Happenstance Parenting

Through happenstance, I may have found a solution to our sons’ sibling rivalry.

My eldest son, Max, is a sweet-natured, good-humoured, considerate boy with everyone except his little brother. Max struggled with sharing his family from around six weeks after Tully was born. He realised that visitors no longer had much to say to him and I would be pretty occupied with this other person for a fair while.

Not a new story but a hard one to live, I couldn’t put Tully on the ground when he was a baby because Max would not hesitate in kicking, biting or pushing him. Once that push was down 13 steps. Luckily that was in my hippy days so carrying Tully around in a Hug a Bub was a kind of necessity for my cultural statement anyway.

Perhaps I need to reiterate here that Max truly is a gentle child. We have never been called upon to deal with a bullying incident with him and any other child but Tully.  Well, he’s been bullied but has never been the bully. He is very sweet and sensitive.

But he did have this problem with Tully and sharing the family with him.  This has played out in jealousy, anger, resentment, sadness and we have tried all sorts of things to deal with it.  We tried kinesiology and flower essences; counselling and star charts. Nothing worked.

I know sibling rivalry is ‘normal behaviour’ and research has shown that it is beneficial for kids in later life because they learn negotiation skills. But as Max was getting older, the rivalry was coming out in a nasty, constant, undermining that may have been strengthening Tully’s resolve but can’t have been good for his self-esteem.

But now I think I have found a solution to our sibling rivalry issue.

Max was complaining that he was receiving no benefits for being older, he asked to watch movies that Tully isn’t allowed to watch and to go to bed later. Obvious perhaps that these things should come to him as he is almost three years older. But we treated them the same. According to this information, treating children equally is a good way to battle sibling rivalry but I think it’s wrong.

Each week now Max chooses a movie that is too scary for Tully, aged 8, and that he, aged 10, can handle. He also gets to read in bed for 20 minutes after Tully’s light is out.

And it seems that these simple steps have made a huge difference. They still fight but Max really doesn’t seem to hold nearly as much resentment towards Tully.  It seems like more natural bickering.

Of course our emotions are complex and resentment can be triggered by all sorts of things but it’s amazing to just stumble across a simple solution like that.  I call it happenstance parenting.

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Because I realise that every three year old girl deserves some flowers, I dug and built and planted and mulched. Now hopefully they grow…


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High Tea

Decadent and delicious

I ate everything on this platter…

I am project managing the design and construction of a new online hub and portal for 12-25 year olds from Coffs Harbour to Great Lakes on the Mid North Coast of NSW – genwire.  The site is launching in June and of course I think it is pretty exciting stuff.

I’m contracted in this work by the two project partners – Mid North Coast Regional Council for Social Development (MNCRCSD) and Arts Mid North Coast.  So I was invited to the MNCRCSD staff high tea.

Now there is a little part of me that is drawn to the high tea. I bought my mum and dad a high tea last Christmas. That did include champagne on arrival so perhaps a little more indulgent than the straight high tea I had last week.

At the same time, the exclusivity of high tea repels me. It represents the traditional upper class in Britain, akin to golf courses with caddies and drink carts in drought ridden Malawi in the ’50’s.

A high tea is indulgent and traditional and decadent to the max but it’s also delicious. So I decide to embrace this snippet from Nietzsche’s ‘The Will to Power’ and allow myself to rest into the afternoon tea and enjoy: “The phenomenon of decadence is as necessary as any increase and advance of life: one is in no position to abolish it. Reason demands, on the contrary, that we do justice to it.”

So I tucked into the high tea embracing the theory that rather than stamping a whole value system onto any tradition, we can reinvent it to reflect our cultural framework and enjoy without guilt. It is a rare, indulgent treat and not a symbol of our place in society or the world.

Chin chin.

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Our School

Well here we are again, looking at the schools and their achievements on the My Schools website. I’m sad but not at all surprised to see that our school isn’t looking crash hot. In fact they are substantially below average in NAPLAN test results. Funnily enough, the school our boys go to, a local public school, also has high levels of disadvantage – 40% of students in the bottom quarter of the state and 20% in the top.

Meanwhile, the non-government school most of my friends have moved their kids to is above average in NAPLAN results and has 10% in the bottom of the state and 46% in the top.

It actually makes me feel a little ill to see these statistics.  I’ve been sadly considering other school options.  I keep holding off because I have a long-held fear that the public school system is only going to continue to deteriorate. People who can afford the fees move private; while the families who have no choice are left in a faltering system, strengthening a divide between those with opportunities and those without.

