Sunday, April 24, 2011

Another round up

News stories worth reading.

Women in pop music - comparing Adele with the likes of Lady Gaga, and good news for Kate Bush fans (yeah!)

Little girls and real life princeses.

Michelle Bachelet, head of the newly formed UN Women - who she is and what she's trying to do.

Emma Donoghue, who wrote Room, calls for an end to mothers judging each other.


Friday, April 22, 2011

Around the world news

What’s going on in the world?

You wouldn’t know by reading the Sydney newspapers, but get a better idea by reading the Guardian Weekly. So, a little round-up from the last few issues.

Norway pays Guyana (on the northern coast of Sth America) to keep forests intact. That’s right. Norway is making annual payments to Guyana to keep its tropical rainforests. The money, based on holding back deforestation, factoring in avoided carbon dioxide emissions, is used for environmentally sound development.

Ghost towns in Spain. New housing estates have been abandoned due to the GFC. Youth unemployment is very high in Spain: 43%. For those aged 16 - 19 the rate is 64%. Young people are leaving Spain to seek employment elsewhere.

Spain had a very generous subsidy for solar power. That has just been cut. The energy companies were helping the government with the subsidies and the government now cannot pay them back.

In Japan, after the earthquake, radioactive water is being released into the sea as they are still trying to cool down the nuclear reactor.

17% of the worlds’ population is now Indian.

In the US, the majority of Republicans who are likely to vote in the primaries believe that Barack Obama was not born in the United States.

Refugees from Nth Africa are fleeing to Lampedusa, an Italian island closer to Africa than Italy, and the Italians aren’t happy. Berlusconi vowed to rid the island of immigrants. They are mostly men from Libya. So far this year 18,000 Nth African migrants have landed on the island of 5000 native inhabitants.

A story about a study in the lack of empathy (previously known as evil). Empathy can be tracked on a spectrum. We're all somewhere on the spectrum - hopefully not on the sociopath end.

A picture of a penis wins an Russian art prize. The winning group, which is endorsed by Banksy, painted a 65 meter penis on a drawbridge. When the bridge was raised the penis faced the local headquarters of the FSB (successor to the KGB). It’s like Jonah of Summer Heights High won an art prize!

A story about women leading the way in peace negotiations. Women have been involved in peace talks in Libya, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Rwanda, and now on the Ivory Coast. How? Women form grassroots groups, and work up to the leader’s wives and the leaders themselves. Local groups are best placed to bring about peace, so why do they need to apply to AU and UN to be permitted to participate in the peace talks, usually led by male bureaucrats, when it is more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in these modern conflicts? This ties into my last post about the fierce face of women.

Nature has rights. Bolivia is set to pass into law the rights of Mother Nature. They are establishing 11 new laws, under The Law of Mother Earth, which includes: the right to life and to exist, the right to continue vital cycles and processes free from human alteration, the right to pure water and clean air, the right to balance, the right not to be polluted and the right to not have cellular structure modified or genetically altered.

Wow. Go Bolivia!

If these were the kinds of news stories show on commercial tv, do you think we would be more fearful or less? More tolerant or less? More hopeful or less?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Awakening women: the fierce face of the feminine

Awakening women - the fierce face of the feminine.

This is the TEDx talk by Chameli Ardagh about claiming feminine rage to protect the children of the world.

Worth a look.

We know we feel like a lioness protecting her cubs when our own children are threatened, but what about other people's children? She's right when she says we often feel angry but hopeless when we think about how children are hurt when caught in political situations that are out of our control. Would reclaiming maternal rage help? It can't hurt.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The rhythm of the holidays

I've heard a few people talking lately about getting into the 'rhythm' of the holidays. If we have any rhythm, this is it.

I awake to the words 'Mum, wobble my tooth' and a child or two leaving my bed. I doze, trying to sleep in. Then awake to the sounds of a recorder, a clarinet and/or a whistle. Sometimes I awake to the sound of the children running their own dance school in the kitchen, and a fight about someone not following someone else's choreography.

I turn on the computer and start working on something I'm working on. Matilda might bring me a cup of tea. The Days of the Week songs for Senior Dance Group. I've learned Wednesday Girl by The Jet Sets and Thursday Morning by Giles, Giles and Fripp (a precursor to King Crimson). I conclude there is definitely a gap in the market for songs about Wednesday and Thursday. I'm also putting together a cookbook for school. A Fruit and Veg cookbook. It needs a snappy name (Zucchini Fettuccine?) but everything I suggest is declared lame by the kids. Actually, that's my only suggestion. And yes, my uni assignment - the major assignment of the course. Slowly slowly.

