

I was quickly scanning the DJs (very limited) book section on the off chance that they might have the book I was looking for. As a result, I found myself looking at the health section - not something I generally do. And what did I find?

So apparently we can get fat by being nice, as well as being lazy, neurotic and completely lacking in will power. Curiosity got the better of me, and the website had some excerpts, including the How Nice Are You? quiz. For the record, I come in only slightly nice, which probably won't surprise many people.

So this wonderful psychotherapist, Karen Koenig, is going to free you from your tendencies to help other people at your own expense, and she's going to start by helping you "to view yourself honestly and accept who you are -- warts and all." Warts you may accept, fat, on the other hand, must go.

So I read on to see what the platform is. She says lots of eminently sensible stuff about gender roles squashing women into nice personas, all of which I buy. I may have a teensy problem with this though:
By reading this book, you'll learn how putting yourself last and doing what others want rather than what you want has set you up to feel cheated and drives you to overeat.
See, now here was me thinking eating was what I wanted.

The next chapter looks like too much fun:

About the biology of eating and weight

How stress makes you eat

How personality traits push you toward food and away from people

In the end though, as much as I wanted to hate every bit of it, it seems like this book is actually about having a good relationship with yourself and a good relationship with food. Both of these things are admirable aims, and mostly the stuff I'm reading in there seems pretty good - if clearly not applying to me, since I'm not actually nice.

There is this:
...we still have a long way to go not to be viewed as a bitch when we're outspoken and assertive. Even in this day and age, there are men (and sadly, women as well) telling us how we should and shouldn't act, what choices are okay to make and which ones will damn our souls to hell, and trying to narrow our rightful human potential.
And this:
Recognize that women have a history of subservience and are fighting an uphill battle to be not nice and accepted in today's society. Men don't have to jump through these hoops. If the deck seems stacked against you, it's because it is!

So why the fuck is she selling it by demonising fat?

It's all about fighting societal norms, while endorsing one of the most pervasive and destructive ones out there. Koenig says:
Women are expected and socialized to be agreeable, pleasant, kind, comforting, nurturing, self-sacrificing, dependent, generous, good, polite, other-oriented, helpful, well behaved, gentle, sympathetic, compassionate, gracious, and, of course, respectful.
...and thin.

A lovely little elixir of self-empowerment washed down with a swill of self-hatred. Thanks for that.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Restores my faith in humanity

This is my favourite story of the day. A dude goes into a record shop, at which he is a regular customer, puts a Pink Floyd album on order, gives his name and phone number, and then swipes money from the register with 4 cameras watching him. I love that I can rely on such people to bring a grin to an evening that also brought a southerly change (and therefore serious coldness again).

Brings back memories of stupidities past. 4 guys went into Ingleburn Bowling Club many moons ago, back when my Dad was still alive and frequented said establishment. You have to sign into a club, but they were canny and signed in with false names. They held up the bar and took about $500 (from memory). When the police arrived they checked the sign-in book, you know, just in case. Scanning down the names our brilliant boys in blue were not, in fact, fooled by Jimi Hendrix's signature. Furthermore, they recognised Jimi's address as that belonging to a fellow "known to police". When they arrived at that address, the 4 lads were at the kitchen table counting the money.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

This is the way the weather should be

Today was just about perfect, weather-wise - mid to high 20s. I've decided that the weather should be just like today 80% of the time. It can rain on Mondays and every second Tuesday - heavy enough to make sure that the local area gets the rainfall it needs. On Sundays in summer it can be in the low to mid 30s - good beach weather, but the humidity needs to keep itself in check, below 60%.

Alright, I've done the hard work, I've worked out the optimal solution. Now who's going to implement it?

Mistrust and its causes

No doubt something else you read has already link to this post by Melissa at Shakesville. It's beautifully written piece on her experience of misogyny and her reaction to it, and if you read the comments, you'll see it echoes that of 43 bazillion other people too. Like Chally's post, it doesn't resonate with me. Unlike Chally's post, I have absolutely no insight as to why. Maybe my label phobia extends to "woman". I certainly tend to call myself a female, not a woman, but maybe that doesn't mean much. I really, really don't know.

So I'm not arguing with this post, not in the slightest. The only reservation I have with getting the men in my life to read it, is that I don't feel the emotion in it. On the other hand, there are some *ist remarks that people around me use that I'd prefer they didn't, and it might help them understand why they shouldn't.

