Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Problem With Wearing Socks and Sandals*

A few months ago I bought a pair of soft brown leather kids sandals at a really good price. I was intending on putting them away for my son for the warmer weather, but after trying them on he took a shine to them and wanted to wear them every day. The problem was, it was still quite chilly, so he came up with the industrious solution of wearing socks with the sandals, keeping his feet toasty warm whilst still getting wear out of the shoes.

Now I'm not quite sure how I would react if my husband took up the same fashion statement**, but when my 5-year-old waved me goodbye and wandered off to play with his friends sporting his quirky self-devised ensemble, it warmed my heart. When he was a baby and toddler, Mr 5 would be into anything and everything with no regard for what others thought (as babies and toddlers tend to be!). By the time he was 3 or 4, he was asking me to paint his nails bright pink, red or whatever shiny colour he could find. Lately, however, he had refused to wear anything that may cause him to be "laughed at". One day he literally refused to go to preschool unless I removed his nail polish. Another time he refused to wear a puffer vest because it would "make me look young." (The mind still boggles at this last comment: if you can't look "young" at 5, when can you? Not to mention the irony, which obviously escaped him, that the majority of society are out there trying to look young!)

So the triumphant sandals-and-socks combo with no regard for fashion police preschoolers was a milestone. He wore them for weeks on end, only putting on sneakers when it rained. And, to my knowledge, no one said a word. I think he realised it was unusual, because none of the other kids wore the same thing, and I'm not sure whether his confidence increased because of his daring or just alongside it. Whatever the case: he has matured into a boy who seems to worry less about his peers' attitudes toward such things. He also takes pride in choosing his own (often clashing) t-shirt and shorts combinations and dressing himself (the t-shirts end up being worn inside out maybe 50% of the time). I don't think he will be requesting nail polish again any time soon but at least he can feel confident dressing independently.

After the recent 'leggings are not pants' talk a high profile blogger gave her 5-year-old daughter, I wondered what would have happened if I had sat down my son all those weeks ago and told him that socks and sandals are not a good look. I imagine he would have been confused and probably more than a little despondent. I also thought about the fact that 'leggings are not pants' has been meme'd to death whereas the humble socks and sandals (possibly the male equivalent when it comes to so-called 'crimes of fashion'?) seemed to have escaped the same level of vitriol.

As my husband put it, children (boys and girls) should be able to wear their whatever they want - even put undies on the outside of their pants if that's what they want to do. (As indeed my son did for a time, complete with tea towel pegged to his t-shirt in a home-made superman costume that doubled as daywear).

There are so many unwritten (and written) 'rules' that society applies to us all about what is acceptable to wear, eat, say and do. Kids are part of that society and read the cues all the time. The noise dictating who they 'should be' only gets louder as they get older. That desire to fit in happens all on its own with no need for parental encouragement. Regardless of whether or not it appeals to my aesthetics (or any one else's for that matter), why on earth would I instruct my child that he has to listen to other people's voices rather than his own on this issue? Why would I inhibit his personal choice and freedom just that little bit more? Whether I say anything or not, society will no doubt make him aware of what's 'acceptable' sooner or later. I can only hope it's later, and that when it does, he will retain some of that youthful joie de vivre and inner confidence that allows him to wear just what he likes, without regard for the possible disapproval of others.

*Oh, there isn't one.

**Actually, I am pretty sure I would not love it, but I would only suggest he try to find a similarly comfortable alternative if he asked. Ask me again when we're 70, I'm pretty sure by then I will be cool with it (at least I hope so).

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Why Sam de Brito needs to take a long hard look at himself

On the morning that my husband was to leave on a 850km bike ride to raise money for the John Hunter Children's Hospital (that's riding from the Gold Coast to Newcastle), I opened the newspaper to read an article by Sam de Brito lambasting cyclists. In his own words, 'the main thrust of the column is that cycling is the new golf, with the "same grim-faced, entitled white men who used to plague golf courses" now smugly telling you they've shrunk their carbon footprint since they traded in the Beemer for two wheels.'

I know that none of the accusations de Brito aimed at cyclists apply to my husband. I'm not worried about his individual reputation. But the problem is, de Brito is playing on an existing ill-feeling towards cyclists by many drivers, and to inflame this in any way poses a real risk to cyclists' safety. I'm not here to defend all cyclists and their behaviour. Sure, some of the stereotypes ring true. But the bottom line is: what is the point of picking on a whole group of people based on the actions of a few, especially if you are potentially putting them in danger by doing so?

There is a chance that people who already have a self-righteous sense of road ownership and hatred of cyclists will have had it inflated by reading that column, and will feel completely justified the next time they force a cyclist off the road. Clearly de Brito has no idea of the danger cyclists often face from aggro drivers. Either that, or he knows, but just doesn't care. OK, some cyclists are aggro too. But it's hardly a fair fight. Who's more likely to come off second-best- a guy on a bike or a guy steering a tonne of steel? And what has the fight between risk-taking cyclists and drivers full of road rage got to do with those cyclists who do follow the rules, who are being respectful, who enjoy the sport and would like to come home in one piece at the end of a ride?

Let me address a few of his claims directly.

"Correct me if I'm wrong but I reckon the average Chinese factory belching out carbon-fibre bicycle frames might make up for the fuel consumption of your former four-wheel-drive."

Um, you're wrong. The production of one carbon-fibre bicycle is nowhere near the carbon footprint of a four-wheel-drive, either in production or the energy it takes to run.

"Some bloke who doesn't even pay $700 rego wants to complain to me about my indicating while he treats red lights as suggestions."

Why do you think people would want to complain about your indicating? Perhaps because you left it till the last minute and nearly knocked some one off their bike? Not only that, most cyclists are motorists as well and do pay rego, which incidentally, has nothing to do with their right to complain about your indicating.

