Perfect summer days

My mother asked me a few days ago whether, knowing what I know now about how hard parenting is, I’d choose to do it again. I chose to do it in part because it was hard work, and if I travelled back in time to have a serious chat with 27 year old Mary, “but it’s really really hard” would only be a sales pitch.

Right now though, the parts I like least are more the tedious parts than the hard parts. Every single time we leave the house, I need to remind both children to find their shoes and put them on. Every single evening, one of us needs to tell them to have a bath and brush their teeth. Every single time they get interested in an object, we need to remind them to put it whether it belongs, not carry it around the house enthralled so that we have a devastating moment a day later because we can’t find the fascinating whatsit that roamed around with them until they forgot about it ten minutes later.

And I don’t necessarily believe that pleasure is enhanced by being rare; but since a certain type of it is rare, it is at least memorable. That type of pleasure is the “fun for the whole family” outing, one where everyone was happy they went, no one was tired or overly grumpy, no one lost something momentarily precious to them, no one was unbearably rude to anyone else.

It’s hard for us to have these days often for lack of time together: for five days of the week we’re apart and on the sixth day we roll between soccer/cricket, dance, and swimming lessons. If we’re lucky, the seventh day is available. And we are most often together in summer, which is not often conducive to perfect days because it involves everyone being hot and cranky and having different opinions about whether spending the day outside when it is 38°C is awesome or terrible.

But this summer there have been stretches of cooler days as well, and sometimes there is what I’m informed is known as a “breeze”, and so there have been a few days when we did something that at least one person in the family harboured substantial reservations about and it came out just beautifully.

The first was seeing the Sydney Thunder women’s cricket team play the Brisbane Heat at North Sydney in early December. Blue sky; long shadows; lots of shade; not overly crowded; gentle breeze blowing; the excitement of holding up numbers that she can read for A; the excitement of holding up the wrong numbers for V (he waved a 4 placard around whenever they scored a 6; me: “buddy, are you negging the team?”) plus seeing his team win in the end; unexpectedly meeting another member of V’s own cricket team there so that the kids were more alive than they would be with only adult company.

The second was kayaking up Currambene Creek from Huskisson on big flat tourist kayaks this last Tuesday, V and Andrew on one double both paddling it (at least notionally), me boating A around on another. It had threatened serious rain all morning but instead it was cool and overcast with just enough little spits of rain to keep things interesting. The water was clear and since it was high tide, we were able to drift among the mangroves. “I’m tired” and “I want to go home” only burst out when we were within sight of the wharf on the return.

The only problem with such days is that I tend to react by wanting to buy tickets to every remaining cricket game, or take up kayaking seriously, in response, rather than letting them be what they are, a confection of weather and moods and people who ate enough for happiness that morning. The trick to perfection is being ready for it, and also letting it go.

Remembering Robin Gardiner

My uncle, Robin Gardiner, died two weeks ago. He was my father’s younger brother, he leaves his wife, Cassie, and my three cousins, Jock, George, and Avril.

There’s a little about his professional life on the Australian Property Institute’s website and as a member of the large and close Gardiner family, he is very much missed.

I was humbled to be able to spend a little time with Rob late last year as he pursued treatment for the brain cancer he ended up dying from. Each step was difficult and painful, and the news was always always bad. He was unexpectedly leaving a good life, and teenage children. The Rob I saw during that time was always patient and accepting, always in the moment, and always generous and kind, particularly as I concluded my own (very different) cancer treatment not long after his diagnosis.

There are many right ways to live and die, but I want to honour the way Rob lived the last year of his life in particular, with strength and love, patience and courage. Goodbye Rob.

Donations in Rob’s memory can be made to AngelFlight.

Kin: the director's commentary

Some additional or rephrased thoughts on kinship, now that I’m not working to a deadline, nor as tired.

Family of origin. There’s luck and privilege involved here, both in having a family of origin you want to have a relationship with, and that wants to have a relationship with you. When there’s choice about it, it’s most often only available to legal adults, at least when it comes to a relationship with one’s parents. I choose to have strong, central relationships with my family of origin, this is active work but work I can only do due to luck and privilege.

Family of choice. There’s some more freedom here, but not everyone goes into life or even into adulthood with the skills, time, energy, mindset etc to form strong bonds with unrelated people. I’ve reached 30 without really doing enough work here.

Children. In talking about the legal relationship, I’m assuming a fair bit more luck and privilege: that is, reproductive control. In that case, one is not legally required to have children in the same way that children must have parents/guardians. In either case, one’s relationship with one’s children is in an interesting place as something like family of origin (traditionally endorsed, legally recognised[1], tightly societally scripted) and like something else: a very intimate relationship with someone you don’t know at all and who will change quite a lot, very quickly. And in some circumstances, one can choose this relationship without any input from the other party (unlike being assigned your parents, in which one usually has no choice, or being assigned your siblings, in which neither sibling typically has any choice). It’s a very odd thing.