Then I realise we are supposed to be somewhere in half an hour, and we go into panic mode. Hang out the washing. Everybody have something to eat and get dressed. Off we go. I bring my uni notes with me. While we're out a child will break a shoe. On our way home we buy new shoes, which, when we get home the child will decide she doesn't like and we need to return the shoes to the shop the next day.

When we return I do some cleaning up, trying to get the girls to clean up too. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't. We have tasks written on a schedule that rarely get done. I tell them, daily, that I need to implement pocket money so I can withhold it as punishment, a la The Brady Bunch, a language they understand. I tell them, daily, that I would charge them 10c each for every hair band and hair clip that I pick up. I'd make $3 a day. That's an annual holiday for me, right there.

They play on the trampoline, and I throw the ball around with Matilda and Clancy, and we shoot some hoops, because they've got into the netball team, which is a new activity for them. Or they do painting or a craft activity at the kitchen table. My proudest two hours of mothering have been when the children have been painting whilst listening to a poetry CD. They did that twice. When the CD ended they started fighting, but for those two one hours, I was very pleased with myself.

I make dinner. This week we're riffing on potatoes, with a salad plate or fruit plate. Before dinner, while the kids are watching tv, stretching, and doing the splits or high kicks, we all have a piece of chocolate. Fair trade organic chocolate, so I figure it's OK. We eat dinner and talk. Sometimes Clancy and Banjo change their hairstyles for dinner. Watching The Brady Bunch is the best thing to have happened to Clancy's hair - after years of tears trying to get out tangles she now brushes it every day. I might play some music I like - Nick Drake in colder weather. We talk about the day and the plans for tomorrow.

Food has revived the children, and Banjo wants to perform. A dance that requires the wearing of sequins. Actually, for Banjo, even helping with cooking requires the wearing of sequins. The children might wash. Then, after much to-ing and fro-ing, they're off the bed, with me reading a story, or singing jazz standards. Clancy likes to sing along, even if it is a song she hasn't heard before. Banjo likes to interrupt. I like to plough through the interruptions then remind Banjo how lucky she is to have a mother who can hold a tune. Some children's mothers are tone deaf! After all that, and about three rounds of goodnight kisses, they want to read in bed. Ok, for a little while.

Then I'm back to the computer and working on something I'm working on until they settle to sleep. Is that a rhythm?

We still haven't set up the elastics in the back yard (between the trampoline, the washing line and the tree), we haven't done any sewing (we were planning to make Clarice Bean tunics), we haven't had many playdates, we haven't been practising the times tables. Maybe I can add those notes to the tune next week.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Tween birthday - it gets easier

Matilda is turning eleven. She's a very sensible and capable girl. She doesn't see the need in accumulating lots of stuff. Last year for her birthday I took her to see Wicked. For Christmas we gave her a week of dance classes at a very good summer school.

I asked her what she wanted to do to celebrate her birthday. She said she wants her friends to ride their bikes to the park and have a picnic. Great. Then she organised it herself. I realised that I wouldn't be going to her birthday party. I asked if I should drop by to pick up any presents she might receive (although she told her friends she doesn't expect gifts), and she said OK. So I'll just pop by. We'll have a dinner of her choice on the day, and I'll make a cake of course, if she doesn't want to make it herself. And I'll book to take her to the ballet. She's a ballerina who has never seen a professional ballet production.

She's lovely. Bright and lovely. She's easy to be with. I can talk to her about big concepts, and I can trust her to do the right thing. She still holds my hand and wants to sit on my lap. If she has a bad dream she'll climb into my bed. She said she'll keep doing that after she turns eleven.

So, I'm thinking. When you have three kids under the age of five and are feeling frazzled, and people tell you that it gets easier, this is what they mean.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Today I taught my children this:

Next time I suggest we go to the Art Gallery, they are to say: How about we stay home and make our own art instead? Or we can look at art books.

We'll all be happier...

Judging parenting

A friend of mine recently had a big discussion on FB about him witnessing a mother hosing her small son with water after he ignored her repeated requests for him to come inside. The boy cried. It drew the usual range of comments. He asked for mine, but I missed the boat, so will comment here.

My friend doesn't have children himself, but he and his partner are planning to, so they talk about how they would like to raise their children, when they have them. While it is important to share values with your partner, in the day to day reality of living with children, those values aren't always front and centre in all your interactions. Parenting is confronting. You find yourself, and your partner, doing things you never imaged, just reacting in the moment, or just to get through the day. Living with children is more tiring (especially with ongoing disrupted sleep) and more frustrating than you can imagine.

I'm not prepared to judge that mother. Of course, it would have been lovely if she walked up to him, got down on his level, talked to him about what he was doing, turned the activity into a little lesson, and gently guided him back into the house. But we don't always have the time and inclination to do that. She may have just had a big talk with her son about co-operation and consequences. Maybe she's on the brink of divorce, or worried about money, or is sick herself. We don't know the circumstances.