De Brito thinks "it's a sign of a critic being absolutely bloody spot-on when a person or group can't laugh at a barb". Does this mean that if you can't laugh at something, it must be true? If some one wished your dog dead because you don't walk it often enough, and you don't find that funny, is it because it's a bit close to the bone? No, Sam. It's just because it's hurtful, unnecessary, and NOT FUNNY.

Case in point:
"Part of me reckons the cycling fad has to do with blokes hating their families. Can't be bothered ferrying the kids to sport on a Saturday? Take up cycling, ride 100 kilometres down the coast and you don't have to see the little bastards until sunset."

Not close to the bone. Just not funny. My husband gets up at 5am each Saturday to cycle, comes home at 9.30 and spends the rest of the day with the family. Not at the pub, working or watching footy on TV.

"It's weird: blokes are getting around with tiny upper bodies, shaving their legs and looking like waifs and chicks are going to the gym to do boxing classes and get rock-hard abs.
Sure, cycling is health conscious and oh-so European but so is yoghurt and you don't need to wear hard-plastic ballet shoes to eat the stuff. Oh, but it relaxes you? Could've fooled me every time I get abused by some 60-year-old cardiovascular surgeon who thinks roads were purpose-built for his Raleigh."

Where to start with this doozy? Misogyny. Sarcasm. And again, Sam, why do you think you are
constantly being abused by cyclists? Could the common denominator be YOU?

He then uses one example of a rich guy in Africa employing an armed security guard on his ride, and finishes with 'Seriously. And we wonder why half the world wants to kill white people.' So let's trivialise racism and oppression while we're at it. I’m pretty sure the cyclists of the world are not to blame for the world’s inequality.

De Brito claims that he was just having a joke. Then when he received some heated responses to his article, he cried foul. His mature response on twitter to professional cyclist Mark Renshaw (who tweeted 'now we know your name' or similar) was 'beep beep, thud.’

De Brito seems to believe in that old Aussie chestnut, whereby if you complain about some one abusing you, 'you can't take a joke.' Seems like when the abuse is channelled back the other way, however, he isn't too keen either. The idea that you are humourless if you don't like being belittled is a fairly common one in mainstream Australia.

What was he hoping to achieve by this invective? Was the ultimate aim simply parody? Was he just trying to raise a laugh? That seems a bit pathetic when there are so many other social issues that could use the attention. And there are ways and means of gently roasting people so that they are in on the joke, so that they can have a laugh at themselves whilst retaining their dignity. It just takes a bit of wit and insight. Both of which de Brito is clearly lacking.

He accuses those who take offence at his insults as having had a 'humour bypass'. Well it seems to me that Sam de Brito has had a 'compassion bypass'. What he writes is just plain mean. Any schoolyard bully can come up with this stuff. It's not just cyclists that have copped it. He claims that cyclists, fat people, vegans and body builders - seemingly fairly disparate groups in society - are humourless. All four groups have reacted strongly to his ‘jokes.’ Maybe he needs to take a look at the common denominator there too - himself.

Face it: there are idiots everywhere. And cycling is no exception. But there is a difference between playfully having a go and reinforcing stereotypes that could potentially put the target of your invective in danger by inciting others to reckless behaviour. Thankfully my husband made it back from the Gold Coast safely. No thanks to Sam.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Twitter and friendship - part 2

In a recent post I talked about the nature of friendship, and how a question posed by my friend on twitter got me thinking about that topic.

All the articles I have read in the mainstream media talk about twitter as though it is full of braggarts and villains, or simply banal, needy people who want the world to bear witness to what they had for breakfast. But the journalists who write these articles are invariably the sort who have dipped their toe into twitter's waters just for the duration of the writing of the article. They have experienced the shallow end of the pool and inevitably come out disappointed, even smug ('I knew it would be like this'). Guess what? Twitter is like life. You get out what you put in. And, there are idiots who use twitter. You have to weed them out (or keep them around for comic value). You have to spend time carefully perusing your options, choosing who to follow, searching for quality with a fine-toothed comb. Or just follow randomly and take the job lot, the whole crazy kit and caboodle. Either way, it takes time. You're not going to jump on there and experience instant connection. What did you expect?

When I first joined twitter I felt a little like I had walked in to a party where I knew no one. I cleared my throat, tried to join in a conversation and wasn't always included. It felt faintly ridiculous. But then one day I saw my favourite radio host Carol Duncan was on twitter, and she only had 39 followers - I was her 40th (it must have been her second day on there, as her follower count is now approximately a squillion). She asked a question about comfort food and I jumped in to recommend fresh white bread with St Dalfour apricot jam. She responded straight away and my experience of twitter was suddenly transformed. Carol has since come to be some one I call a friend, and this fact alone is enough to give me cause to write a whole post on how worthwhile twitter is. Twitter is still our main source of interaction, but we also have the occasional IRL get-together. And that's my next point. Twitter is not some kind of platform to meet people and then carry on IRL. Twitter is often the mainstay of particular friendships. It gives you a whole new dimension when you are working, busy with family life, and just don't have the time or energy to organise to see people as often as you would like. It can keep you connected to people you would not have come across in any other avenue.

