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09/01/2012 / melgardener

Never too old to learn

Never underestimate the capacity of children to teach you something. This has been my lesson during the last few weeks. One of the joys of holidays is getting to spend time with my children – quantity time. So, in the interests of posterity, and with a view that I’m never too old to learn, here are the items my children have taught me:

You must run on sand: spending a week at the beach has taught me much about children’s energy. I’ve been amazed at their ability to keep going and going and going. I watch from my position on the towel as my girls, particularly the 5-year-old, race between the lagoon, rock pool and sea in a never-ending triangle of feet pounding and sand flying.

Quantity time isn’t always quality time: two girls who have been separated most daytimes by school and daycare, then in the afternoons by activities will, at first, enjoy unfettered access to each other (and each other’s toys). Then, in a sudden explosion of sibling rivalry, will immediately hate each other and need to be separated for an afternoon (or more).

There are not enough Shrek movies in this world: of course, my husband and I disagree with the kids on this one but they are obsessed – and not in a good way. Having received all 4 Shrek movies for Christmas they are working their way through the set, on high rotation. I’m almost at the point of being able to recite each movie verbatim.

Mum is a bag lady: when it’s time to go down to the beach I pack bags – yes bags, plural. Inside go towels, rashies, drink bottles, snacks, books, hats, sunnies, sunscreen and money (for the all-essential ice cream afterwards). Then I load up both shoulders and we trudge to the beach. If I dare to suggest that the children might like to assist in the carriage of said bags I’m told “we’re too little, Mum”. Hmmmm….

Mum magically knows where everything is: my children, as I’m sure is true of many children, have an innate ability to lose stuff. Important stuff. Stuff they need. Stuff they want. “Mum! Where’s my [insert item]?” was the most-used phrase of the week. The problem was that most of the time I did know where the stupid stuff was! Cursed brain…

How was your holiday break? Did you go away or stay home? And, did you learn anything from your kids?

05/12/2011 / melgardener

Saying Goodbye

In less than three weeks, my youngest child will finish day care for ever. By the time she reaches her last day we will have racked up a consecutive 8-and-a-half-year relationship with her day care centre that began when her older sister was only 4-and-a-half months old.

I’m fully expecting tears on her last day…and that’s just from me.

When we were researching day care centres in our area just after my daughter was born we didn’t have much of an idea what we wanted or even what we should be looking for. My initial training at Uni had been in Early Childhood Teaching but I hadn’t worked in the field for a long time and I felt much of my knowledge was out of date.

Luckily, a few months before my daughter was born, an associate of my husband’s mentioned a day care centre his children had attended and he spoke very highly of it as a quality centre. Also luckily, it happened to be right around the corner from our home. Knowing that waiting lists were long and that returning to work was a reality, I knew I needed to get moving.

Through my Uni studies, I had been on Prac at many day care centres and schools. Many times I could tell whether it would be a positive or negative experience simply from the first impressions upon walking in the door. From the moment I walked inside, I felt immediately that this was a centre with staff to whom I could entrust the care of my daughter.

Both my children have thrived at this centre. They have made close friends who, particularly in my eldest daughter’s case, are still in her life despite them all going to different schools 4 years ago when they started Kindergarten. As have I.

I have never felt even a moment’s concern about handing either of my children over to the fabulous, caring, loving, warm, passionate staff. And my children have never expressed any fear or refusal to attend.

Working was always an inevitable part of motherhood for me – financially as well as emotionally. I knew when we were planning a family that staying home as a full-time mum was not on the cards. One of the hardest balancing acts as a mum who works outside the home is managing the guilt – am I away too much, am I too stressed, what am I teaching them about work/life balance, do they hate me for leaving them, is it okay to also want something challenging and rewarding for myself that is outside the home?

All these questions…and so many more.

And, most with no answers.

But one element that does assuage the guilt somewhat is to know that, no matter what, your children are safe, loved, happy, cared for, stimulated and cherished for the individuals that they are.

So, for all these things and so many more which I will attempt (blubbering, I’m sure) to vocalise on my daughter’s last day I will say a sincere and grateful “thank you” to the staff at Midson Road Child Care Centre in Epping. I will miss you all so much, as I know my children will.

So, that’s my childcare experience…what’s yours?

23/11/2011 / melgardener

Ethics and Fred Nile

This opinion piece was published on smh.com.au today by the Reverend Fred Nile. I just couldn’t let it pass without commenting on the many inaccuracies and inconsistencies in this piece – it’s simply staggering that this man holds so much power in the State. Fred Nile’s comments in quotes and my comments in italics.

“I have not sought to blackmail the NSW government. I simply reminded them: before they reject my Ethics Repeal Bill, they should remember they need our votes to pass their controversial industrial relations legislation. I never said I would vote against it, even though I have genuine concerns about its impact.”

