Educate your parents about COVID-19 – They may be stubborn old fools, but they’re stubborn old fools we want to keep in our lives for as long as we can

It’s been pretty appalling to hear the way some people dismiss the value of our elderly at the moment. This is what happens to equal rights in the face of a crisis. And while I understand the theory behind “survival of the fittest”, I’ll be the first to admit that it never crossed my mind that I’d experience the personal implications of it in my lifetime.

But worse is the sneaking suspicion that our parents and grandparents – many of whom survived world wars – aren’t taking this Coronavirus thing very seriously at all. Which means that while the majority of us are doing everything in our power to alleviate their risk, they’ve putting their own lives and ours in further jeopardy.

Only this morning as a threatening tribe of heaving shopping trollies (stacked to the ceiling with the sort of rations you would normally only associate with wartime) cornered me into the sweet section of the supermarket, an elderly lady tapped me on the back and pointed to my basket – containing tonic water and dog food because for this crisis I’ve got my priorities right.

‘It’s so surprising to see anyone still using a basket at the moment,’ she commented.

‘I suppose so,’ I replied vaguely, eager not to have to admit to my early morning raid of Aldi or to have an unnecessary conversation – that was definitely more than 1.5m apart – which might put her at risk from the light cold I’m still recovering from, (which is one of the downsides of working with children).

‘I’ve just come back from holiday and my children are worrying about me,’ she went on, as my brain imploded with the implications of this information. I put my hand over my mouth without thinking. ‘They told me not to leave the house. It’s quite ridiculous, isn’t it?’

‘Maybe,’ I replied, lying.

I mean, I get that there’s an admirable stoicism that comes from surviving wars, but it’s no excuse for naivety. We need to listen to what the experts are telling us. If we are to learn anything from Italy’s experience of the spread of this virus, that sort of “fight them on the beaches” bravado is not going to help lovely old ladies like this one when it takes down millions and she finds the value of her life measured against the life of someone half her age in the ER, is it?

Educate your parents. If you think you’re confused by the advice coming from the government and the media, imagine how they feel. Offer to do their shopping for them, visit them more to help alleviate the loneliness that self-isolation may cause, value their contribution to all of our lives.

We’ve reached a time in our lives where many of us are losing our parents to natural causes – and none of us have any control over that. But we can reduce their risk to the exposure of this virus. And while they may be stubborn old fools, they’re stubborn old fools we want to keep in our lives for as long as we can.

John Marsden has a point: Let’s strive to build our kids’ resilience, rather than trying to turn them into something they’re not

Many of you won’t be aware of this, but quite a large chunk of my career has been spent in education – working with kids with special needs. At the beginning of this year, I returned to the field to become the co-ordinator of a new after-school care facility.

Child sitting in a tree with her doll.
Photo by Vivek Doshi on Unsplash

Last week, we completed our first week of vacation care. For reasons of confidentiality, I can’t tell you too much about what happens on the job, but what I can share is the wonderful experience of working in a progressive school, ie. the type of school that encourages the type of childhood that most of us Generation Xers experienced – with its focus on outdoor play and exploration, and the inherent dangers therein.

While I try not to waste too much time reflecting back on my own parenting fails these days, it’s hard to ignore the ongoing evidence of the relationship between our kids’ deteriorating mental health and “helicopter parenting”. The link has made me think about how I would do things differently if I had my time again.

The school in which I work is a green, progressive school, set in beautiful, lush grounds in the bush where the kids spend much of their day, with the option not to wear shoes – apart from during funnel web season, when (obviously) I wear full body armour. And the focus is on learning through exploration and play, using nature as the primary resource for teaching. Technology is used minimally and the culture of the school is based is on kindness and respect.

I have never seen happier, more fulfilled children. Perhaps, because there are fewer rules, but most likely because they have the freedom to explore and take control of their own learning. That approach makes it the perfect setting for kids of different abilities and the responsibility it encourages boosts their self-esteem and confidence in their own abilities. It is such a privilege to watch them make up their own games and then extend them, and to work out their own problems. During after-school care, they sit together and play board, construction and card games, they colour in, they play together outdoors, they craft out of recycled materials, and even help cook their afternoon tea. Some of them are happy to simply sit and read a book.

While it is a child-centred environment – there are still expectations in terms of behaviour and respect for our resources, of course, but most of the time the kids sort out their own issues among themselves because they are encouraged to problem-solve at every stage of their learning.