The other thing I love about twitter is the way you can people-watch. It's better than sitting in a cafe and watching people interact, because despite the lack of physicality involved, it's like you have suddenly become a fly on a wall. Sure, there is DM (direct messaging) and a lot more goes on behind those particular closed doors than the public is privvy to (I imagine many of us tweeps going pale with horror at the thought of some kind of malfunction involving public access to DMs!) - however! - I also think that there is an intimacy to twitter where you are witness to certain conversations which otherwise would happen say, in a cafe. Where leaning over your table to strain to eavesdrop in real life would be rude, on twitter, 'tweavesdropping' is de rigeur. You can jump into any conversation whenever you like, or simply observe what others are saying. It's fascinating to watch friendships develop, to see certain personalities gravitate towards each other, to watch them spill over into real life. I also find that there is a (perhaps false?) sense of privacy due to the tweeter being alone at their computer. If that same person was handed a microphone and asked to repeat their last tweet to a crowded room, it's doubtful many would do, and not just due to stage fright. It's easy to forget that you're being watched. And this can be a liberating thing, but it's something that you have to be mindful of lest privacy (your own or others) be breached with unintended consequences. (Repeat the mantra: boundaries are healthy!)

I have a handful of friends who are very dear to me who I originally met on twitter. I am not going to broadcast a list of names - they know who they are. One in particular is very far away and twitter is still our main medium of communication - as needs must. Just like life, I also have a wider circle of friends and acquaintances who I enjoy chatting to and interacting with. Unlike life, there is the extra advantage of people popping up for a chat who I don't know well, and the conversation taking off in unexpected directions. It's a lovely surprise when that happens, like finding myself next to an interesting guest at a dinner party. But without the social anxiety, or having to dress up, beforehand.

Twitter does have its downsides (one of which is, as I mentioned earlier, the ease with which you can forget just how public it is). Along with the obvious obnoxious know-it-alls espousing offensive views, there can be more subtle drawbacks. Like replying to some one a couple of times and never getting a response. Or, the inverse, worrying when you get a whole load of replies and have no time to reply to each one individually, not wanting any one to feel ignored. (Or that may just be me). Or....and this may be a controversial one but bear with me.... witnessing the rampant public displays of affection between tweeps who are just so overjoyed at being in each other's lives that they need to shout it from the rooftops at every given opportunity - I miss you so much, I love you, you're the best, when will we talk? etc etc. These are not exchanges between romantic partners (would I tolerate that better? no probably not) but friends, usually adult women. Every time I see such an exchange I get a twinge of - what? - nausea mixed with envy? Or maybe I'm just uncomfortable with such emotional outbursts. (I am actually quite private and take a while to get to the 'I miss you, I love you point' and even when I do it's not articulated as such).

It's silly because their being mad about each other doesn't have anything to do with me. Maybe I'm quietly impressed at their wild abandon and apparently boundless optimism. Or maybe I feel uncomfortable at the implied exclusion. For every couple of friends who miss and love each other terribly, there is the person sitting at the edge of the party feeling isolated, looking on while the popular best friends embrace. I'm not either of those people, but I do feel for the underdog. I'm very aware that at any given point there are people feeling unsupported and unloved, and besides the fact that I'm not big on PDA anyway, personally I wouldn't want to rub my great good fortune at having wonderful friends in their faces, any more than I would do as a loved-up couple in front of singletons. Maybe I'm taking too much responsibility for the lovelorn. Maybe it works in the opposite way - that lonely people witnessing such displays are buoyed by the idea that twitter is full of such love-ins. Maybe I do feel slight envy for the way these tweeps can throw caution to the wind and stride purposefully into the depths of friendship, but I also wonder how some of them can possibly love and miss so many people at once. Maybe they just have a lot of love to give, or maybe they are seeing the world through rose-coloured glasses that this cynic doesn't have.I also wonder how deep that love can be when the very nature of twitter is that you get to hold back and only show the very best of yourself. Or, maybe twitter really does enable ways of cutting through the bullshit and peeling back the layers and developing closeness between people that real-life encounters can often obscure. Maybe, somewhat paradoxically, all of the above is true. And despite my cynicism and concern for those excluded from the love parade, I have to admit that when some one shines it on me, I only squirm slightly in its light. I appreciate the gesture and am not so ungracious as to reject the sentiment. Rarely, rarely do I reply with miss yous and love yous of my own. Which doesn't mean I don't feel it in my own way. But my style is to show my regard in other ways - either DM or by action or simple attention to their stories. One of the reasons I don't do FF (Follow Friday which is recommendations of who to follow, in case any non-tweep is reading this) - is because I just cringe at the thought of leaving any one out.

Twitter is not every one's cup of tea. I have some real-life friends who don't get it. They wouldn't want to make time for it in their day. The people who love twitter do so for a variety of reasons. For some, it's their connection to the outside world. It's a life-line in an otherwise isolated life. Others use it for mainly social reasons, or to get information, to form ideas, be inspired. And yes, some people just use it to grandstand about what they had for breakfast. But I think if you want a balanced picture, you should get some one who has truly experienced twitter to write about it, not just any journalist with a passing interest. Because just like in real life, it takes all sorts.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Problem With Self-Improvement

Sometimes it seems that all the 'self-help' advice out there isn't really self-help at all. It seems as though it's designed to make the reader feel as though self-improvement of the specific type offered on the page they're reading is not just an option, it's imperative to their very self-worth.

Being an avid reader and interested in what others think, I often read the newspapers. I try to avoid the magazine and lifestyle supplements but when I do flick through I often feel my hackles rising. I have to remind myself that just because a journalist has written it, doesn't make it a fact. Sometimes I come across a well-written piece that gives me pause for thought. But often the push to continually improve ourselves (in the specific way described by the journalist) seems to be all-incompassing in our media as to be very difficult to avoid, even for the casual observer. I am quite tired of being told sugar is poisoning me, caffeine is bad, caffeine is good, I must eat 5 veg and 2 fruit every day (and that most people don't), I must drink 8 glasses of water, I must do yoga and some other form of aerobic exercise 3 times a week. I am tired of being told how to get 'bikini ready' on one page while reading 'tips to boost my self-esteem' on the other. The former usually involves the latest celebrity du jour exalting over how the weight 'just fell off' or advocating a punishingly unrealistic workout/diet combination. The latter usually involves 'slowing down', 'stopping to smell the roses' and re-prioritising my life. Then there are the tips on how de-cluttering is good for the soul, or you should shake things up and go against your inclination, make your bed, don't make your bed, try to be deliberately whimsical. And my favourite clanger: how to 'have less stuff' while the next page peddles the latest in designer goods.