My take-home message to men if they read that: you don't have to be misogynist to say misogynist stuff. If someone tells you what you just said is sexist, it is the thing that you said that is sexist, and not you. Of course, if once this is pointed out you refuse to acknowledge it or even consider changing your habits, then it might be you too.

I want to add more about how sad reading that post made me feel. Sad that women feel all that pain, sad that the socialisation I am trying so hard to combat will make my sons the target of that mistrust, sad that I don't feel I can do a damn thing about it. But it's all too incoherent and I don't want it to come out wrong, so it had best stay where it is for now.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Not a win for Mr Rossiter

Yesterday, I was considering only the benefit of knowing that you can die when you wish, but Lauredhel has quite rightly pointed out that no-one has mentioned that Christian Rossiter has not been given the right to live. He has been "shoved him in a nursing room, in front of a television set". I am completely guilty of thinking of this in right to die terms, without considering what brought him to want to die in the first place, and that's ridiculous. Go read Lauredhel's post, because this needs to be shouted about. He's not yet made his decision, and he should know what his life could be before he makes it. Oh, and you know, he should get access to what it could be.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Quick hit - a win

I'm so glad to hear that Christian Rossiter has won his right to refuse food. I was also interested to hear that he hasn't actually decided to exercise it. At least he now gets to view his situation from a position of choice, which seems like a basic human right to me.

Whichever decision he makes, he's made things a tiny bit better for everyone. I wish him wisdom and peace in exercising his hard won choice, either way.

Whose obligation?

A few conversations I've had lately have made me think about society's obligation to its vulnerable members. To what extent should we all change our behaviour to accommodate the needs of individuals? I am writing this because I don't know the answer to that question. I'm hoping writing it might help clarify my view, at least.

The starting point is ideological - society has an obligation to protect the most vulnerable. I am stating that as a fact, and if you don't agree with me on that point, we're probably not going to find any common ground. In fact, society has an obligation to protect all of its members.

The corollary* to this is that the needs of the more vulnerable outweigh those of the less vulnerable. This was proposed by a friend (I hope I haven't paraphrased it out of its original meaning, Twitter ain't the best forum for philosophical discussion!) and I'm pretty sure I agree with it in principle, it's just that I have no idea what it means in practice. Which needs and who determines them?

I suspect part of the answer is that negative consequences for someone already more vulnerable than most outweigh those for the less vulnerable. The problem is how to determine the magnitude of the negative consequences.

One example that has in part triggered this line of thinking is that of allergy-inducing foods in schools. It seems completely reasonable that one child's risk of death or serious illness outweighs the other children's inconvenience of not being able to bring a certain food to the school. However, it becomes less clear cut when you start considering the range of foods that can cause allergies. If you get to the point that nuts, seafood, eggs, dairy, strawberries, kiwi fruit and wheat are all banned, it's starting to get more than a little inconvenient to feed your kids at school. This isn't a far fetched thought experiment, this is last year's list of allergies that I know of from a school of 60 kids. Not all of them were banned at our school, but some were. It doesn't take an extreme set of circumstances in a school of 500 to see a long list of foods dangerous to at least one student. How do you then decide which kid gets to be protected and which doesn't? Obviously part of that answer is anaphylaxis - which would be an easy line in the sand if it was that simple. Unfortunately people don't always know exactly what kind of allergy they have, and there doesn't seem to be a defined list of "only these foods can produce anaphylaxis". And anyway, what if a food causes a painful rash that is prone to infection? Does that count higher or lower than a risk of anaphylaxis if the latter is likely to be only a 30% risk?

My point here is not to answer any of those questions, it is to highlight the possible incompatibility of the most obvious solutions to protecting the vulnerable. It is also not to say that we shouldn't ban problematic foods if this practical issue doesn't arise.

The other issue that is raised in my mind is that of the best method of protection. To what extent should society shield the vulnerable, and to what extent should we help provide the means for them to protect themselves? In the allergy example, to what age is it useful to protect kids, and at what point would it be better to teach them to avoid any food they are not completely sure of. Again, I don't know the answer to this, but it seems a valid question. And it's not just the practical question, it's also the moral one. Should society make the decision about which answer is correct? Who has the best judgment? Doctors who specialise in allergies? Parents who will live forever with the consequences of their decisions, but also have the strongest of emotional involvements, which can both enhance and damage decision making? Administrators worried about being sued? OK, the last one was gratuitous, but sadly I suspect that is actually what's happening in many cases.