As you can imagine, I was horrified in my interview for the job when I found out that the children were encouraged to climb trees and retrieve balls from snake-infested bushes. Hence, I have been forced to learn how to keep my own anxiety in check. As my supervisor explained to me, if a kids falls out of a tree and breaks their arm, they won’t climb as high the next time.

Humorous meme.
Found on Pinterest from http://www.shopatartworks.com

Raising my own kids, I know that I was guilty of the type of “helicopter parenting” that educator and author, John Marsden, talks about in his new book, The Art of Growing Up, so with this new responsibility I have been mindful of my need to relax and let go more. John worries about the effects of this parenting on the resilience of our children. ‘When I hear parents say ‘I want my children to enjoy their childhood; there’ll be time when they’re older to learn about those things’, I hear the voices of those who are scared of the vastness of the universe. These adults have a view of childhood as some kind of discrete interval, rather than just a few years from the continuum of life. How fortunate that the spirit, courage and curiosity of many young people remain largely undefeated by such adults.

One of the points he raises is the danger of putting our kids in a bubble to “protect” them from outside influences, which means that once they grow up and enter the real world they are unable to cope with its demands. Worryingly, when he interviewed a group of children and asked them what they wanted to be when they grew up, many said that they didn’t want to grow up at all.

Of course, backing off and letting children with special needs like Kurt fail isn’t quite as straightforward. It is important to advocate for them at every step of their education, but towards the end of Kurt’s schooling I had learned not to sweat the small stuff and to pick my battles in relation to homework and lost uniform, a change that has stood me in good stead for this job – particularly on the days the kids make slime and potions, or when I catch one of them at the top of a tree!!!

But, perhaps, my enjoyment of this more relaxed approach to childcare has something to do with my appreciation for less drama in my own life right now, as well as my personal appreciation of nature and mindfulness that has developed with middle age. This new simplicity to how I live my life, boosted by my greater respect for nature, is empowering. And it is so much more fulfilling than the exhausting drive of my thirties and forties that I see evident in modern parenting, where parents are continually striving to turn their kids into something they’re not.

There Is No Better Education In Love, Compassion And Empathy Than Having A Child With Special Needs

A few weeks ago we went to a fundraiser. It was a black tie event to raise money for the family of an old colleague of the old man’s whose son broke his neck and damaged his spinal cord in a freak rugby accident recently.

Alex Noble is their son’s name, and if anyone feels like funding a real cause, as opposed to other, less noble causes, please feel free – here is the link to his GoFundMe page.

At one point in the evening, Alex’s parents stood up on stage to tell us a little about his story, his progress, and their plans for the future – should they reach their target that night to secure the funds they need to renovate their house, meaning he can eventually come home.

“There’s not a lot of joy in my life right now, but there’s a lot of love,’ his mother said.

It was a comment that hit me hard, because albeit that in terms of bums on seats that night, there was a wonderful level of support in the room, as a mum who is also a part-time carer of an adult dependent, (as well as being a professional cynic), I did wonder how many guests would be there for the long-haul of Alex’s journey, once the glitter is swept away.

Many of the guests were close friends of the couple or friends of their son, so in some ways it felt almost voyeuristic to be there, to witness the pain and rawness caused by such a cruel twist of fate; to sense the fears that his family feel in terms of the uncertainty of Alex’s and their future.

When we plan our children, we never anticipate for one moment that things won’t work out like the parenting manuals told us they will, so I understand what Alex’s Mum was trying to say. I’ve felt that way many times with Kurt – because let’s not underestimate the devastation caused by mental illness or disability, either. Indeed, it was only a week before that I thought that we had lost our son?

Scratch the surface and there is heartache in every family. I can’t tell you the number of times people open up to me about siblings or relatives with mental health issues who have been hidden, the skeletons in their cupboards.

But Alex’s Mum was right about how adversity cultivates love. Because in return for the pain caused by our son’s neuro-diversity, we have been given an education in love, compassion and empathy, and we are better people for that. We are as proud of him as we are of NC – much to her horror. While his steps forward have been slower, they have been celebrated with the same enthusiasm as hers, and his progress has provided us with an invaluable insight into how society should be measuring success.

