Monthly Archives: January 2010

a sunday night ode to twitter

Here’s the thing. I love Twitter. You know I do. But the relationship has taken a love-hate twist of late. I think when I read the review of You are Not a Gadget in Spectrum this past weekend I got a little unsettled.

Anyway, this is where it took me…

Sometimes I tweet because of my work. I edit a small regional street press parenting magazine. Twitter helps me to find fabulous writers and also to access current trends and ideas in the parenting community. Sometimes I promo the stuff we are doing. Sometimes I tweet my own blog, which is part of the bigger picture. You could say I tweet professionally. At least *I* could say that.

But sometimes I just stuff around on Twitter. And by ‘stuff around’ I mean ‘have fun’. I have heard people compare Twitter to a night out at a busy pub, and I have to say I agree.

I also love a good justification so this arvo (after a big Twitter weekend) I came up with a little theory.

I was wondering why this seemingly ‘teenage’ behaviour – the use of social media – was so appealing to me. I mean, when I was growing up we didn’t have MSN or email and we got by just fine. I wasn’t a ‘social media’ kid. Or was I? Who didn’t run home from school and ring up their best friend? And whose parents said to them, “I don’t know what you have to talk about. You’ve been at school together all day,”? In fact, my best friend and I used to go home and write long and detailed letters to one another. Sometimes they were pure comedy. We had two characters – Muriel and Gwendolyn – and together we would write satirical parodies in the voices of these fictional creations. Other times we would write what can only be called love letters. Professions of our mutual adoration, with all the teenage angst two ‘romantics’ – in the Keatsian sense – could muster.

When I was a student teacher one of my mentors said to me – “Remember that teenagers are incredibly social animals. Their social life is THE most important thing.” But that can really be extended. Humans are social animals. We crave interaction – pure and simple. And this is the crux of it all. My tweeps are mainly – though not solely – parents. So why do we all seem to be carrying on like teenagers with this crazy tweeting?

We aren’t. But I do think that being a parent and being a teenager have a crucial commonality. They are both times of your life when your social adventures are seriously curtailed by the demands of others. But, as a parent you can’t climb out the window when everyone’s asleep to meet up with your peeps (well you could, but I wouldn’t recommend it). Instead you climb through your monitor and meet with your tweeps. It’s socialising, but not as you know it.

So it’s ok for single twenty-something-year-olds to laugh at us ‘old farts’ on Twitter but, you know, I’m not allowed out most nights to chat, banter and D&M with friends and strangers in cafes and pubs. Ergo, I tweet.

So, that’s my justification. For the minute.

Oh, and also, all such discussions are never complete without reference to addiction. Funnily enough I have never been addicted to anything, and never understood the feeling of addiction. But now I think I do.

In fact, while I was on my holidays and going through a little withdrawal I came up with an analogy:

Social Media and Alcohol

Stumble is beer. It makes you feel like crap.

Facebook is white wine (occasionally it’s French champagne – but not very often)

Blogging is red wine – quality dependent on the vintage. The vintages I like can be seen to the right.

And Twitter – for me at least – is like your favourite cocktail mixed to your own personal specifications. That would make mine a French Martini.

Cheers.

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so what… i’m not a rock star

Ballet lessons, swimming lessons, music lessons – it’s the time of year when all the ‘lessons’ start back up. My kids are offered many ‘lessons’. This piece might explain why.

So What … I’m Not A Rock Star

This week I had to retrieve a piece of equipment which had been borrowed by a colleague. I sent her an email saying, “I’m going to be over your way today so perhaps I can pop in and collect it.” I read over my short missive and couldn’t help but do a major re-write. ‘I will be over your way today as I have to take my daughter to her guitar lesson…’ This extra piece of information was completely irrelevant to my colleague. I had to ask myself, ‘What’s with the whole stage mother incarnation?’ Now, let me see…

When I was in high school a good friend of mine played an instrument. Back in those days music lessons were not necessarily de-rigueur as they are for many kids today, but my friend had joined a brass band and was the proud master of a euphonium. I was incredibly jealous of this skill – not so much the euphonium part but the reading and playing music part. As an excellent all-round student I was frustrated by the fact that there was a whole world unavailable to me; a complete range of desirable skills that were seemingly out of my reach.

Playing an instrument became my holy grail. I arranged and trotted off to guitar lessons when I was 13 and I vividly remember my embarrassment as I clunked onto the bus with my unwieldy instrument. The lessons were a disaster. Reading music was a skill which eluded me. The dots and lines on the sheet music simply failed to compute. My fingers seemed to lack the necessary dexterity and – it transpired – I was also tone deaf and rhythmically challenged.