I think my major objection to protection by means of changing society's behaviour is that the well being of vulnerable people is dependent on other people not being stupid and/or arseholes. In some cases, it only takes one of them to cause catasrophic consequences. While I completely understand that from a social justice point of view, asking the vulnerable to protect themselves is repugnant, from a practical point of view it seems like a more robust solution.

So I guess my answer is that we need to use both approaches. We need to ask people to make reasonable changes to accommodate needs they may be lucky enough to never have considered, and at the same time we need to help those vulnerable to learn to protect themselves.

The balance point is going to be different in different circumstances. For kids and food allergies, it is likely to be a point in time - when they are very small we keep dangerous foods away, but by some time (arguable no doubt, and probably not by me) these kids need to be able to protect themselves. The whole world simply cannot be made safe for them.

For the (*wince*) breast watching example, I am still not sure exactly where the balance is - there are so many layers of complexity that need to be sorted. I think the balance is strongly in favour of expecting society to change its behaviour in deference to those who are strongly negatively affected by such attention for women now. However, the inter-generational focus should be on changing other things such that women don't have the experiences that lead to such harm. Actually, the reason I really can't get my head around this (from a long term optimal solution perspective), is that so much about the way men and women interact needs to change that I just can't guess how women would feel about men having a quick squiz at their boobs if all that extra baggage went away. If sexual violence disappeared (or even became incredibly rare) and women were no longer physically threatened by men except in the rarest of circumstances, the world would be so different I can't quite imagine what would happen next. So I don't know where the balance would lie if we solved all the other problems. I guess we'll just have to solve them all and find out.

There are other less convoluted examples though. The balance clearly needs to move in the case of disability. Society needs to be making much more sweeping changes to stop implicitly excluding those who don't meet the current template for "abled". So far we've managed to move from demonising disability, to ignoring it altogether to grudgingly and sparingly assisting disabled people to help themselves. I think it would be fair to say that society changing its behaviour is long overdue. Going back to a pragmatic view, I also think that no-one has anything much to lose in doing so (except possibly certain commercial interests, but I find it hard to care much). I don't mention this to justify why it should be done, just to point out how insane it is that it hasn't already.

Hmmm, I didn't exactly come up with a general answer. Quite the opposite in fact. Huh - whodathunk it, social justice alone doesn't find the solution, any more than psychology on its own.

Apologies for putting you through this, but if you made it this far and have some more coherent thoughts, please let me know. :)

*I have a total blind spot in spelling this word for some reason. I'm sure you needed to know that.

Belly dancing

I saw this YouTube video at belly dancing tonight, and decided to share. They have disabled embedding, but please click through, she is a beautiful belly dancer. I like this style, gentle and elegant.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The wrong sorry

The English language is a bitch. So many words can mean so many things. But that doesn't mean we listeners are stupid. "Sorry I offended you" is the same "sorry" as "sorry for your loss", not the same one as "sorry I acted abominably". There is no acknowlegment of responsibility in "sorry I offended you".

So, no, Kyle, Jackie O and 2DAYFM, I do not accept your apology.

In fact, I wasn't offended, I was horrified and disgusted. This is about your behaviour, not my reaction.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


I had just finished replying to Aztec-rose on my post about work - you know, talking about how men find their groove in the unpaid work department a little better when they get some time at home without someone looking over their shoulder telling them they're doing it wrong - when Crash called down from the first floor asking me to come up for a minute.

I race upstairs dreading another round of croup or other illness complication and instead I am greeted with "Go into Missy's room and tell me what I forgot." So I go in and find the 21mth old completely naked, on her tummy with all her arms and legs tucked in - naked bum sticking up high.

So much for men being able to look after children.

Or not. Of course all her pyjamas and her nappy were still in the bed with her. I know she can take her pants off, and I have seen her try to take her nappy off, but I've no idea how she got a button up pyjama top off.

Sadly, 21mth olds are not so good at the "staying dry" thing, and the entire bed had to be stripped, Enjo'ed and remade. She needed a bit of wipe down too....

Perhaps I need to go buy some size 2 all-in-one pyjamas. As much as I still giggling, I don't really want a rerun.

UPDATE: No longer a perhaps - she woke up naked too....

This is the way the (working) world should be

I've worked in a few different scenarios in my life - in an academic setting, in the public sector, for a small multinational and run my own business. I was a manager for some of the time in the multinational, and I bought the argument that part time employees couldn't hold management roles. I understood that job sharing could work, but that it took a very special pair of people and that it still cost the company because it really meant 6 days a week as a result of the need for a day when both sharers are working at the same time.