Implied threats are still threats. You don’t need to say outright that you will vote against the legislation – if you are making it a part of the discussion, the threat is there. Threats are only required when arguments are weak.

“I agree with the teaching of ethics in NSW schools, colleges and universities, provided it is based on history’s greatest teacher of ethics, the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Except the idea is that the ethics classes are a reasonable alternative to religious-based education and should not have any link to religion otherwise they are no different to scripture. If I wanted my children to learn about the “ethics of Jesus Christ” I’d send them to scripture classes already.

“This course does not teach ethics as most parents understand the term. It does not teach children any definitive sense of right from wrong, but promotes the secular humanist relativist philosophy that there are no absolutes, such as ”You shall not murder, lie or steal”.”

Ask any child psychologist – and most parents – and they’ll tell you that the most effective teaching opportunities come about when children are a part of the process, have the opportunity to consider the many alternatives, feel confident in the decisions they make and feel they can back up these decisions with reputable arguments. It is specious at best to insinuate that children in ethics classes will somehow be encouraged to break the law. The idea is not to tell children what to do in any circumstance but to lead them to think about the consequences of their choices or actions, consider how they would feel about that outcome and make the most individually and socially-responsible decision. By allowing children to work through, in a guided way, various scenarios we are teaching them right from wrong in so many more effective ways than religion ever will.

“I sincerely regret that some atheistic parents will prevent their children from learning about the most important aspect of Australian culture, our Christian heritage and faith. Even our atheistic Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, has said all children should have a knowledge of the Bible.”

No, Fred. “Our Christian heritage and faith” is not the most important aspect of our Australian culture and how dare you seek to apply your own belief system to every Australian. I have no problem with all children having “a knowledge of the Bible” as long as it is done contextually and with an understanding that this is only one of many belief systems that may be chosen. Australian culture means so much to so many people – all based on our individual experiences, beliefs and history. How small minded of you to assume that all Australians come from a Christian background and that this is something with which we can all identify.

“I do not repudiate the tradition of Western thought, as claimed, and I believe it unethical to engage in that sort of invective. Remember that Socrates was ”virtually alone” and executed because he dared to question the majority world view; to question what youth were being taught. This is all I am doing.”

Please! To compare yourself to one of the greatest thinkers in the Western world is hubris such as I have never seen. Socrates himself said “the only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing”. If you wish to take a leaf out of his book, you might like to start here.

“There are those among Dr Longstaff’s supporters and organisations such as the Teachers Federation, the Greens and the Labor Left who wrongly believe in the separation of church and state, and want to abolish religious education from government schools.”

Yes, because religious education is freely available through your local religious institution and parents can choose how much, or how little, they wish to partake.

“I have never said the Premier should break his word, but simply uphold his original position.”

…while uttering threats about withdrawing support for legislation that has no relationship to the area under discussion.

If Dr Longstaff becomes militant and incites the mob to ”rise up”, his actions are akin to that which he despises. Maybe a lesson in ethics is required?

Strong words, Fred, incite strong reactions. If you make such misleading pronouncements please do not be surprised at the strength of rebuttal you will face.

21/11/2011 / melgardener

Coz ya gotta have friends

I am proud to call these people friends

Edited to add that I’m so thankful for my friends I’m linking up with “Kate Says Stuff” for Thankful Thursday.

Speaking to an acquaintance a couple of weeks ago, I happened to comment how lucky I was to have a number of friends in my close circle whom I had known for close to 20 years. The acquaintance looked at me appraisingly and said “I don’t think luck has anything to do with it”.

And, you know, she’s right.

I am lucky, but it’s not simply luck that has delivered the group of amazing friends who have been there for every milestone and watched me grow through some of my most formative years. They have supported me and cared for me during good times and bad, and always offered an ear or a shoulder when needed. I can’t hide anything from them – they know me too well.

And there is a certain relief in that last statement. I don’t have to put on an act for them, I don’t have to mind my ps and qs, they understand me in both my silences and my outbursts. There is an honesty that exists between us that I have with no other friend.

But, back to being lucky.

Any friendship takes work and effort from both sides. And I believe it’s very important that the effort be seen by both parties as equal. As in any relationship, if one party feels that they are the only person making an effort, this will lead to resentment.

I hope my friends know that they can call on me for anything and I would willingly give them the proverbial shirt from my back. In return, I feel 100 per cent certain that I can do the same and you simply can’t put a price tag on that level of support.

On the weekend, I took care of a friend’s children for a few hours so she could attend a function. It was not a hassle in the slightest and I took great pleasure in knowing she was taking some time for herself to relax and enjoy the party. In my eyes it was the least I could do in return for all that she does for me. And I think that’s the key – if both parties feel that the other provides so much more than they could repay (and I’m not talking dollar amounts) then you have what can be called “equal debt”.