Not one to be beaten I took music as an elective in senior school where I was handed a saxophone. Now, the sax is such an incredibly sexy sounding instrument that you would think anyone with opposable thumbs and a little tutelage could make one rock. Not me. Drowning in my own ineptitude I dropped out of music and concentrated on English – the one thing I could read.

My ambition to be musical, however, continued unabated. As an adult I took a singing course at the local community centre. I sang along in group sessions until the final lesson where we were required to perform solo. We were a nervous bunch and no-one wanted to go first. Biting the bullet (and obviously still deluded) I put up my hand. My performance was so woeful that a flurry of hands followed. I could almost hear their thoughts, ‘I know I’m not that bad’.

I have even shocked close family and friends during karaoke sessions. “Oh!” they exclaim after hearing me, their usual tactfulness scared into hiding, “I really thought you would be able to sing.” Yes, that makes two of us. I am still not completely reconciled with the fact that I am never going to be Missy Higgins.

So what do most good parents do with their unrequited dreams? Live them through their children of course. Naturally I’m not kidding, but I did always resolve to offer music lessons to my children at an early age so that any latent talent would have a chance to emerge.

Perhaps Indy and Levi’s initial response should have made me wary. Last year I asked them both if they would like to learn a musical instrument. “Yes,” said Levi immediately. He had obviously already thought this through. “I want to learn the air guitar!” Trying as best I could to compose myself I turned to Indiana and asked what she would like to learn. Big blue eyes full of earnest inspiration she replied, “I’d like to learn the microphone.” The Partridge Family we ain’t. Not yet, anyway.

Fortuitously Indiana received a flyer in her school bag at the end of the year which was from a much-loved part-time teacher at her school. She is that fabulous type of primary school teacher – always with a guitar in hand, leading kids in song. (This, incidentally, is the major reason why I studied secondary teaching at uni rather than primary – my paralytic fear of having to teach music). So Indy’s Christmas gift from Nan and Pop was a beautiful new guitar – an actual one, not an air one.

Indy and I set off on Monday to the introductory school holiday workshop. “How long will I have to go for?” she asked. “Well, you might go for many years until you feel you are good enough,” I replied. “Today you will probably just learn how to hold the guitar and Mrs Dodd might have to tune it.” “Oh,” she said, looking somewhat crestfallen. “Is it going to be like dancing, you know, where you have to learn all the steps, when all I want to do is something exciting like a concert?” I gently tried to explain the importance of persistence when mastering a skill but I must admit that I was on red alert, expecting her to be disappointed that she was unable to play with Pink after the first lesson.

Two hours later I drove in trepidation to collect her. I was invited in by her teacher and listened as Indy strummed away to the tune of The Spot Song (‘Put a spot over here, and a spot over there…’). Watching her little fingers find the right place on the frets caused me to choke up as my own musical failures hovered like spectres in my psyche.

On the way home Indy said, “It was much more exciting than I thought. We even got food!” Well versed with my own childhood musical traumas she said, “I bet you didn’t get that at your guitar lessons when you were a kid. Maybe that’s why you never really learned to play.”

I had to agree. I still can’t believe I lack the musical gene. I think a few strawberries mid-lesson might have been exactly what I needed to uncover my latent rock star.

Do your children take music lessons? How do you encourage them – especially if, like me, you are not musically inclined?

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girt or cursed?

In honour of Australia Day I am taking the easy way and posting a recycled blog. It does mention the national anthem though so I suppose I get points for that. 🙂

The Darndest Things

Watching kids acquire language is one of the most fascinating perks of parenting. It’s almost a rite of passage for mums and dads to regale family and friends with their little ones’ bon mots, malapropisms or just downright funny expressions. This week it’s my turn to share.

My children are both good talkers. Indiana spoke easily and well at the appropriate time designated by one or other of my trusty parenting books. She never had a lisp or other impediment, although she did go through a fairly normal period of stuttering when she was about three – the time when most kids’ thoughts seem to overtake their ability to express them.

Levi was a little more precocious. On his first birthday, as he coasted around the furniture, Levi clearly told everyone he was going, “sidewards, sidewards, sidewards”. His vocabulary quickly progressed to include ‘calamari’, ‘kangaroo’ and ‘Caloundra’. We were mightily impressed by our littlest chatterbox.