This is what I do know.

1. Parenting advice keeps changing. What we believe now about raising children is likely to be unfashionable when our children are grown.

2. The way society is structured now is not the ideal way for parents and children. It isn't healthy and shouldn't be normal for a parent and child to be alone together all day. It takes a tribe. Families need more support.

3. The only response which is helpful is to try to understand, to offer support, to be compassionate, and to be kind.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Progressive social policies in Europe - cut

In the Mothers Movement we've been looking to the progressive social policies of Europe as a light to move towards. But now, with European countries feeling the pinch of the GFC (four countries- PIGS - have been bailed out) and tightening their belts, cost cutting means an end to these socially progressive policies.

In the UK these are the programs being cut from April 1st: educational support for teenagers, music therapy for those with severe learning disabilities, fewer probation workers, less support for young parents, refugee advice centres, domestic violence centres, HIV prevention schemes, help for women with PND, lollipop people at school crossings, work programs for the blind, debt advice services, funding for the arts, day centres for street drinkers, and fire stations are shutting. Still to come are changes to the welfare system, the NHS, housing benefits and police services. Libraries, nursing homes and respite centres are waiting hear how they will fare. As funding winds down youth clubs will close, charities will shut up shop, after school activities for school children will end and day care centres for the elderly will close. Cutting community programs for early intervention mean serious problems later. But, The Gaurdian Weekly reports, if you are well, in secure employment, have already been to university, and have no care responsibilities, you probably won't notice the cuts. Only the vulnerable will suffer - the poorest 10%. The people who will feel the pinch mostly are women and children and the socially isolated.

In France there were protests last year about raising the retirement age to 62. They can't afford to have so many people on a pension. Taxes are high at 45%, (only Belgium and Hungary have higher), the welfare system is still in place and the 35 hour working week remains, however, prices are high, unemployment is high and infrastructure is running down. Although France has officially avoided recession, its economy is slowly going downhill. Some are suggesting two main measures to help - more women in the workplace (losing the tax incentives to stay home with children), and reforming the welfare system.

I've been reading The Guardian Weekly lately - it is easy to carry and I like reading other perspectives (Australian newspapers are not what they could be). A growing trend I've noticed in European countries is the formalisation of anti-Muslim sentiment. There is Tea Party like trend in Europe too.

How will it all resolve? To quote TGW 'Britain is not alone in facing a hard choice between cuts, growth, debt and democracy.'

No mention about cuts to aid for developing nations,but that must be part of the plan.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Hope in humanity

I worked on the recent election day. I was one of those people who cross the names off in those big books. It was a long day, yes, but very pleasant. Everyone I worked with was lovely and we all worked together well. And all the people who came in to vote were lovely. Every time I looked up I noticed people with soft faces. Nobody was any trouble.

The other day I went to the Art Gallery to see Art Express - that's the exhibition of the top HSC art works. It was fantastic. I was really impressed with the breadth of knowledge the children draw from. It made me feel like there is hope in the future, that teenagers are smart and thoughtful and concerned about what is happening in the world, and that it might be quite satisfying for me to become a teacher.

I'm trying to hold onto this hope in humanity as we discuss, once again, and quite belatedly, putting a price on carbon, which we knew we must do years ago. I like to think we, in our household, live as if there is already a price on carbon, because we consider where things come from and where they go, and the embedded energy in everything. The whole story of climate change seems quite hopeless at times. We know our use of fossil fuels, which take millions of years for the Earth to make, is running out. We know we could invest in renewable energy. We know we make more waste and more pollution than we can sensibly dispose of, yet, yet, we just carry on as we've been going because it is convenient.

Must hold on to hope in humanity.

Education now

I'm half way through my first education subject, and everything is making sense. I can see how much education policy and practice has changed since I was at school.

The aim is to engage children as much as possible, and to cater for all types of learners. Appealing to all children is also a strategy to avoid disruptive behaviour. Teachers are expected to know each child well, to respect their individuality, take their backgrounds into account, and tailor a learning program whereby every child can have their needs met.

We know that people learn more by doing than by being told, so the idea is to have children actively engaged in their lessons. This means, in reality, lots of small group work, or co-operative learning. So, lots of talking with each other, as well as the teacher. Not a lot of the teacher standing out the front of the class addressing the students, and forget about the expectation that the classroom will mostly be a quiet place.

It also means children can contract their work, that is, they can choose between options, so they can write a song about the topic or make a map or explore and present the subject in a way which is meaningful to them. People learn by constructing their own meanings. Teachers plan for breadth (a means of learning that meets individual needs and interests) and for depth (offering tasks of higher order thinking for those who already grasp the facts and understand). This is what the Principal means when she allays parental fear about composite classes - all children are catered for anyway.