Equal debt is where both people feel enriched via the experience of having the other person in their lives. Because it is equal, each side contributes to the relationship in the ways they are strongest and neither takes the other for granted. It takes so little to remind our friends how much they mean to us and how grateful we are to have them in our lives but it’s really easy to forget to do it.

So this is my act of gratitude. To my gorgeous friends – male and female – who nurture and support, bring laughter and joy, and know me sometimes better than I know myself – THANK YOU.

What does friendship mean to you? How do you nurture your relationships?

16/11/2011 / melgardener

Agony

Is there anything more painful than the earnest warbling of a child? Actually, yes, there is: the earnest warbling of a child at full volume singing Christmas Carols.

For the last few days I have been screeched at serenaded from the back of the car, in the bath, in the shower, while getting dressed in the morning, while eating breakfast and dinner and during bedtime stories. My almost-5 year old is preparing for her last Daycare Christmas Party and has taken, very seriously, the teacher’s suggestion to practice at home.

I am quite sure ‘practice at home’ is Daycare teacher speak for “let’s share some of the pain with the parents as we can’t take any more”.

Instead of listening to the radio or a CD, I am now accompanied on my drives by renditions of “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”, “Jingle Bells” (The Australian version), “We wish you a Merry Christmas” and various other Christmas classics on agonising, monotonous repeat.

Now, I am no Scrooge – I love Christmas as much as the next person and I certainly understand and appreciate the excitement for children at this time of year. After all, we are bombarded with Christmas messages no matter where we turn. We’ve been seeing Christmas decorations in the shops since September, every shopping centre is playing some version of Christmas songs, Christmas advertising is everywhere and now Santa has arrived I have thrown up my hands in surrender.

Every year I say the same thing about Christmas – “Next year I’ll be more organised” – and every year I look at a looming December with a heavy heart as I realise I have fallen behind. Again.

To be fair, I actually think the “Christmas Creep” – no, not slimy Uncle Frank!  I mean how it feels like the Christmas ‘push’ starts earlier every year – is the reason I find it so hard to get motivated. I visit the shops one day, in all innocence, only to discover that someone decided I needed to be reminded about Christmas. I console myself with the fact that it’s only September and Christmas is many, many months away. So I can conveniently file it in my ‘to do later’ list.

Then we hit October – nope, still too early. We’ve only just dropped under triple figures of days left until Christmas so it feels as though I have plenty of time.

All of a sudden it’s November and I start getting nervous but console myself that December is a whole month away and, anyway, Christmas is at the end of the month (it’s not really). Except, now it’s mid-November and the stupid advertising is informing me that we have only 38 days until Christmas.

How did this happen? Again!

Never mind. Next year I’ll be more organised.

How do you manage Christmas? Is it a rush or a relaxing time for you?

08/11/2011 / melgardener

Personal Story – I went overseas to avoid Australian men, not meet my future husband

When Anthea was 21, her parents gave her a choice – either an all-expenses-paid 21st Birthday Party or a return ticket to the UK to visit her brother James who was teaching at a very posh school in Bath.

“I can just imagine my parents now,” Anthea laughs. “I’m sure they were silently pleading for me to take the ticket – an alcohol-fueled night with my friends would be far more torturous for them than having the house to themselves for the next couple of months”.

In the end, it wasn’t a hard decision for Anthea to make. Armed with her suitcase, 13 pairs of shoes, her best friend Flea, and visions of meeting exotic European gentlemen, she set off ten days after her 21st birthday.

Anthea and Flea had a solid plan in place, as she explains: “The idea was to spend a month or so travelling around England, Scotland and Wales and then come home, get proper jobs and start to act like grownups.

“And we vowed to avoid Australians (particularly men) at all costs!”

The girls met up with Anthea’s brother and had a wonderful time in Bath, then made their way up towards northern England and on to Scotland. Along the way, they partied as only 21 year old girls (with no parental supervision) can.

Eventually, the girls arrived in Edinburgh (after nearly missing their train) and discovered that most of the youth hostels were booked out. As Anthea jokes, “Booking ahead of time would have been far too organised and responsible!”

They were eventually able to secure a room at a hostel Anthea describes as “one step up from the local bus shelter” and the lovely young Scottish lads who worked there offered to take the girls on a pub crawl. The situation was definitely improving and the girls were looking forward to an evening out until they were informed that there were plenty of Australian men attending as well.

This caused some consternation as it contravened the main goal of the trip, but the lure of a fun night out traversing the many local Scottish pubs was too good to turn down so off they went. At the very first pub, Anthea immediately locked eyes with a very attractive specimen who was standing by the bar. A few stolen glances later, he worked up the courage to approach her. “He was very friendly, had the most gorgeous blue eyes and, best of all, had an accent which I thought might have been German,” explains Anthea. “I was so excited that he wasn’t Australian”.