The problem with all of the above is that it seems to be written with one mythical 'reader' in mind. And that person does not exist. It is certainly not me. It all comes down to tone. If I feel that I am being sold 'tips and tricks' which are basically designed to make me feel like whatever I am currently doing is falling short of the mark, I don't want to know. On the other hand, I do enjoy reading personal stories and finding out how others have made positive (or negative) changes in their own lives. I'm happy to read about what worked for them, and why. Who knows, maybe with my exemplary deductive powers I may even be able to glean a lesson in there for me, or apply one or all of what that person learnt to something to do with my own situation. But please do not talk to me as if I am 'everywoman', as though we are all stressed, we are all too busy, we are all one thing or another. Don't pretend to talk to me, or that you know who I am. I really can't stand those kinds of sweeping assumptions. I prefer the particular to the general.

One study says you need to 'de-clutter' your living space, another says that messy desks are a sign of creativity. Guess what? People have different personalities. Some are compelled to clear all spaces of junk, others are happy to let it sit there. Neither is morally superior. Personally, I let a certain amount of detritus build up and then one day I can't stand it, so I do a mass clean-up. Depending on what day you catch me, I'm either an anally-retentive neat-freak or a disorganised mess. Why the implication that one or the other will make you a better person?

I can't stand bandwagons. I try to avoid jumping on them wherever possible. The sugar-free bandwagon - I've read about it, seen how it changes people's lives. Good on them. But I've got a enough to worry about without being anxious that the Tim Tam I just had for morning tea is somehow poisoning me. All the articles I've read about people giving up sugar are ones where the person giving up was a former sugar overloader. The guy who wrote the book went from drinking some ridiculous number of litres of Coke a day to quitting outright. No surprise that he lost weight and felt better. But I prefer moderation, so don't call it poison please!

Some old chestnuts have been around forever - the drink 8 glasses of water a day theory for one. I was overjoyed to read an article today dispelling this as a myth. This journalist actually quoted more than one medical professor to back up her claims. It turns out that the body is designed to tell you when you need to drink water - you get thirsty! How marvellous. I no longer need to do a mental calculation halfway through the day and force down another glass of water that I don't feel like (or alternatively, feel mildly guilty for not doing so).

My husband, an eminently sensible man, has always eaten and drunk according to how hungry and thirsty he is. He has exercised just exactly as much as he wants to. He is one of the fittest and healthiest people I know. He doesn't care about the recommended daily intake of anything. He loves riding, so he cycles up to 200km a week. This is not my cup of tea - I can do 30km (on the very odd occasion) in a stretch and that's about it. But I feel good. I run around with the kids. I like to read. Quite a bit more than my husband. But he doesn't give me 'tips' on what I need to do to improve my fitness and I don't give him 'tips' on how he really should be reading more to improve his brain. We each leave it to each other to decide whether, when and what we would like to improve about ourselves. We support each other's capacity to do so, but we don't dictate what that should be. Unlike the media. Perhaps if we had more media that focussed on sharing information and stories to support the community's capacity for self-improvement, and leave the whether, when and what to individual choice, we would have healthier and happier citizens. When it comes down to it, we're all on our own journey, there is always something we could each improve on, but it's up to us to figure that out. I don't need to be told by a magazine that I don't measure up.

It seems to me that people are different. Some are naturally physically active, others are more bookish. Some are creative, others are more practical. We don't have to be one or the other, we can be elements of both. I think there is definitely value in pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones - so if I know that exercise doesn't come easily to me, it would be prudent, in order for me to be a well-rounded, healthy individual, to push myself to do a bit of exercise now and again to maintain good health. If I have a particular sweet tooth, every so often I might want to remind myself to lay off the chocolates. But if I never read a book, it would be useful to exercise my mind a bit too, or if I am emotionally less intelligent, I might want to explore that side of myself that helps me relate to others. We all have things that come easily and things that don't. Body policing and assigning a higher value on physical fitness than mental health comes at a cost for the entire community. That is not to say physical fitness is not valuable, but to me, it is equally as valuable to be a good person, kind, intelligent. Some things you can change, others you can't. Shaming those who are different (which, HELLO, is every one, to some extent), is not the way to enable a healthy society.

I would so love to see more articles being written that research into the facts, quote people who really are educated not just self-proclaimed 'experts', and tell personal stories that allow the reader to make up their own mind rather than showing or telling them what they must be. Is it too much to ask?

Friday, July 1, 2011

Friendship - part 1

Recently one of my friends on twitter, Jayne, (who is now a friend IRL) asked a simple question: What is friendship?

This set me off on a train of thought involving the nature of friendship. I found it hard to distill my answer into 140 characters, so I cheated a little by fitting my answer into two tweets. But still, it's not a lot of space to define something so complex. But due to the nature of twitter - its immediacy and its compactness - I knew that if I didn't offer up some kind of answer soon, I will have missed the boat with this particular discussion. It's not the kind of medium that you can ponder something for days and come back a week later with the perfect response. Well, you can, but chances are your words will not be as relevant as the conversation will have moved on to myriad other interesting topics.

The answer I gave her was prompted by a few minutes thought about what friendship is not. The immediate thought that came to mind when asked what is friendship, was a recent friendship of mine that has withered away. Call me pessimistic, but I'm not alone. Brene Brown has said that in her research into connection, most people responded at length with stories about what makes them feel disconnected. When researching love, she heard about what made them feel unloved. It seems to be part of human nature.