So for me my relationship with my child is somewhat outside the “family of origin”/”family of choice” narratives that I’d at least had a long time to consider. It’s not the only relationship one could have that has these features, but it’s the major one I’ve had, and I don’t know that I can write well about it until the story has played out more.

[1] Some luck and privilege here!

Kin: unchosen family as chosen project

Week 1 of the Alphabet Sufficiency: K.

Here’s a story about a ‘k’ word: my mother is a teacher, and once a child dobbed on another child for using “the k word”, and my mother asked that child “what k wor—?” and stopped herself too late. Yeah, that k word.

It’s not explicitly against the rules of this project to discuss the project, so let me note that my first choice for the ‘a’ word was going to be adulthood, until I realised I could stuff kinship and adulthood into the one piece and leave the ‘a’ field wide open for acid, acne (and/)or alcohol.

There are a lot of paths to adulthood, as I had cause to reflect on a few years ago, reading Kate Crawford’s Adult Themes: Rewriting the Rules of Adulthood, questioning the association of Australian adulthood with owning a home, having a stable job, and having children. I am pretty sure that at the time I’d had an apartment mortgaged for several years, and was pregnant. I was staving off adulthood with a PhD enrolment. See also Yatima:

None of which has anything to do with Kate [Crawford] except that she takes the set of prejudices and preoccupations I associate with people of Keith [Windschuttle]’s generation: real estate, marriage, children and so on; and deconstructs them as inadequate and meretricious cultural markers for adulthood. She is especially wry on the punitive economic structure of Australian society. It has become very, very difficult for young people to buy property, but in a home-ownership-obsessed society renters are considered sort of frivolous. Psych! Kate argues for replacing these shallow rites of passage – the excruciating wedding, the adjustable-rate mortgage – with a far more nuanced appreciation of modern adult lives, where for example your jati might take the place of a nuclear family.

It’s a terrific book, and it made me think pretty hard about how deeply I absorbed old-fashioned Australian prejudices without even realizing that I had done so. I loathed Sydney’s consensus reality while I lived there, but as soon as I got to San Francisco I got married, bought a house and squeezed out a couple of kids.

There are a lot of paths to adulthood, and I also chose that one, or it chose me, or I didn’t choose and that’s the one you end up with when you don’t choose.

I have that not-uncommon affliction of never having had an enormous amount to do with youth culture and thus feeling like I was about 30 from the time I turned 18. (I spent enough time at 16 and 17 in licenced 18+ venues that I can’t claim it any earlier.) Early in my PhD, so when I was 25 or 26, a slightly younger fellow student waxed lyrical about the joys of postponed adulthood: “I still feel like a kid, really!” I left home when I was 17, established an actual household at 19 (the economic incentives to form incredibly young de facto marriages via the same pressures that create sharehouses is an interesting footnote to modern marriage and partnership), and last took money from my parents that wasn’t a present some time before my 21st birthday. At the time of the conversation I was party to a mortgage, and I think also a marriage of the “solemnly swear” type. I felt nothing like a kid at that time, and I certainly haven’t recaptured it since.

Dominant narratives might not be necessary easy to live as such, but because I tick enough boxes (being straight is coming to mind, in particular) it is a reliable groove and doesn’t leave too many bruises. Lucky me, indeed.

I often appear to people to be a more driven person than I in fact am, because I work quite hard. From the outside, it’s easy to mistake working hard for being goal-driven. In fact I tend to find a plausible project, to date almost always chosen by someone else, and then carve a niche for myself in there and thrive, or not. The one main life project that I have chosen is kin itself: the creation and maintenance of family.

There are more ways to do this than to be related to people, or to have children, but again, I am going with the dominant narrative. My phone allows me to have people “bookmarked” for easier dialling. Those people are my husband, each of my parents, and my two sisters. I didn’t even realise that that said anything about me for about four weeks. I ring my parents on Sundays, which is when my parents both rang their mothers when they were alive. The tradition goes at least one generation further back on my mother’s side and quite possibly two.

I still make it sound rather like I am following a default path here, but adhering to a tradition is still work, and for once I’ve planned it, or rather, chosen it. But where the real decision comes in for me is being a parent. I have a kid (not so much squeezed out as hauled out with tongs under considerable protest, as it happens). This is a scary process while one prepares for it: how do you get ready to have new family? It’s not the family the law encourages you to have, it’s not chosen family, it’s brand new manufactured random family. And then you have to teach them to, among other things, care about your perspective, and your ability to feel pain, and your desire to sleep.