Then I got to be a better manager and I started thinking a bit more clearly. I also got a better grasp of what makes good employees. If you combine the idea that people work better when they have a balanced life with the idea that roles within organisations are fluid, not fixed little boxes, you come to the conclusion that we should all move towards a norm of most people working 3 days a week.

As a manager, you look at all the work that needs to be done, and the skills required to do it. You determine how many employee days you require of each skill to get everything done. You look at the employees you've got and which skills each has. You don't have to split this job between two people, you look at subcomponents. I might share the stock management with Joe and the supplier management with Jill and Jackie. And then you keep thinking outside the square. It might be necessary in some more senior roles to be contactable on your days off. This is not that big a deal as long as everyone understands that it is for quick, urgent questions. If the role needs more attention than a 5 or 10 minute call, there needs to be someone assigned to make the decision on days when you are not there. This isn't a big deal. It's how our entire business runs, and once you get your head around it, it is absolutely no more complicated than the current paradigm.

Think of all the benfits. A wider range of experience in the workplace. Children get to see both parents during the week. They might still need one day of daycare, but for many kids this is great - a chance to be with other kids while still spending heaps of time with their parents. For those kids for whom day care really doesn't work, more flexible workplaces would also make it possible for some people to work 2 days a week, or 5 days a fortnight, or whatever schedule works for everyone. For single parents the concept of flexibility is built into the workplace, they don't have to fight for reasonable working conditions. Same goes for those people with disabilities who can work a few days but not 5. One less fight for people already fighting enough.

Of course, there are probably some jobs that really need one person doing them 5 days a week (actually, I doubt there is anything that can't be done 4 days a week, but I could be wrong), but presumably there will also be people who want to work 5 days a week. I'm not suggesting that 3 days a week should be compulsory, just that is should be the default instead of 5. Also, some people might prefer working 4 hours a day, 5 days a week, or some other combination.

And of course, there would be another massive benefit - meetings would be harder to call. Perhaps even only the necessary meetings would go ahead. And since many people might have to call into them, hearing kids in the background (or birds, or whatever) might no longer automically imply that you have suddenly lost all your professional skills.

And maybe, with not everyone always there, the ridiculous culture of working insane hours would start to abate. It isn't more productive, it just burns people out, and costs the community in terms of children raised with absent parents and reducing the diversity of people in senior positions. On that latter point, it's only anecdata, but the thread on Shapely Prose lists many examples of how women are preferentially pushed out of certain fields because of the obssessive cultures that prevail there. It obviously doesn't just preferentially push out women, it preferentially pushes out anyone looking for more balance.

All of this would require a huge shift in management technique. It would require managers to manage, rather than being a passive conduit between policy makers and the people who actually do the work, for a start. I left my last job because the Powers That Be wanted me to be the latter and I found it frustrating and infuriating, especially after the previous regime had expected me to be the former. It would be a learning curve for sure, and it would really require managers to understand the work they manage (which has to be a Good Thing), but in the end, everyone benefits. This isnt't a zero sum game. Making employee's lives better doesn't have to cost the employer.

On a final note, just because this has been all about paid work, doesn't mean that I think everyone should be in it. It doesn't mean that I think that people who are not in it are not contributing to society. Nor must they be studying to "count". Part of the motivation for this model is to share the unpaid work around more and therefore increase its value in the paid work world.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Uber Dreams

I've had one of those days where I find myself dreaming of selling everything and moving to the middle of nowhere. (It started at 5am with Charlie coming in and saying "I can't lie on my back" and promptly throwing up all over me. How can you go wrong after that?)

It's a well-formed dream. About 20 acres or so, preferably in the general vicinity of the Hunter Valley. The living quarters would be centred around the uber kitchen - a huge, high-ceilinged room with a gourmet kitchen, massive dining room and plenty of sitting area. I can just about see the kitchen.

Each family gets their own apartment, of their own design. We're thinking a creek running between them all with cute little bridges. Covered walkways to the central area so that there's no impediment to socialising.

There would be a huge shed, or maybe even several sheds, for Crash.

There would be a swimming pool.

There would be chooks, a vegie patch, maybe some berries, definitely some fruit trees. It would all be as sustainable as we can possibly manage.

And there would be broadband. Good broadband, not just satellite.