Some friendships can trundle along nicely until a particular hot-button issue stops it in its tracks and you suddenly realise, this is a deal-breaker. Not necessarily the issue itself but perhaps the way you both handle the issue. I had this light-bulb moment when I experienced a level of conflict with two friends within a relatively short space of time, and due to our different conflict resolution styles, with one friend it ultimately meant the end of the friendship, and with the other we were able to work through it and resolve it to get the friendship back on track.

As much as I value my friendships, the disintegration of this particular friendship has been valuable to me in showing me what friendship is and what it is not. I told Jayne that to me, friendship is about both parties being able to get what they need from the relationship, but not necessarily at the same time, and also 'what you need' may not be what you expect. I could have gone on about love, compassion, generosity, etc. But lots of people have this within them and yet not all friendships are compatible. It's not even about shared interests or values, because people can still be friends without these things. Even if both people come to the relationship with good intentions, it can still fail. I came to realise all this with the recent collapse of this friendship. It was a gift of sorts.

I realise now that it's important that you are able to give your friend what they need, when they need it, and for them to do the same at any given point. You have to find a wavelength you can share with that person. It doesn't have to be a close friendship. I have friends that I see once or twice a year who live in the next suburb, but I would still consider them friends. It's just that we both silently agree on where the boundaries of our friendship are. We are friendly, but not really in each other's lives. We are able to give each other just what we need from the relationship, which may be nothing more than a coffee every 6 months or even a quick stop and chat on the street when we run into each other, with no awkwardness or expectation on either side.

Other friends who I am much closer to, I may see once or twice a week - or not 'see' at all but talk to most days online (more on that in Part 2!) - and there are times when they are feeling low and I support them, and vice versa. At certain points in the friendship, they need more tolerance and care than I do, and at other times, it comes back to me. The friendship is elastic. I think when the expectations on either side about what the friendship entails are regularly out of whack, or when the boundaries are unclear or unbalanced, the friendship is in jeopardy.

Another reason for friendships not working is simply having such differing ways of handling disagreements that it is difficult, if not impossible, to fathom where the other person is coming from. Even with the best of intentions and care, if there's no way in to the other person's perspective (you don't have to agree, just understand), especially where the issue is important, it's hard to maintain a friendship. You can care about the person, want to be friends, have things in common, but still, if the wires are crossed again and again when conflicts arise, it's hard to continue. In my case I spent so much time worrying and trying to guess what was going through my friend's mind, and even after we tried to talk it through, I was not much clearer, and I don't think she was either.

I think it helped me to realise that every friendship doesn't have to go out in a blaze of glory, teenage-style, where you have a big falling out and never speak again, or die an agonisingly slow death that results in awkward crossing of the street when you spot the other person.

It's possible to recognise, respect and acknowledge that there is no middle ground when it comes to this friendship, we can't give each other what we both need, and it's time to stop flogging a dead horse. In some ways it's harder to do this with friendship than with a romantic relationship. People don't feel obliged to stay in contact with all their exes, even if they were close to that person for a long time, but there is no similar 'out' with friendship break-ups. You don't tend to have 'the talk'. My friend and I left things on ok terms, with vague expressions of catching up again, but we haven't. We didn't actually verbalise the idea that the friendship was over, but I think the fact that neither of us have made concerted efforts to stay in touch says as much.

Being able to give each other what you need is really what it boils down to for me. Some people are just able to give me what I need, when I need it, and vice versa. Whether it's intuition or a natural connection, a gravitation of souls, I'm not sure. It doesn't necessarily equate to number of hours spent together either (you know those friends you can not see for years, and then when they're there, it's like no time has passed? I love that.) There are millions of good people, we don't all click. Even when we once felt that connection, it doesn't always remain. This is ok. This is life, this is growth.

This might seem obvious to some enlightened souls, but to me, as a lifelong people-pleaser who at times struggles with assertiveness, it has been quite a revelation. You don't have to be friends with every one, and it's ok to speak your mind, stand your ground, respectfully disagree, and let a friendship go. Which leaves more room in your life for the people who really can give you what you need, and you them, effortlessly.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

BYO Mother's Day

This will be my fifth Mother's Day as a mother. My expectations about Mother's Day have changed significantly in the last five years. Let's just say there has been a fair bit of downward adjustment.But in my husband's defence, there has been some upward movement in his intentions and actions as well.

I won't go into too much detail about that first Mother's Day we spent as a family - Alex was three months old and it's all a bit of a newborn-fatigue-induced fog. That's a lie, actually. I remember every word, it's just that to recount it doesn't cast either of us in the most flattering light. I remember ripping a recipe for buttermilk pancakes out of a magazine and handing it to Chris - his response was to pop down to the corner store for a packet of 'shake 'n' bake'. There were recriminations. I still feel the prickle of white hot rage at the mere mention of the words 'shake 'n' bake'. I remember waking up with expectations of an elaborately planned day of pampering and endless gratitude, not having to lift a finger, and let's just say.... it didn't quite work out that way. Chris has never been one for grand gestures, he's more of an appreciator of the simple things in life. What was I thinking? Had I not met my husband?

So that Mother's Day, I (seemingly unbegrudgingly - wolf in sheep's clothing that I was) had purchased my own pale blue dressing gown for my newborn to gift me with. At three months, Alex was not yet au fait with online shopping and as Chris so helpfully pointed out, I wasn't his mother (charming! And yes I do still keep this phrase in my arsenal to throw back at him during particularly heated discussions).