Our school is part of a system that is strengthening the generational poverty, illiteracy and hopelessness in my community.  Our school has $8,000 recurrent income per student, the local private has $11,000. That gap is more substantial than it may seem at first when you consider the greater needs of the kids in our school.

I volunteered in our school garden for three years and what I saw was a range of fantastic kids, we never once had to discipline the kids beyond “Hey John, hop off the garden, thanks”. They are intelligent, interested, vibrant kids who need some support.

And sadly when I have approached teachers about bullying or concerns about my boys, I’ve met with a lack of interest bordering on disdain. I presume the teachers are tired of working unsupported in a system that has little hope for the kids it’s meant to be built around.

I understand that schools can’t fix a parent’s drug addiction or the fact a child is going home to no dinner, they can’t do it all. But these kids are desperate, they need help and surely school is the only place that the Government can really step in to help these kids out in a practical way.

I know the NAPLAN figures aren’t perfect but alongside my sons’ experiences, they don’t encourage me to stick with our school. Sadly I feel like I’m considering deserting a sinking ship and that ship is holding a lot of great kids.

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Youthie Up Date

In February 2009 a young man called Caleb Jarrett was stabbed to death in my town. There’s a court case going in Coffs Harbour around his death so I won’t go into too many details about it, but it was a devastating night that will have repercussions in our town for years. Racism and discrimination are rife around here and a case like this can strengthen the divide. Caleb was Aboriginal, the man charged with his murder is not.

Caleb was walking home with friends when he was stabbed several times. Each of the boys who were with him that night have suffered greatly at the loss of a close friend, and at the pain of having been there. They have each had a traumatic two years, going through a trial last year and now facing a second trial this year.

With no funding and no brief to be there, the staff at my local youth centre saw the boys’ pain and stepped in to support them. They have been there in every way they could for these boys, in a way that the police and legal system have not.  If it was not for the youth centre, I believe wholeheartedly that at least some of these boys would have slipped on to a very lonely and angry path of self-destruction.

I posted a while ago about my local youth centre – Nambucca Valley Youth Services Centre.  Kelli asked for an update, so here ’tis…

The Youthie is a small centre in Nambucca Heads, they support 12-25 year olds with whatever they need, as far as possible, and in a town like Nambucca the needs are pretty big.

Nambucca is a beautiful spot for a holiday divine beaches, lovely walks and enough cafes to get a reasonable coffee on a good day. It’s quiet and close enough to Coffs Harbour that you can fly here, or visit the Big Banana if you’re looking for holiday activities.

Nambucca is also classified as a disadvantaged area – high unemployment, low education levels, high levels of alcohol and drug dependency.  If you’ve seen the movie Boy, that reminded me of many kids around here.

So the youth centre is not only useful for our town, it is essential. Often the Youthie is really doing the work of government agencies.

Yet despite this the youthie is always desperately searching for funding to keep the doors open and the staff are constantly unsure whether they’ll have a wage in a few months.

So I volunteered to go on the hunt for money. I travelled to Sydney and met with a few foundations and talked about what we do. Now it’s looking possible that they may have some support on the way, a local business and a foundation could possibly join forces to give some sense of stability to the centre in the way of core funding.

I wonder though how it can be in this country that a community organisation that does so much needs a volunteer to travel to the city and pleed its case. Surely it’s clear. Give them the money!

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My eight year old son, Tully, decided that he wanted to make some money last week, and as he has also decided he’s going to be on the next Master Chef series, the best way to make money is clearly to sell food.

So on the hottest day of the year we headed down to the Funkya at Unkya market with a double batch of gluten free brownies and some melted fudge. Tully’s friend, Stella, came along with two buckets of rocky road.  Too lovely it was, with them setting up their tasting plates and wondering the markets selling rocky road and brownies.

It was a whole of family affair, with my dad calling us on the way down to coach Tully in selling (“Don’t say ‘Would you like to taste my brownies?’ Say ‘Would you like to taste my delicious brownies?'”) And Tully spent his first earnings on a gorgeous ring for his sister, which she promptly lost.

Of course it was one of those parenting moments where we’d invested so much energy into the buying of ingredients, the helping in cooking, the direction in safe food handling and selling techniques that Tully’s $12 profit seemed a little low to me, but he was happy. A small step closer to being the true salesperson his grandfather was hoping for.

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There was a fantastic band at my local pub on Friday night, A French Butler Called Smith. Our local pub is not one of those sweet old federation style country pubs, unfortunately.  It’s a 70’s built pub – bare brick and sticky bar tops. I have witnessed a couple of fights there. Generally it’s not a rough place though because there aren’t usually enough people there to bother mustering up a fight.