There are a raft of things we could do to support ourselves. The idea of tacking a DipEd on the end of my current degree is inspired in part by being able to teach part time when we move to the Uber House. We've thought of hosting weddings, teaching stitching retreats (this would have nothing to do with me), building clocks and no doubt 379 other things.

Nerida has also devised a fence of such incredible awesomeness nary a slithering creature will show its face within the residential compound. (Once Nerida's fence is built, it will be a compound!)

So I'm wondering, what's in your Uber Dream? If you have ever considered a tree change, sea change, commune life or otherwise doing a bolt, what's in your fantasy?

Oh, and if you're reading this on Facebook, would you mind hopping over to the blog to comment? If I get any responses I'd love to keep them for future days like today. Thanks.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

The White Album Concert

If you don't know how I came to be at the White Album Concert, the story is here. It explains why we arrived half way through Dear Prudence for a start.

We missed 2 and half songs, which is a great shame.

But anyway, what was the White Album Concert you ask? It was Chris Cheney (The Living End), Phil Jamieson (Grinspoon), Josh Pyke (Josh Pyke) and Tim Rogers (You Am I and all the insanity that is Tim Rogers) getting together with a lot of good musos and performing the tracks of the Beatles' White Album in celebration of its 40th anniversary.

In case you're curious, this is who sang what:

Can You Take Me Back - Band
Back in the USSR - Chris Cheney
Dear Prudence - Phil Jamieson
Glass Onion - Chris Cheney
Ob La Di Ob La Da - All 4
Wild Honey Pie - Tim Rogers
Bungalow Bill - Tim Rogers
While My Guitar Gently Weeps - Chris Cheney
Happiness is a Warm Gun - Tim Rogers
Martha My Dear - Josh Pyke
I'm So Tired - Phil Jamieson
Blackbird - Josh Pyke
Piggies - Tim Rogers
Rocky Raccoon - Josh Pyke
Don't Pass Me By - Phil Jamieson
Why Don't We Do It in the Road - Chris Cheney
I Will - Phil Jamieson
Julia - Josh Pyke

Birthday - Chris Cheney
Yer Blues - Phil Jamieson
Mother Nature's Son - Josh Pyke
Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey - Tim Rogers
Sexy Sadie - Phil Jamieson
Helter Skelter - Chris Cheney
Long, Long, Long - Josh Pyke
Revolution - Tim Rogers
Honey Pie - Phil Jamieson
Savoy Truffle - Chris Cheney
Cry Baby Cry - Josh Pyke
Goodnight - Tim Rogers

If you know the artists and the songs, you'll probably come to same conclusion I did - it was unlikely that there was much squabbling over who sang what, most of them seem incredibly obvious. The program says that Tim Rogers confesses "that Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da is his least favourite song of the 1960s". It also says that he would be singing it. Perhaps the song got the better of him, because the other 3 sang it without him:

until the last verse, at which point he finally appeared.

When he was on stage, Tim pranced, flounced and posed with incredible passion and comic timing. He continues to be far superior performing other people's music.

Chris Cheney, on the other hand, is just an awesome vocalist and guitarist. While My Guitar Gently Weeps was extraordinary.

A photo will never capture that sound, or the palpable appreciation of the audience for it.

I am sooooo tempted to describe it song by song, but that could get tedious, even for me. So a quick list of highlights: Tim Rogers was meant for Piggies (complete with snort), Phil Jamieson was poignant with I'm So Tired, Josh Pyke did Blackbird all the justice it deserved (I love that song), Chris Cheney was awesome and hysterical with Birthday, and Everybody's Got Something to Hide, Helter Skelter and Revolution were perfectly executed by their respective artists.

Special mention needs to be made of Phil Jamieson's Honey Pie. It was beautiful silent movie comedy, complete with Tim Rogers bringing on a long stemmed white flower to Phil to swoon over and with and ultimately throw into the audience. It was the height of the playful attitude they took with whole night, and it was fantastic.

After Goodnight, they all came back on stage together and sang Revolution, Hey Bulldog and Why Don't We Do It in the Road.

They rather appeared to enjoy themselves.

Given everything that happened, I felt a glass of bubbly was in order during the intermission so I jumped in the queue and had my star spotter moment for the night - Matthew Newton was next to us. And just to reinforce that these were pretty reasonable seats, Mr Newton also walked past us to resume his seat in our row.

It was bloody awesome, is what I'm saying here. It was musically fantastic and hysterically funny. Great night, great performance.