Shockingly, the heady combination of my lofty expectations and my husband's refusal to attempt to match up resulted in a Mother's Day stand-off that could not end well. After five years, and repeated attempts to remedy the situation, I am starting to be able to deconstruct the Mother's Day dynamic in our family with a sense of perspective. (I said starting).

I think that I had poured so much expectation into that one day, a combination of rookie idealism, watching too many movies with running-through-the-airport scenes, and my own natural perfectionist streak - that the weight of it all was too much for my husband to bear. He was convinced that no matter what he did, I would be disappointed. Therefore he got his back up and decided to quit before he'd begun. My years of sighing over romantic movies and commenting on people who's partners' delivered large bunches of roses to their offices, and large gemstones to their birthing suites, littering the phrase "It's the little things" around like so much detritus, combined to create a perfect storm of pressure so big that, as a counter-move, he performed the old duck-and-weave. I suppose his subconscious reasoning was, her standards are so high, I may as well not try. A cop-out, yes. But I am beginning to understand it.

I am not above pulling the matyr act when it suits, and I had gotten plenty of mileage out of the 10pound11forcepsbloodtransfusionbirthtoendallbirths - which you would think may have tipped him off that a mere three months later, a cup of tea in bed would not be out of the question as fair reward. But would a cup of tea in bed have been enough? No. I wanted made-from-scratch pancakes as well. And for a bath to be run for me, with bath salts, in a clean bath. The washing done, the way I like it, without me having to issue instructions. A thoughtful, not too over-the-top present to be bought and carefully wrapped in beautiful paper. I wanted him to know when to take the baby for a walk, the difference between a tired grizzle and a bring-him-to-me-for-a-feed cry. And a perfectly appropriate card bearing a self-penned ode to his undying love and respect would not have gone astray either. In my own mind I would have been happy for an attempt at any of these things - for the effort to be made to show the care. But in his mind, failure to live up to any of these unknown requirements which he had no chance of being able to fulfil, would lead to my inevitable disappointment.

Another, less profound reason for his inaction, is that Chris has always had simple tastes and needs. To him, we care for each other every day and he is not moved by spontaneous (or pre-arranged) outpourings of emotion. My saying "it's the little things" was just a smokescreen - I meant it's the little and big things - but for him, it really is just the little things. I wonder if it honestly didn't occur to him to do anything special. He wouldn't expect it for himself. I have heard some people say that every day is mothers/fathers day, and for some people, ceremony, days to mark special occasions, moments of significance, just don't hold that much extra sentiment. (Not me, I'm a sentimental fool, but you may have gathered that by now).

Not one to let things go easily, come Father's Day that year, I decided to demonstrate to Chris the power of forethought and consideration. I ordered a cake with a smiling photo of baby Alex on it, saying 'Happy Father's Day!' underneath. I invited my grandfather, mother and siblings to attend a Father's Day roast lunch. I bought a special present. As it turned out , fate intervened to teach me a lesson. There was a mix-up with the cakes and we got a cake with a South Sydney Rabbitohs flag on it. As it turns out, my grandfather played for the Rabbitohs so he was very impressed. (And some one, somewhere, turning up with a cake with a picture of a little boy saying happy fathers day, has some explaining to do). And Alex got a bug and spent the afternoon projectile vomiting. So, best laid plans etc etc.

It must have sunk in a little, though - or perhaps I lowered my expectations a bit and he pulled his finger out - because the next year he made an early-morning dash to the shops for croissants before I had got out of bed.

The following year (year three) I got two hand-picked cards on behalf of both of the kids and breakfast in bed. He had realised that although he didn't go in for all that sentimental stuff, it was important to me. And maybe, after a few of those mushy "I love you daddy" cards and photos, he was beginning to see why I enjoyed them.

They say that couples start to morph into each other over a period of time. Looking back to how different we were, it still occasionally shocks me to find how genuinely comfortable I am adopting some of Chris' practical ways. Recently I was browsing our local Borders (by this I mean 'scavenging for book bargains for the kids' - sadly the Borders is closing down) and came across some red heart-shaped bookends that I loved, and thought would look good in our kitchen. I usually try to resist impulse 'because-I-love-it' buying. In this instance, however, I decided to buy them as a gift to myself for Mother's Day. (Also, they were 40% off!) Why make my husband feel he has to go out on a fruitless mission to a place he can't stand, to try and find the 'perfect' gift, when I had just stumbled across something I love? It was never about gifts for me, more about feeling appreciated, but I'm not one to look a bargain-horse in the mouth. And I truly am as happy having found this piece of beauty for myself, as I had been had hubby gone on out for forty days and forty nights and come back with the same thing.

Maybe it's because I just know how much he appreciates me, and over the years we've come to adjust to each other's way of expressing things, and have a deeper understanding of how this works. A little bit more effort from him, a lot less pressure from me. We're each more relaxed about the other's expectations, which ironically increases our ability to live up to them. My husband teaches our kids how to love and respect their mother by modelling the same behaviour every day. He makes me a cup of tea every morning of the year, and cooks dinner and washes up most nights. He displays thoughtfulness in so many areas on a daily basis - we've just had to learn how to negotiate the ways we each choose to celebrate the special ones.

Now the kids are old enough to bring home hand-made presents from pre-school and day care, and a hug and a kiss from them is all I really need. Because as corny as it sounds, I am starting to come around to the idea that every day is mother's day*.

*(although, any time they decide to surprise me by waiting on me hand and foot for 24 hours, I'll make myself endure it).

Thursday, April 14, 2011


This morning, spontaneously, I decided to make some Anzac biscuits for some friends who were visiting. I don't make them often, but they're pretty easy, and I didn't have much else to offer for morning tea.

As my two-year-old helped me stir the flour and rolled oats, Mr 5 asked why we were making 'porridge biscuits'. I started to think about the Anzac tradition and realised it would be Anzac Day soon.