Admittedly, there have been times when there’s not been a lot of joy in caring for someone who may never get better, and I wouldn’t wish our experience or that of Alex and his parents on anyone. Before his accident, they would have been looking forward to the last chapter of their lives as independent once again, but the ramifications of his physical disability may be lifelong, and they will affect not only them, but his siblings, and possibly future generations of their family.

I’m glad that they feel loved and supported. I hate cliches, but shit like this does make you stronger, because you have no choice but to be strong. But as I said, there are hidden benefits to life’s knocks such as this. While they will have to reset their expectations of Alex, his milestones will be as meaningful as those of his siblings – if not more so. And though it may feel painful at the time, this tragedy will draw a line in the sand between their true friends and their fair weather friends, because they won’t have time for games.

But they will be tired all of the time and there will be days when they feel like they can’t go on and will question why me? So I suppose what I really want to say to all those parents battling through each day with kids with disabilities or dependencies, is that your joy may well be diminished, but like a flower in summer, your heart will be opened to maximum capacity.

We Can All Be Heroes, Without Firing A Single Bullet

Today makes me sad. Anzac Day confuses me because it forces me to question the sacrifice of those millions of men and women that gave up their lives to protect our future. And what makes it worse, is that so many more of them continue to risk their lives for the same empty promises.

Kids On Guns Hill by Banksy from Pinterest and mymodernmet.com

We like to call them heroes, but I’m certain that many of the men conscripted in the two World Wars would have preferred to stay at home, get married, and see their children grow up, while here we are, still living in fear of terrorism and war.

In many parts of the world, war remains a reality of daily life, and more often than not, the bigger players that instigate it don’t stick around long enough to pick up the pieces once they leave. Innocent people continue to be discriminated against – just like the Jews in World War 2. Even in the West, (in our so-called “democracies”), man’s overwhelming greed for power and control blinds it to the cost of human life as countries are disabled by religion and race.

Surely, the best way to honour the dead and our forces today is by demonstrating to them that their sacrifice was worth it? That we have learned from it? And let’s also teach our kids that heroes can be people who use their voice for change as well; who stand against discrimination, without firing a single bullet.

You Don’t Have To Fit Into Society’s One-Size-Fits-All Box

As, once again, we compile the memories of twenty-five years together into boxes ahead of our next move, it seems appropriate to have a discussion about them.

Dog climbing out of a packing box.

Boxes.

Because I’ve noticed how good society is at putting people into them, as NC reminded me the other day when we were discussing the assumptions people make about her personal choice to become a vegetarian.

Whenever you choose to veer off the straight and narrow or do something different, it seems to encourage the more cynical to shout louder from their soapbox. To use the example of NC, she is often criticised for those rare occasions she indulges in fish, even though her vegetarianism is nothing to do with animal cruelty. Sometimes her body craves fish, and she can’t resist tuna and salmon Sashimi and my smoked salmon and cream canapes at Christmas. As she is a vegetarian for sustainability reasons, she doesn’t see a problem with this. Her detractors, however, suggest that she isn’t a “proper” vegetarian.

Haters gonna hate.

It’s the same with feminism. The uneducated like to put feminists in the box for people that stand against inequality between the sexes, grow out their body hair, and hate men. I wax… and I don’t hate men because of their gender.

In the same way that not all Muslims are radical terrorists, not all feminists hate men.

Making assumptions and boxing people into a group is a lazy path to take. It is also naive and potentially dangerous. For those who don’t bother to look more carefully at a person’s reasons for their beliefs and behaviour, their premature judgment can have have life-long repercussions.

Society – and the old man and I must take some responsibility as well – has tried to fit Kurt into a box for most of his life – an expectation that has made him miserable. The sad truth is that society only provides one box for everyone to fit into and so those that can’t fit comfortably in it risk being ostracised and isolation. The laws of society have limited tolerance for “difference”, which means that there is not enough “give” in the box for the neuro-diverse, the traumatised, or the outward thinkers.

Anyone who has made a profession out of moving house and packing – like the old man and myself – will know that some things don’t fit in standard-sized boxes.

Women, in particular, have always struggled to fit comfortably in the box, because it was designed for men. Meghan Markle is experiencing the claustrophobia of that situation right now. A bi-racial, divorced woman, she is attempting to fit into a box of privilege that has little desire to move with the times. Hers was never going to to be a smooth transition – a plight that Nikki Gemmell summed up in her brilliant piece, “The Audacity of Meghan Markle”, in The Australian last week.