Sitcom Saturday Night

The plan was this: Nerida would be at my place by 4:30pm to catch the train into the city, where we would have an early dinner at Wagamama, dessert at Guylian Cafe and then head to the Opera House for the White Album concert. The tickets were my birthday present and I was pretty keen.

Things were looking a little dubious when Nerida was still sitting on her lounge, in need of a shower, half an hour's drive away at 4pm, although since I was running a teensy bit behind schedule myself, I considered this to be good news.

Slightly late but not fazed, we headed down to the station. The city rail bus coming the other way spelled the end of catching the train, so the plan changed to parking at Darling Harbour. When we got to the Convention Centre carpark the reality of how far we were away from our intended destinations hit us and we moved to plan C: parking on Hickson Rd. Nerida didn't turn left at the designated point - ghosts of parking farces past were pushing her away from any road that might lead to the Harbour Bridge. Instead we ended up in the disaster that is China Town, and it took some time to extract ourselves and head back towards the north end of the city. As we passed Bathurst St, a vague notion that we should turn right struck me, but sadly not hard enough. We then missed the lane for the Erskine St exit, and when I realised where we needed to be, I also realised that there was a police car blocking the exit because there was a film crew working in the road we needed to be on. Sydney-siders will know what this means: we were headed across the Harbour Bridge.

So after a tour of Kirribilly, Milson's Point and North Sydney we were headed back south over the Bridge. Only one wrong turn later and we had found a particularly handy parking spot (free after 6pm, which it was by now) right near the Walsh Bay wharves. So now we moved on to plan D: eat at Firefly at Walsh Bay, instead of Wagamama at King St Wharf. The staff at Firefly found us a couple of seats at the bar and brought us food pretty quickly and it was all very good - duck and shallot pancakes, paprika smoked potatao frittata, and Moroccan lamb and Merguez sausage skewers.

Next stop Guylian Cafe, where we stuffed ourselves on hot chocolate and milk chocolate & hazelnut torte (Nerida) and dipping chocolate with fruit (me). Mmmmmmmmm.

By now we had 15 mins to get around Circular Quay to the Opera House, and we made it with time to spare for a toilet stop. Our tickets were in the 4th last row, so we did a quick march up an awful lot of stairs, got through the doors and up some more stairs to find people already sitting in our seats. A brief conference confirmed that their tickets were for the same seats as ours. As I checked our tickets to work out what was going on, I realised they were for Friday night, not Saturday night.


The night before.

We did what any self respecting person would do in that situation and bolted out of the concert hall. The woman on the door interrupted our embarrassed flight to ask if she could help, since the show was starting imminently. "I don't think so, our tickets are for last night." I felt like such an idiot. Much to my surprise, she didn't laugh or dismiss us as utter morons, she very kindly told us to go to the Box Office and see if they could help us with tickets for tomorrow night.

So we headed down none too hopefully and told the box office staff that the guy who sold Nerida the tickets had told her they were for Saturday, and we just hadn't looked at them. (We're pretty convinced that is the truth, because 2 minutes after she bought them she told me they were for Saturday - I remember because I commented that I would have preferred Friday.) The guy serving us called immediately to a more senior woman and told her our tickets were for the night before. She called straight over to another girl and said "These girls [girls! -ed] have tickets for last night - get them two spare tickets for the boxes or the dress circle, wherever we have empty seats." That girl apologised that it would take her a minute or two, and to make sure she didn't take the dumbfounded look on my face the wrong way, I told her I was just so glad they were helping us at all.

A minute or two later she returned with a ticket with "Comp" scrawled on it along with a door number and two seat numbers. Still in shock, we bolted back up the four thousand stairs to the strains of the first second song on the album and were shown to our seats in Row G. That would be towards the front of the dress circle. Much, much better seats than we had failed to occupy the night before.

So there we were, and I was already penning the note to thank all the staff involved - I'll sort that out today or tomorrow. The show was great, and will be reviewed in my next post.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

It's all about boobs

In the great spirit of one blog post inspiring another, Sophist asking if it's really such a big deal if he looks at women's breasts inspired Chally to write a magnificent post explaining why it is, which inspired me to write about my reaction to Chally's words.