My great-grandfather (my maternal grandmother's father) went to war at 16, lying about his age as many boys did at the time. He was raised Catholic but came back from WW1's Battle of Passchendaele an atheist. Obviously my grandmother was born well after his return, but she felt the effects of war for her entire childhood (and I would say, life).

Although she adored her father, he was a stern, stoic man who didn't show much emotion, and could be incredibly harsh. She spoke of him with great sadness and affection. Most of his battalion, and many friends, died at war. There is a photo of him around a campfire in the trenches on display at the War Memorial in Canberra.

Poppy, as he was known, died in a car accident when my nan was in her 30s - to have survived such a cruel war only to die in a run-of-the-mill automobile accident seemed an unkind irony. And although it was many years later (40 or so) he was not yet an old man, and although I don't have much to go on, I think it's fair to say that the impact of the war coloured the rest of his days - in some ways it was like he had died in that battlefield in France. (Sebastian Faulks' Human Traces is an excellent book about psychiatry in its infancy that includes a fictionalised account of Passchendaele. Birdsong is another of his novels that deals with world war 1 and its affects in more detail)

I don't believe in war. I'm a pacifist through and through - but then I have the freedom to be, and have never been put in a situation where I've had to choose between 'fight' or 'flight', if the option to fly means to give up the freedom and rights I consider mine. I know some people feel uncomfortable commemorating Anzac Day because they worry that it may glorify war. I can understand that. I am not into flag-waving patriotism.

I think about that young man lying about his age back in 1917, and I wonder what that was all about. Did he do it because every one else did, because he wanted to be brave, and fight for his country, to be a hero, because he believed himself to be immortal, because he couldn't grasp the concept that death is for all eternity? Did he do it because he had a point to prove, to his parents, friends, society? Did he think it would be an adventure? There is no way any of those young men could have had any clue about what they were getting themselves into. There was no tv, movies, internet - there hadn't even been a world war until that point so they couldn't turn to history books. It was so far removed from the world we know today. How must his mother have felt, watching him go? Did she have a clue? How did she feel when he returned, so relieved he was one of the lucky few to escape with his life, so happy to have her boy back - but knowing that the boy who came back to her was not the same one that had left?

I think about the threat of an army marching in to take over the peaceful little city where I live, and I can't imagine that. I don't know how I would respond if some one walked into my house and tried to hurt me or my children - would I run and hide? Let them take over without protest? Or would I fight back? I suppose instinct would take over. I'm pretty sure I would want some one there who was on my side, who was prepared to fight for me. And I think there is a way to commemorate what those people (including my great-grandfather) did for us, what they gave up, and what it all represents, without in any way glorifying war.

I won't be marching, or flying any flags, but in stopping and baking some Anzac biscuits with my children, I will be pausing to think. And remember.

Monday, April 4, 2011

A Perfect Day

Sometimes a perfect day just sneaks up on you when you least expect it. In fact, I've found that's almost always the way it happens. When you painstakingly plan, expect and hope, it's hard for the outcome to live up to your expectations. But sometimes, in the midst of all the general humdrum of daily life, the anxiety, the to-do lists, the kids whinging and bickering, the tiredness - a perfect moment or two might come your way. And if you're really lucky, it might stretch out into a day.

This happened to me last Wednesday. I wasn't feeling particularly anxious, so it wasn't like some great gift from the universe just when I needed it. Often, just when I think I need some peace is when I get more of a shitfight. This was just out of the blue, for no reason at all, a wonderful day, and for the simplest of reasons.

It was a rare day when I had nothing planned - no activities scheduled, no play-dates organised, no errands, grocery shopping, not even any urgent housework to do (for me, urgent =dishes piled up in sink and/or no clean clothes left). As luck would have it, it was a clear, sunny day.

At first it felt kind of weird to be free of the comfort of something 'to do'. Then I had a flash of nervous responsibility to make the most of it, to not waste this day- I felt I should plan something special (I'm a planner). Then I just got the hell over it, and jumped on my bike, with Miss 2 (Maya) in the trailer, and went for a cruise around the neighbourhood to see what we could see. It was at this point, that with my luck, my story would usually digress to being about how we rode over dog poo, had no wipes handy, Maya started crying, and we got a flat tyre far from home (I'm also an optimist). But not this time. As I relaxed into the rhythm of the bike, I heard Maya singing sweetly to herself behind me. A cuter sound there never was. Eventually we came to a park, where we stopped for a play. We swung on the swings, slid down the slippery dip, and played on the see-saw, before cycling home again.

Once home, we put on some music and ate lunch together, had a dance around the living room then headed out again for an impromptu visit to my husband at a cafe near his work. I had an iced coffee and Maya enjoyed her favourite vanilla milkshake (Daddy had a flat white). It was a real treat for my girl to be in a grown-up cafe with her mum and dad, not having to share us with her older brother.

Did I mention she had been wearing her purple tutu all day?

After our cafe date with Dad, we had a little bit of time to kill before picking Alex up from pre-school, so we took a drive around by the beach to check out the views. I thought she might have a snooze in the car, but as soon as she saw the crystal clear waters she shrieked "I want to go for a swim!" It was 26 degrees and calm so I thought, 'why not?' and two minutes later we were paddling around in the ocean (she went the full monty; I rolled my jeans up to my knees). Days like this I was glad I kept a spare towel in the back of the car (you never know when you're going to need one). Half an hour later and it was time to go. No tantrums, crying, cajoling - she just took my hand and chatted happily as she climbed back into the car.