Personally, I hope that Meghan doesn’t make a smooth transition. I hope that she lifts the lid off that bloody box and sets it alight with her critics inside.

We need more Meghans. We need more Kurts and NCs and people prepared to stand up for their beliefs, for those that don’t fit squarely into boxes – whom in many cases, are demonised by society. We should be encouraging society to think outside of the box, not closing the lid on it.

What Are We Teaching Our Children?

himanshu-singh-gurjar-106819-unsplashChange scares people, and none more so than older people. I can personally vouch for the fact that many of us seek comfort in our dotage. Comfortable sofas, with just the right amount of back support; comfort food; comfortable clothing, and comfortable, flat shoes. We like what we know and we know what we like and what scares us most is the threat of something rocking our foundations or the idea of losing control, and change can do that.

Progress is another thing that can be contentious and scary for some, and I’m the worst offender when it comes to elements of progress such as technology. Albeit that it has improved my life immeasurably, on days when updates fail or my computer crashes for no reason, I begrudge it because I don’t fully understand it. My paternal grandmother was the same. She never got over the arrival of the first wave of West Indian immigrants to the UK in the fifties, and I remember how my toes used to curl at the launch of one of her racist tirades. But I forgave my grandmother’s discrimination because everyone had to adapt to the changes, and I was aware that at the heart of her bigotry was her age and a genuine fear of the unknown.  She never saw the changes that immigration would bring in terms of progress and growth. She would never read black literature, listen to hip-hop or go to the Notting Hill Carnival. She never saw a western, black president.

We, on the other hand, have no excuse for our bigotry, and that is why I feel nothing but shame for the right-wing propaganda that currently plagues our news feeds. Accusations of racism in Australia are rife at the moment, and the same poison that seeps into our culture is seeping through politics around the world – this, in spite of what history has taught us and the promises our grandparents made.

But what I find hardest to understand is how people – and particularly educated people – can ignore the very essence of human life. The first things we teach our children are to love, share and give freely. We teach them kindness from a young age. Kindness is ultimately what keeps everyone alive in a world in which equality is imbalanced and the gap between rich and poor is constantly widening.

And that’s what why this moment in history is so baffling and scarily defining. We are witnessing the very real possibility that the evil that permeates certain circles of the political forum may catch fire and engulf the good like a bush fire, in the way it did at the beginning of the twentieth century.

And what is more amazing is that most primitive animals – those that have far less intelligence than us – protect and demonstrate kindness to their own. Who saw the Orca that carried her dead calf around with her for a week in grief, or any of the hundreds of videos of dogs saving other dogs or humans? And yet us humans, seemingly at the top of the pack, can turn on one another, so viciously – and I’m not talking here about the small percentage of radical nutters.

I blame our sense of entitlement, which has turned some of us into greedy, self-serving xenophobes rather than loyal members of a world community, blinding us to the needs of others. Somehow, irrational fear has justified the removal of lifelines to the needy in the same way that German villagers justified the camps next to them. It is a flock mentality that needs to be curbed.

It was reported in The Guardian on Sunday that 2% of our population is Muslim, and yet we continue to treat these people as a threat and a scourge of the nation for their religion. We talk about them as though they are second-class citizens. We persecute them. We create a sense of fear around them which ostracizes and makes them targets of bigots, and it takes the son of a man killed by a Muslim radical to denounce our country’s racism.

How do we justify such accusations when the statistics don’t add up?

Kon Karapanagiotidis posted this on Twitter at the weekend:

Number of people killed by terrorism in Australia by people from backgrounds in last 100 years: 6

Women killed by male violence since July 2nd 2018: 10

Guess which one we are told is a threat to our way of life & values according to , and co?

LOOK AT THOSE STATISTICS! Think about how much we have to gain from other cultures, rather than what we might lose. Think about what we can take from these other cultures and implement to improve our own – a sense of community is just one.

CHECK YOUR PRIVILEGE.

Is change so wrong? Was it wrong to give women the vote or to give equal rights to black people?

We took in immigrants to increase our population and grow our economy when we needed them. We took these land from our indigenous people when we decided we needed it. So how dare we accuse immigrants of diluting our culture.

‘The 2016 Census shows that two thirds (67 percent) of the Australian population were born in Australia. Nearly half (49 percent) of Australians had either been born overseas (first generation Australian) or one or both parents had been born overseas (second generation Australian).’

 

What are we teaching the children of immigrants about love and kindness? What are we teaching our own children about the essence of human life?