Levi is now in his first year of school and still has a fabulous vocabulary – his newest word is ‘sarcophagus’ – but he has maintained an endearing lisp, especially with the ‘j’ and ‘ch’ sounds. This has made for some frustrating moments. Last year, before he started ‘big’ school, he had two classmates called Zach and Jack. When Jack brought his football to school Levi ended up in tears after telling me about his day. “So,” I replied after listening patiently, “Zach brought his footy in?”

“Zack!” he said, annoyed.

“Yes sweetheart, I know, Zach. So he brought his footy in?”

“Not Zach, ZACK!” he screamed, hot tears of rage in his eyes. If you have ever watched the original TV series Get Smart you will probably be familiar with the, “Not The Craw! The Craw!!” episode. Well that’s exactly how it was for us – Levi sulked all the way home.

I tried to make it up to him by telling him about his little classmate who had approached me earlier in the day. This little fella wanted me to know what he had brought in for show and tell: “I bwought in my seep”.Completely mystified, I gingerly repeated, “Your seep? You brought in your seep?”

“No! My seep,” he attempted again. “Um,” I said, totally bewildered and searching for possibilities, “your sleep?”

The little guy got agitated, “My seep! My seep! It’s got wool on it!”

Ah, his sheep. I’m sure his own parents knew exactly what he was saying.

Most of us have a little inventory of funny things our kids have said, or tried to say. And surely, that most perplexing of songs – the national anthem – is ripe for malapropisms to make Kath and Kim proud. I busted Levi singing it in the back of the car last week. First line, no problem, “Australians all let us rejoice,” his clear little voice rang out, “For we are young and free.”

Levi continued, “With golden soil and world for us,” – he was already on a slippery slope – “My home is cursed by sea.”

Big sister Indiana just looked on in disdain and said, “It’s not ‘cursed’ you know”. I should have seized the moment and asked her exactly what the line was, but I missed my chance because she quickly added, “I always hated that song. It’s too long.” Lucky the National Pride police weren’t in the car next to us.

But I have to excuse Levi – not only because ‘girt’ is infamous for being an archaic word that most of us have trouble understanding – but also because he is a huge Harry Potter fan. Curses and spells are part of his vernacular. He has no problem with the word ‘expelliarmus’ – the Disarming Spell – which has a nice Latin ring to it, so I’m not particularly bothered that he doesn’t know the word ‘girt’.

Which leads me to this week’s best example of Levi’s linguistic locutions. As the kids were playing handball last Friday, Levi said to Indiana, “Hey, Indy, I know what we should call our rude parts”. Of course my ears pricked up immediately (not least of all because I don’t use the term ‘rude parts’). He continued cheekily, “I think we should call our rude parts, The Parts That Shall Not Be Named”.” I almost spat out my coffee in mirth.

Out of the mouths of babes indeed.

What are some of the funny things your kids have said? Do they become a part of your unique family vernacular?

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who’s the mum?

I was 20 when my mother became permanently disabled. One December Saturday the line between parent and child became blurred. It’s a challenge many of us will face – how do I parent my parents?

My Mum suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm at age 44 which left her with a permanent left side paralysis. At the time I was starting the second year of my journalism degree at Charles Sturt University in Bathurst. Our journey through her illness has, in many ways, paralleled my journey as a parent.

Beyond the realms of hope Mum survived two complex brain surgeries. In those earliest days she was as helpless as a newborn – hairless and feeding on liquids. There were doctors and flowers and holy water. Relatives came to visit and we spoke in soft voices as we gathered around to see her – this miracle of life.

Her first weeks post-surgery were spent in a local hospital but it became apparent that an extended stay in a rehabilitation facility would enable her to achieve her maximum potential. On that first night, as I said goodbye and left her crying in her wheelchair, I glimpsed my future. Years later, while saying goodbye to my tearful three-year-old on her first day of pre-school, I felt a certain déjà vu.

During the six months of rehab I studied all week and travelled to Sydney to visit Mum each weekend. The staff would inform us of her progress.

“This week she has been learning to use a pen.”

“Today she went swimming.”

“She is able to eat with the others now.”

Little steps.

But the day I remember most vividly is when we arrived at the hospital and a nurse with a playful smile said, “Your Mum has something to show you.”

In the next room Mum was waiting in her wheelchair. “Okay,” said the nurse as she helped Mum to her feet, “Show them.”

The nurse let go and Mum took her first steps alone – for the second time in her life.

We all cried and clapped and told her how wonderful she was.

Big steps.

After many struggles and a whole lifetime of tears, Mum now lives independently not too far from my home. As a family we try to share the care around and part of my role is to take Mum shopping every fortnight. I’m sure it’s one of the highlights of her calendar and – I never thought I’d say this – it has become one of mine.