Socialisation is also a big component. Our society needs people who can get along with other people. If schools fail to socialise students then they are failing to equip students with skills for living.

Transparency is another component. Children know the consequences, what is expected of them, agree on the rules, know what is assessable, and the teaching program used by the teacher is known to the students.

All quite different from when I was a school student! For a teacher it means a lot of work, a lot of creativity and, hopefully, more satisfaction. From what I've seen so far, teachers are very generous with their ideas and are happy to help each other. Something to be grateful for.

Monday, April 04, 2011

What is the appeal of Dexter?

I watched the final episode of Dexter last night. It is a show I've been following - I follow a few: Mad Men, Breaking Bad. When I first had kids I was a big fan of Six Feet Under and Queer as Folk - it was good to have some adult themes to think about whilst pushing the kids on the swing at the park and doing the washing up. I only watch these series as they air on free to air tv - I'm not into viewing box sets - I don't have a block of time in which to do that. Perhaps I like to have something to look forward to on a weekly basis. Anyway, I've been a bit excited about Dexter.

What is it about the show that makes me toss and turn at night after watching, (aside from the early morning garbage truck?) and gives me so much to think about?

I suggest the narrative voice over is part of the appeal. Dexter is trying to fit into society. He is trying to do what is expected of him, even though he doesn't instinctively know. He needs to fit in so he doesn't draw attention to himself and arouse suspicion (he's a serial killer, but he only kills baddies). I think we are all like that, just not to the same extent. I'm sure all of us at some time have had people crying in front of us, or being angry, or doing things where we aren't sure if we should get involved or how we should react. Perhaps we often try to be kind, or helpful, or sociable, or attentive, when really we may not care. But the more that you do that, the more you learn to care. The series is kind of about learning to be caring.

The show is clever, well written, fast paced, and sometimes funny.

And it is a damn good argument for counselling. If every character who had experienced trauma had seen a counsellor, there would be no story!

If you watch Dexter, why do you like it?

A glimpse into someone's else life

On the weekend Matilda and Clancy went away to camp. We were home with just Banjo.

So quiet. So peaceful.

I caught up with my uni study, did some cleaning, and cooking. Had a nap. Banjo had one on one time with her dad (he took her out so I could study) and I got to look into her little face and listen to her, uninterrupted.

She, however, was a bit sad and lost without her sisters. She kept saying "I thought I heard Matilda playing her clarinet' or 'I thought I saw Clancy running past' and she even wistfully walked around calling their names. At one point she said, 'I think Matilda just sent me a kiss'. She played teachers on her own for a while before stating we needed to invite another child over because she didn't like playing on her own. And she wouldn't go to bed in her room because it was too lonely. She even planned a surprise party for her sisters' return.

So, I feel like I've had a little glimpse into the life of someone who has one child and lives a much quieter life than I.

It didn't take long for us to return to normal.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Responsibility for performance

As I've said, I'm doing research on an Australian theatre director and acting teacher, Lindy Davies. This is what she teaches (from her website):

The Autonomous Actor

An actor who is self governing, an actor who has a unique vision of performance; a strong sense of responsibility; an actor who questions and gives suggestions; an actor in pursuit of virtuosity: working rigorously, imaginatively, conceptually and physically.

An actor who is prepared to take responsibility for the material they choose to work with, by challenging writers if there is a lack of quality, by challenging content that is racist, sexist or ageist.

An actor who is prepared to look at the implications of what something does, rather than only looking at what something says.

An actor who is willing to look at the political implications of belonging to a profession which is shaping the perception of following generations.

You can see why I love her.

With this in mind I watched Tim Minchen perform with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra last week. I was wondering if some members of the orchestra were uncomfortable with the content of the material and would rather not be associated with the work. Fortunately, I know someone in the orchestra, so I asked. The answer is that the members of the orchestra are given the opportunity to step away from a performance they feel uncomfortable playing in. Good news.

I wonder, then, about the chain of responsibility for all sorts of work that becomes part of the media or part of our culture. For example, the content of magazines. The issue of French Vogue, for example, which contained a photo story of female children heavily made up and dressed in adult type clothing and jewellery. From the idea being put forward at a meeting, all the people who helped organise the shoot, the children themselves and their parents, the photographers and stylists, the printers, the newsagents. Did nobody along that chain ask any questions about whether maybe it isn't a good idea afterall? The same can be applied to a range of advertisements, songs, music videos - the list could go on.

My niece is now looking into gaining a cadetship with Pacific Magazines. She could be writing content for Who, or Total Girl. I wonder if she will have any real input in questioning the messages to women and girls about themselves. We'll see. Maybe she'll get to be editor and have some power, but, in the meantime, just learn the ropes and do as she's told. Like everyone else along those chains.