Drinks were bought and consumed, and laughter and conversation filled the pub as the two became more acquainted. The pub crawl made its way through numerous venues as the evening progressed but Anthea and her German beau did not leave each other’s side.

After a long, but fantastic night filled with far too many pints of beer, Anthea and the German shared their first kiss on the stairs of the hostel, then said a polite, yet slurred, goodnight. Anthea was thrilled with her catch and describes her excited stories about her fabulous German as “boring Flea to snores”.

The rest of Anthea’s night was filled with visions of a romantic, exciting future – maybe meeting the German was destiny? Maybe he was her soul mate and, after a short but passionate romance, they would settle down in a beautiful, ancient village in the German Black Forest, own a truffle pig called Otto, and feed their children bratwurst and sauerkraut for breakfast?

The next morning at breakfast, Anthea spotted her German soul mate half asleep under the breakfast table with a jar of Vegemite by his side. “Hmm, that’s strange,” she thought. “A non-Australian with a taste for Vegemite?” But she gave it no further thought as arrangements were made to meet up for another round of pub crawling that evening.

The second evening was just as good, if not better, than the previous night. The two were inseparable as they laughed and talked. Anthea was amazed at how well they understood each other, given the language barrier.

Anthea describes what happened next: “It was the next day and, let’s be honest, I was feeling slightly seedy and had sworn off alcohol for at least the next 24 hours. A nagging feeling came over me – I had noticed that my German soul mate had a strangely Australian tone to his accent. Alarm bells began to ring when I remembered, with a clear head, about the Vegemite. I decided further investigation was required”.

Anthea and Ross on their wedding day

Anthea and Ross on their wedding day

The ‘German’ was finally convinced to ‘fess up: “The guys told me on the first night that there were two cute Australian girls joining the crawl but the last thing they wanted was to meet Australian men. So, I had to be something else. The only accent I could do was a kind of Aussie/German one, which I thought was atrocious, but amazingly it worked!”

Anthea decided to forgive his dishonesty and see it as an example of his determination. It was further discovered that ‘German’ Ross came from the same region of Sydney as Anthea’s family and they uncovered common friends back in Australia.

“So, I waved goodbye to my romantic visions of a life in the Black Forest and my truffle pig, Otto,” sighs Anthea. “I rang my parents and told them I had met a man, and I wasn’t coming home! We spent the next four months living and working in Edinburgh before embarking on a three month backpacking adventure in across Europe”.

Anthea and Ross came back to Sydney after eight months travelling, and then three years later were married at a beautiful restaurant overlooking Sydney’s Pittwater.

“20 years and three children later, we are still together, living on the Northern Beaches of Sydney. We still laugh about the way we met, the fantastic lifelong friends we made, the adventures we had, and the consequences of drinking too much Scottish beer!” Anthea says.

How did you meet your partner? Was it love at first sight or did you take a while to warm up to eachother?

20/10/2011 / melgardener

Motherhood and the Judgement Juggernaut

I’ve been very interested in the discussion over at Mamamia which has occurred around Jacinta Tynan’s piece on motherhood (both this most recent story and her earlier story which caused such uproar).

I can completely understand Jacinta’s reasoning behind her stories. I truly don’t believe she is trying to say she is better than any other mother and I never thought for one minute that she was passing judgement on anyone who did not share her point of view or mirror her exact experiences.

But…

I can also see the point of view that mums who are struggling (with or without PND) may feel judged or, more importantly, use these two stories as a way to further judge themselves. I get that if you feel like a failure, it doesn’t help to read someone else’s success story.

But…

Why shouldn’t Jacinta be able to tell her story? It is, after all, her own story – and she’s not claiming to tell anyone else’s.

But…

Should we not be a caring society? If our actions are hurting someone else, doesn’t that matter? If Jacinta could reasonably forsee that her story might cause grief to another mum, should she have written it?

But…

Why is it Jacinta’s fault that someone else is struggling? And, if others are struggling, why should that negate her positive story?

But…

Some commentators have agreed with Jacinta and thanked her for sharing the positive light she shines on her experience of motherhood. Doesn’t she have a responsibility to those mums to make them feel good?

This whole palaver has made me wonder why we judge ourselves so harshly? And why do we compare ourselves to others when it is such a fruitless occupation? Surely it shouldn’t matter what anyone else does or doesn’t do – we are our own person with our own personal responses and circumstances.

Except that it does matter and we will always compare. Is it just women? It may not be, but I never hear angst such as this from my male friends. Maybe this topic is only as contentious as it’s become because of the subject matter – parenting. Does it raise so many hackles because this is the one life task that none of us wish to believe we could possibly fail? Fail is very much the wrong word but it’s how many of us feel when we are struggling and not coping – particularly in the early years where sleep deprivation can take such a huge toll.

Where do you stand on this issue? Does your experience of parenthood match Jacinta’s? Do you feel judged by her story?