A magically unplanned perfect day. I know since she's only two she won't remember it consciously, but I will, and I know she'll carry it in her heart anyway.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Aussie Bloggers Conference - a tale of triumph and woe

I wonder if I'm the first to start a new blog off the back of the Aussie Bloggers' Conference? I must admit, going in, I felt like a bit of a hanger-on. A ring-in. I knew I would recognise some familiar faces and could hide behind my travelling companion (metaphorically more than physically- a bit hard when she is tiny and I am a giant) - but I didn't feel like a bona fide blogger. I don't blog often and the subject matter is limited to a paragraph or two of funny things my kid says. Back in the day I was a kick-ass serial commenter on a number of other blogs, but recently, life has gotten in the way. (I still read and lurk, just not as much time for commenting!)
So I went to the conference mainly for the social interaction with bloggers and tweeps I had only up till then met online, and also as my background is in writing and communications I felt there was a neat tie-in there, which almost lent me some kind of credibility.

When I got there I was amazed by the warm reception I was given by every one, whether I had met them before often, fleetingly or not at all. The turn of the day's events plus the love in the room have combined to provide me with both the motivation and material I needed to go ahead and set up my own 'proper' blog. So here it is.

Warning: I am going to name-drop the shit out of this first blog post, both to share the love and to make myself seem very, very important.

After the 'whoop-whoop!' style enthusiasm of Brenda from Mummytime opened the conference, there was an ice-breaker called 'People Bingo'. What started out as a nice social mixer brought out my competitive side until, with two spaces left to fill, I was racing from group to group screaming "Which one of you mofos can do the splits/make a croquembouche!? Huh! No one? You're no use to me! Outta my way!" While I may have lost some friends in that initial crush, my tactics meant I won some Baker's Delight vouchers. Totally worth it (also worth if to find out that one of the few men present could do the splits - mad skillz ahoy).

The panel discussions that followed were a valuable way to listen to various points of view, offering some great tips about blogging such as use of twitter to facilitate your blogging. One great tip was to link from your twitter page to a landing page on your blog for twitter followers rather than just the front page of your blog. The panel format meant that no one had to 'go first' and deliver a long speech, it was interactive and dynamic and a great way to deliver that style of information.

The breaks were a mad rush of introductions and a grab for as many pastries as we could fit in the time allotted (oh, was that just me?). The scandalous gossip was reserved for later in the evening (more on that later). I made some new friends who were seated at my table : Adam (originally from Adamstown - I love it) Julie, Dee and Clare.

The standout of the day's offerings (aside from the Lindt-and-other-goody-packed swag bags, it goes without saying) was the My Blog, My Story session in which six stunning, unique, bloggers told their beautiful, emotional stories. There was not a dry eye in the house as they opened up about the trials and tribulations of their blogging life. Some said it saved them during their darkest days to have that online community at their side, full of love and support. Some outlined the perils of being misinterpreted or accidentally setting off a chain of events that allowed their families to be taken advantage of. All of them were touching, and I must commend the bravery of these women. To stand up and tell their stories in a room full of people is a very different thing to the degree of protection afforded by sitting in a room in front of a computer.
You can read more about that at Life in a Pink Fibro but I'd like to repeat Al's thanks to Tiff at My Three Ring Circus, Lori at Random Ramblings of a Stay at Home Mum, Magneto Bold Too, Karen at Miscellaneous Mum, Carly at Tune Into Radio Carly, Kim at FrogPondsRock

We also heard some hella funny blog posts read out by some of our favourite bloggers, Bern Morley and the NDM
Edenland and MummyMayhem
an honest and gut-wrenching post by Kim at allconsuming
a heart-stoppingly lovely poem read by Kristin at Wanderlust_lust
and a sobering but beautiful piece by Mark Mullins at Blak and Black

Onto the gossip and scandal part of the evening. Not one to name names, suffice it to say that if

undies "falling off" on the dancefloor
some one dry humping a dyson
a newborn winning the prize for 'most enthusiastic' dancer
a bunch of bloggers doing the nutbush
singing into a fork
fabulous shoes
chocolate cake
red wine
Salt n Pepa's 'Push It'
dancing like Elaine from Seinfeld
and the funniest bunch of people you could ever assemble in one room

makes for a good night out, then a good night out was had. It was blogtopia.

This post is getting long enough, so I will cut to the chase with my tale of woe: it involved
waking up with the migraine from hell (after drinking one glass of wine the night before - life is so unfair!)
slumping in the hotel lobby in my PJ bottoms, t-shirt and sunglasses (Sarah Pietrzak saved the day not least by saying I rocked the look, which bolstered me somewhat)
absconding to the house of a lovely blogger (who wasn't even at the conference!) and collapsing into her 3-year-old's bed, and
ralphing into a sick bag on the F3 while trying to give directions to Indydreaming.
Did I mention this was the first time I had met Kerri Sackville? It was a great look for me. She sent me away with a bottle of water, box of crackers and bonus towel (which was kind of like a free 'gift with purchase' except for the purchase bit). I am planning on keeping the towel until she becomes a best-selling author (ie later this year), and then auctioning it on ebay.

Ms Dovic, Bern Morley and Annie Reuss administered sympathy hugs while Jo Foster did a pharmacy-run for emergency meds.

As it is my wont I will now provide you with a one-stop-shop for the ausblogcon-related blogs I have to hand (and as a thankyou to you for reading my first post), to save you the hassle of scrolling through the hashtag, I have done it for you and (besides from those listed above) here they are:




Singular Scene

Baby Mac

Sleepless Nights

Diminishing Lucy

Every one I mentioned here (and some who I didn't - apologies for my post-migraine memory fuzz) rocked my little world this weekend, which is pretty damn rad. I'd do it all again (well perhaps minus the migraine).
Thanks so much to the brilliant organisers -see you all next year! (hopefully I'll do another post before then...)