And well may you ask why I even go there, but sometimes my friends and I just don’t fancy driving half an hour to have a social moment relaxing away from our loveable yet intense families.

Friday night was different.

A real band, a band worth dancing to, and a band that actually drew people from other towns to our little pub.

And I danced like I haven’t for a long time. I realised that I love my little daggy local pub where we sometimes go, even if there’s no lemon in the vodka and no middies because the plastic cups only come in schooner size. I was proud that this place could put on a gig – like my wayward teenager finding their feet. I do love Valla and nine years on, it is more than a place I live.  Anyone would love our beaches and our lifestyle, I’m a bit more local because now, I even love our daggy little pub.

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I was born in Malawi, a small country in the South East of Africa. Malawi is famous for being the country that Madonna adopted a child from, and then founded a charity for. It is also the tenth poorest country in the world. Now the Malawian Government is making news because they are planning to make it illegal to fart.

I was the 2nd third generation white baby born in Malawi, my sister was the first. My great-grandfather travelled out there early last century to make his money in tobacco. I don’t know much about my great grandparents’ or even my grandparents’ time in Malawi but it’s likely there is blood on my hands from the Malawian generations before me. I help out with the charity MicroLoan Foundation Australia which gives small loans to women in Malawi. Perhaps this is in part to acknowledge the possibility that my family did not do all good there. But it’s also because it makes sense to me, the micro loan philosophy, and because a 1994 trip to Malawi made me realise that the place I was born in really matters to me, as does the place I now call home.

I left Malawi when I was a baby. Mum and Dad decided it was not a safe place to raise my sister and me so we hopped on a boat and travelled the world looking for a safe home.  We would have moved to the US but Mum and Dad couldn’t gain entry so we ended up in Perth, Australia.

We were not refugees, but my parents were looking for a safer life for their children. We were not illegal because we ticked the boxes of what the government wanted from us, luck of birth really. And again by the fluke of birth I am readily embraced as Australian in a way that third generation Australians from an Asian background are not. And in the same way that we were never really Malawian despite our family’s births, deaths and marriages on that land.

Just another story of an Australian, and just another reason that we should try harder to open our minds and our borders and admit that this border protection myth is really about prejudice.

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Work ethic

It’s been too long since I’ve written here, and too long since I’ve walked or swum or done any exercise remotely worthwhile. My mind and my legs are growing weak in unison. I can feel that Christmas break wobble grow alongside the jellyfish braincells in my mind.

So my resolution for this sparkly new year? To be more selfish. I am going to walk more and take more time to write blogs and fiction because that’s what I want. I’m going to take time to myself because I have realised that my protestant work ethic and “unselfish” behaviour breeds resentment and knocks away at the walls of the relationships around me.  Self righteous is an easier short-term option than guilt, but you know what? There’s a fine line to tread and I’ve been living too far on the wrong side.

I find it easy to carve out reasons to avoid what I need, or what I want. I focus on work, each of my children’s needs, domesticity; denying the growing belly and the tinges of depression that tip toe in when I close the door to exercise and fun for me alone.

So walk I did this morning, and I went to a movie last night and on the way home I’m stopping off at a friend’s house for a drink and I wonder how long it will take me to slide too far the other way? Ah well, better to step around the line than plod on.

Happy New Year.

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Our local youth centre is at risk of closing its doors later this year because we just can’t get in the funding. The Youth Centre runs the project I coordinate, 12words.

It’s run smoothly by a team of dedicated professionals who do everything they can for the kids who walk through the door but we just can’t seem to get the funding in the bank.

Shockingly it’s the only service in our valley doing what it does. The workers say around 40% of the young people they work with are Aboriginal and 50% left school before completing Year 10. In any given week, 35% of young people who walk through the doors for the first time are in a housing crisis.

This is a poor town, lots of kids grow up with parents, grandparents and extended networks who are all unemployed. The kids don’t have much to hope for and this centre is offering them hope. They run literacy programs, young mum programs, programs for Aboriginal boys and technology access programs.

And I try to get them funding. Time after time, we write good, solid applications that fit with funding bodies needs and almost every time some big out-of-town organisation gets the funding instead. The funding bodies seem to feel more comfortable handing cash to the big job agencies and local councils. They must seem more secure and reliable.

So some time after August if our lobbying and campaigning doesn’t work, the doors may shut on the Youth Centre and the kids of Nambucca will have another reason to give up hope.

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