Chally's post is a great description of why ogling isn't just appreciation of beauty, and I agree with Mim that it makes excellent reading for any young men even remotely attracted to women. However, I don't feel it like May does. It doesn't resonate with me emotionally, as much as I know it is the answer to Sophist's question. But why? I pretty much am the "white, heterosexual, middle-class, able, thin, cis woman" in the description (well, except for the thin, I'm pretty much in between and was definitely labelled fat as a kid), so why doesn't it describe me?

I think there are two main reasons, the first is that I have been lucky enough to grow up with minimal contact with misogyny. It's not that I've never been touched by misogyny and violence, just that it was the exception and not the norm. I am not a person who constantly modifies her behaviour in order to avoid becoming a victim. I don't think twice about walking around by myself late at night or many other things that lots of other women report. This doesn't make me brave or stupid, it just means that unless someone actively says "that's dangerous for you" it never even occurs to me. In the same way that I won't ever internalise racism directed at me the way people who grow up as the persecuted minority often do, I won't ever internalise the misogyny that I experience.

The second is that there is a fair bit of female superiority complex in my family. My maternal grandmother regarded men as useful for only a limited number of activities, in need of looking after and possibly also somewhat deserving of women's pity. Which is not to say she didn't like men, she just knew that women were clearly the superior beings. I wouldn't say my mother exactly inherited that attitude (hi Mum!), but I would say that when I see a guy ogling my breasts, what I feel is the emotional equivalent of patting him on the head. It reinforces my feeling of strength and control, rather than diminishing it.

So what is the point of my experience? Well, firstly, I don't think I'm alone. I suspect that some of the women that agree with Sophist that it's no biggie for him to look at their boobs feel much like I do. It's a bit sad for him, but doesn't have much impact on them.

Secondly, the background that I have has also lead me to focus on the way boys are limited and infantilised by the patriarchal standards (see also the attitude that men should just bonk anything with ovaries unless explicitly told to stop), rather than on the impact on women.

Thirdly, I think there is real benefit in acknowledging that just because there are women like me doesn't mean that Chally's description doesn't apply to lots and lots of women. And more significantly, it is unlikely that the latter group will have a friendly conversation with Sophist and other guys like him regarding their experience. Most guys selectively hear from the people like me. And while we're busy patronising them, we're not educating them, we are continuing the attitude that men are just too hopeless to control their biological urges. I don't believe that, I believe that men are capable of being just as sensitive and intelligent as women, and that as a society we have to start demanding it of them. So Sophist, to you I say: I have very strong biological drives too. I often find my internal dialogue starting sentences with the words "If I had another baby..." and then the rational part of my brain tromples all over that voice with a phrase along the lines of "NO FUCKING WAY". If I can manage to control my biological imperatives, so can you.

Finally, the two positions tell us something about how we can raise both our daughters and our sons so that Chally's description resonates with far fewer people in the future. If we teach our kids that objectifying behaviour is pathetic and infantile, and that women are just as strong as men, even if in slightly different ways, and we are lucky enough to protect them from close contact with misogyny, the oppressive effects of ambient misogyny can minimised and we get another generation closer to removing it altogether.

I do know it isn't this simple, but I also know that it is possible in the society that I have grown up in to avoid internalising the misogyny and I want to make sure as many girls grow up with that same outcome as I can.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

15th Down Under Feminists Carnival at HAT

Lauredhel has the 15th Down Under Feminists Carnival up at Hoyden About Town. As usual it is packed with goodness - which she mostly had to find herself. I am utterly guilty of being too slack to submit anything, so I'll vow to do better next month and encourage you to do the same.

Monday, August 03, 2009

When does childhood end?

Lots of people have discussed the debacle that was Kyle and Jackie O's interrogation of a 14yr old last week. If you have been living under a rock (or you know, just in another country), Lauredhel gave a good early analysis of it, and Hexy gave a good round up of it today. However, there's been something niggling at me about the coverage of the whole thing. This girl is 14 and people keep calling her a "child".

Clearly she is a minor, and therefore I agree without hesitation with all the condemnation of every single adult involved in the whole sordid event, including, as Hexy points out, any audience member who ever tuned into this show intentionally.

However, every time she is called a child I cringe. Teenagers are not children, nor are they adults. The increasing tendency to infantilise teens may even have contributed to this situation - the fact that anyone (including the mother) felt that the mother had the right to over-ride her daughter's wishes shows that we don't afford teenagers sufficient respect. We also don't expect nearly enough of them.