 

How Do We Educate Our Kids About Sexual Harassment?

I posted this meme on my Facebook page a couple of days ago, and the response to it gave me a thought-provoking insight into the problem of how we educate our kids about sexual harassment and inequality.

26730684_2021987534494771_8316309779760555478_n

As a feminist, a woman that wants equality across the board, (and not a bra-burning man-hater, of which I am often accused), I want my daughter to feel safe in the world and my son to be respectful of women, and not seen as a women-hating predator.

 

Since the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace finally reached global awareness via the recent outing of many renowned predators in the workplace, backed up by the almost unanimous stand of women at the Golden Globes the other night, (the less said about that the better), it has been interesting to hear the opposing views between those who consider there to be a genuine problem, and those that deny a problem exists at all.

 

Frankly, I want to barf each time I hear someone say, ‘But that was how men behaved back then. They didn’t know any better. They didn’t know that it was inappropriate.’ REALLY? Can we find a similar excuse, I wonder, for celebrities and Catholic priests who have abused children? So men in the past didn’t sense that it was wrong to abuse their physical and professional power to belittle, sexually harass or sexually abuse women for their own gain?

 

Or the other argument, ‘you can’t deny that the casting couch has worked for women as well?’

 

Urghhhhhh!

 

Do these people, that condone this attitude, have any comprehension of the limitations imposed by inequality and male privilege historically? Women have always had to give more to get close to equalling their male counterparts.

 

Surely, a more constructive response would be to point out that not all men are bad apples, and while we pull out the rotten ones, it is important not to tarnish all men with the same brush.

 

However…

 

Gentlemen, please be aware that although you might not see yourselves as a sexual predator, that doesn’t mean you’re not guilty. Unfortunately, I’m afraid that many of you don’t seem to view the less blatant acts of harassment for what they are. For example:

 

It’s not okay to pat or pinch a woman’s arse

It’s not okay to demean her verbally in any environment, but particularly in a professional environment, with condescending words such as ‘sweetheart’ or ‘love’

It’s not okay to yell out at her in the street with lewd comments

It’s not okay to interpret skimpy female clothing as an invite

It’s not okay to recount sexist jokes at a dinner party, in much the same way that you wouldn’t joke about disabled people, people of other races or sexual orientation.

 

And finally, ‘the world’s gone mad,’ has to be my favorite comment, usually followed by, ‘you can’t do anything anymore.’ No, you can’t abuse women… mainly, because it’s fucking wrong.  Without meaning to sound Oprah-esque, this is a wonderful time in our history – we are making progress and imposing necessary boundaries – and I’m sorry if this emergence from the wrongs of the past, when slavery, racism, and women unable to vote were all acceptable regimes – cramps your style, but there it is.

 

I have also been told over the past few months – by both men and women – that the cases highlighted in the media are in the minority and that many women who have come forward with their stories of sexual harassment are lying for financial gain. They go on to quote the couple of cases, (ignoring the thousands that have been proven to be true), where there has not been enough evidence to ensure a guilty verdict.

 

How the fuck does anyone know what really happens in any situation between two people behind closed doors, when women are afraid to speak out due to the stigma attached to sexual allegations? And many a rape victim will vouch for that. Think about how Amber Heard was treated in the press. I have done my own research, and even within my small peer group of privileged middle-aged women, eighty percent of us are the victims of sexual harassment or worse; in fifty percent of examples, we are talking about more than lewd, threatening comments or an innocent smack on the bum.

 

And finally, to that other wonderful argument – from women this time: ‘I quite like the attention. I don’t mind a compliment from a man. What’s wrong with it?’ What’s wrong with it is that you are educating men to believe that all women want to be treated in that way, and my belief is – feminist or not – most don’t. What’s wrong with it is that you are educating your children that is okay to be disrespectful to women, to treat them as second-class citizens – a permission that might start with a wolf whistle before it escalates to rape or murder. Rape and domestic violence statistics are increasing – and many cases are still not reported – so if you are into sado-masochism or like the idea of your in control, that’s fine, but as my son would say, ‘get a room.’

 

So where do we go from here? What we don’t do is advise our girls that all men are sexual predators, not to drink and not to wear provocative clothing when they are out; in the same way, that we don’t generalize and label all men and boys as sexual deviants. What we do tell our boys, is to treat women in the same manner that they would like to be treated.