It’s not always easy. We usually miss the disabled parking spaces, and little kids running on her left side freak her out… but we laugh. We laugh at ourselves and the bother we get into as we try to push a trolley and gather her groceries. We laugh at the way she always says, “Don’t let me get any extras this week!” as she picks up an extra packet of chocolate biscuits and some lollies for the kids. She always shouts me lunch.

Little things.

After lunch I try not to rush off to my own family and we sit and chat. Occasionally we’ll delve deeper than our usual gossip and she will tell me stories of the days before she was a mum – tales of girlfriends and music and surfer boys. I picture her dancing on strong legs.

As I care for my Mum I sometimes feel burdened, and there are times when I wonder what it would be like if she had been able to hold my babies or have them for sleepovers like other Grandmas. But I have come to understand that caring for a parent can be a privilege – a way of giving back. I wouldn’t swap my Mum for quids.

And do you know what else I have discovered? She will always be The Mum.

In what ways do you care for your parents? Do you find it a challenge as you tend to your own family?

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do I have to?

I can’t play with my kids. Not something you want to admit at mother’s group, but there it is.

I’m not the kind of parent who can chase a toddler around the park without feeling a little self-conscious. I don’t think I’m very good at making cubbies and having tea-parties. And that won’t be me in the front row of a Wiggles concert, dancing and singing while clapping a child’s pudgy hands together in time to the music. I couldn’t even manage “here comes the choo-choo train” when my kids were starting on solids.

Parents who throw themselves into their children’s play with gay abandon are my heroes. At birthday parties they’re usually in the thick of the action, organising impromptu games of touch footy or teaching everyone how to do The Nutbush. I’m the one at the back flicking listlessly through last month’s glossy magazines or giggling with like-minded parents. And rest assured, I suffer a bit of the old Bad Mother-itis every single time.

I have many theories about my parental failure: too much responsibility as a child; fear of looking stupid; penchant for wearing expensive heels on play-dates – ok, so maybe now I’m just being silly. But the fact remains, I am not a player.

German educator Frederick Froebel  – the father of Kindergarten – is widely acknowledged as having coined the phrase, “Play is a child’s work.” I couldn’t agree more so I have always encouraged my kids to play. Our backyard is the envy of other kids with a trampoline, sandpit, swings, boxing bags, Tarzan ropes hung from trees and our gorgeous pet rabbit, Rex. I just don’t go out there to play.

When Indiana started school, and Levi and I were home alone, I used to dread being asked to play with him. He would get out his action figures and tell me, “Now, you be the bad guy and I’m gonna be Spiderman and the bad guy has to do this and then he’s gonna say to Spiderman…”

He lost me at ‘Now’. I would sit there grinding my teeth and praying for the game to be over.

But Levi’s mate Oscar knows exactly how to play with him. What’s more, he seems to actually enjoy it! I said to Oscar’s mum, “Oscar just gets Levi.” Unfortunately, when it comes to play, I don’t.

So how do I reconcile this, my shameful shortcoming?

Well I have decided that it’s a matter of playing to your strengths. So if you’re a Nutbush type of parent, then more power to you. And if you’re always up for a bit of cubby house creation I say embrace your inner Frank Lloyd Wright and build the cubby to beat all cubbies. That’s you up on stage with Hi-5? Bravo.

But those fabulous endeavours are not really part of my parenting repertoire so I looked to my own personal strengths. Books are the first thing that came to mind. I love reading to my kids and have done since they were newborns. I once even volunteered my services at my niece’s birthday party – a sort of Aunty Storytime.  (I was certain I would rival the usual party entertainment but found I was not quite as riveting as a petting zoo.)

And Luke and I love taking our kids to restaurants. Babycinos, Spaghetti Carbonara, Vietnamese quail – now that’s our kind of fun. Our kids have been happily eating out since they were babies.

Films are another of my passions and I would take the kids to the cinema twice a week if I could afford it. Levi, particularly, has inherited this passion and can almost debate the finer points of why ‘The Incredibles’ is so much better than ‘Cars’.

I believe that kids will play whether you get involved or not: as long as they have the space, a few props and, occasionally, a buddy or two.  Should I feel bad if I really can’t do the Hide ‘n’ Seek thing without stifling a yawn? I don’t think so.

Instead I say take your own passions – reading, eating out, stamp collecting – and make them a part of your kid’s world. Then stand back and watch them integrate what they have learned into their games. That’s where the real magic of play begins.

And, by the way, if you really are a great cubby house builder, can my kids come over to play?

Are you a ‘player’? What strengths are in your parenting repertoire?

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