There is plenty of reason not to regard teenagers as adults - it seems pretty clear that their brains are busy being rewired, and that the rewiring doesn't happen in the best possible order for ensuring good judgement and sensible behaviour. For this reason, I strongly object to trying teens as adults before the law - they've not yet graduated to adult privilege or responsibility. (I actually think we handle crime committed by minors very badly in almost every respect, but if I get into that this post will never end.)

However, they are no longer children either - they don't think like children and they don't feel like children. They are adults-in-training, and should be treated as such. Just like any traineeship, a lot of guidance is required in the beginning, slowly handing over more responsibility and higher expectations. Or actually, given the way things seem to be at the moment, not so slowly. So little is expected of teenagers, they often aren't even expected to manage their own homework.

It seems that we only have two settings, child or adult. And we oscillate randomly between the two in the way that we treat teens. Child when we want to protect them, excuse them or control them. Adult when we want to judge them or condemn them. It's hardly a surprise that many don't behave as responsibly or acceptably as society would like - or even as would be good for them.

I like Stephen Biddulph's portrayal of teens as apprentices, and I particularly like his suggestion that teens need adult mentors that are not their parents. I don't see why he thinks it applies primarily to boys, or that sports coaches seem to be the only candidates that regularly get mentioned in this context, but that's no reason to let a good idea go. I'm hoping my kids will find themselves adults they can trust and relate to when they hit that age. Aunts, uncles, family friends, bosses, co-workers, people involved in other social stuff (maybe I can get Elissa into belly dancing!), whatever. I want to enable such a relationship, but not engineer it - it's for them and should be at their instigation. One of the reasons I am a fan of this plan is that I am not entirely convinced I will be able to follow my own advice if I am their primary confidant. So if you know my kids, and you ever find yourself in this role, please don't tell me what they get up to, I won't want to know.

I won't be calling that 14yr old a child, she is a minor and deserves appropriate protection, but also appropriate respect and expectations. The last of those has no relevance to this incident, but who knows what part it played in her relationship with her mother?

Sunday, August 02, 2009


Friday evening marked Ben's first major spill from a wheeled device. He was riding his scooter down the hill outside our house while Charlie was riding his red car. I was Twittering and looking after Elissa. Then all hell broke loose.

Crash was yelling, Ben was screaming and so was Charlie. I couldn't work out exactly what had happened until I saw the blood. It was Ben's and it was pouring from the general vicinity of his mouth. He was howling, as was Charlie - based on the injustice of having his ride cut short. I, of course, handled it smoothly and calmly by bellowing at Charlie to get out of the room (he had, up until the bellow, been screaming in my ear while I was trying to assess the damage).

Ben was so distressed that he wouldn't let me look at anything. I couldn't even tell if stitched might be required. On the plus side, he doesn't have many teeth in there at the moment, so I didn't have too many concerns for their safety.

A bag of frozen corn wrapped in a wet face washer and a lot of cuddles finally got us to the point that we could be sure it was all graze and was definitely not in need of stitches. There was an hysterical claim of wobbly lower (adult) teeth, but if it had any basis in reality, his body had done its repairing thing by the next morning. It was one fat lip though - this is what he normally looks like (if somewhat in need of a haircut):

And this is post fall:

This was yesterday morning. Today the swelling has gone down, but a massive scab covering about a third of his top lip has formed. He'll certainly get plenty of opportunity to tell his war story at school.

Exercise will be had

It's been a year since I've done anything resembling consistent exercise. This is Bad for me. I know, I can feel it. It was time to commit to something and damn the consequences. But if I'm going to get all serious about it, I'm going to have fun too goddamnit. So I decided to go back to belly dancing. I started belly dancing many moons ago in the years BC (Before Children). I took about a year's break when Ben was born, but I went back before I fell pregnant with Charlie. My last term was up to about 6 or 7 months preggers with Charlie, and then I never went back.

I looked up all the schools and decided to go back to the place I was last at, mostly on the basis of timetables. And then I went cap in hand to Crash and asked if I could have a weekly leave pass on a Thursday night. This would not be necessary, but for the fact that the class goes right through dinner, bath and bedtime. I feel guilty about leaving him with it all. For about 35 seconds after I leave the house.

My first class was last Thursday. I can still shimmy. That'd be it really. Oh, and some figure eights. Hip drops are coming back, but lack that automatic, don't think about it quality. It should only take a few weeks to feel vaguely competent I think, but I doubt I'll be back in an intermediate class this year. Still, it is smile inducing, and I am looking forward to the next class which, frankly, shits all over pump classes. :)