So this is my big, meaningful work, as someone to date better at the work part than the meaningful part. It’s not a very creative choice, and I don’t like it to be asserted as normative, but here it is. When I set up speed dial, I set up my family of origin, and when I planned for the future, I had a child. If I had to choose family, I don’t know where I’d start, but I’ve chosen to work on family.

Life at 1, 3, 5: general discussion

This article originally appeared on Hoyden About Town.

Background: this post is about the Life series that just finished airing on the ABC and which is affiliated with Growing Up in Australia: The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children. Life at 1, Life at 3 and Life at 5 are available on ABC iView for a little while longer for those with Australian IPs and to whom it is accessible.


Now that I’ve done the specific posts, does anyone have thoughts about the Life series in general? Here’s a few thoughts on individual scenes:

  • In Life at 1 I love the super-serious newborn shot of Shine looking out at the world grouchily.
  • Jara’na was awesome in Life at 3, it was a real shame there was so much focus on his separation anxiety rather than his inventive play and sense of the dramatic.
  • My favourite Life at 5 scenes were both from the Marshmallow Test. One was Anastasia looking directly into the camera and popping the single marshmallow straight in her mouth for immediate gratification, and the other was Shine delicately stepping around the room, not looking at the marshmallow. (Actually, Wyatt was pretty cute too, testing himself by putting his mouth around it but not lifting it from the plate!)

On the series as a whole:

  • I wish we could see more of the eleven children meeting each other, which they have clearly done several times now, but it’s only been shown for the purposes of very brief cut shots of birthday parties and racing through parks. As the series goes on age-peer relationships will grow in importance, it would make sense, although it wouldn’t be totally representative of their social interactions, to begin to show them interacting with each other.
  • Judging from the birthdates of the children on the website, they’re the six year old cohort this year. It sounded as if there are definitely plans for Life at 7 to film next year and presumably air in 2013, and the print version of the Sydney Morning Herald suggested that the film-makers would like to go through the teenage years, although they don’t have funding yet and perhaps would plan less frequent updates. (Perhaps only one or two during high school.) I think the series would be improved if they could go out to three or four episodes from Life at 7 onwards.

Speaking of more content, I haven’t gone through the website‘s content, anything good there?

And a conversation about introversion/extroversion from comments:

blue milk:

But there is much to feel concerned about, even in this small segment you have highlighted here, and I found others when I was watching the series too, like the ways in which introverted babies versus extroverted babies were discussed in terms of their performance during some of those classic experiments about attachment and seperation.

Me:

But on that subject I was also rather surprised by the interpretation of the separation experiments. I was under the impression that they were usually interpreted the other way around; that a child should show distress at separation from their primary carer, not that a approx 12mo child should be able to cope with that. (Both “shoulds” have their problems!) But Ben’s separation anxiety, and the anxiety Jara’na develops later as a toddler, are both portrayed as extremely worrying.

We view my own son as moderately extroverted, and his reaction would have been more anxious than any of those shown except Ben’s.

They said something at some point about all personality types being valuable, and my husband (who is extremely introverted) said something like “just because a personality type exists, doesn’t make it valuable!” The show doesn’t really back up this claim with a discussion of the values of introversion, or for that matter of caution about carer separation or strangers! The only Life at 1 claim about introversion is that it exists, basically.

There’s also been talk on Twitter at #lifeat5.

Feel free to use comments here to address any aspect of the series.


See other Life posts at Hoyden: Life at 1: breastfeeding, Life at 3: obesity, Life at 1, 3, 5: disability

Long term storage of digital memories

For once, and with trepidation, I actually do ask for advice!

My parents have several digital cameras and a digital video camera. It would be nice to have access to family photos and movies past their next hard drive crash and/or computer replacement. But all consumer digital media seems unreliable enough for long or even medium term storage of family photos and similar.

I could organise some kind of backup routine for them, but the developing and nagging and testing and recoveries involved would annoy all three of us; contrary to the common parent-of-geek mythology my parents are no slavish devotees of my computing advice and like to keep a great deal of control themselves. And I get bored with that stuff. I want more set-and-forget: ok, stick your photos here and they’ll be there ten years from now.

One possible solution would be something like here, upload them to [some remote hard drive of mine]. Advantages: I have, unlike quite a few commercial entities, managed to hang onto a great deal of my digital files for ten years. Disadvantages: the software for this largely seems to suck in that it will be difficult to give them the motivation in terms of "and it will be shared with family really easily!": lots of creating galleries and so forth required to make things findable. I use F-Spot and Gallery and both of them leave sad dingy marks on my soul sometimes. I value the resulting organisation enough to do it, they probably do not, at least initially.

So should I just tell them to pay for a Flickr account? Or maybe Picasa? Or some similar website I probably haven’t heard of? I realise that stuff in the big wet cloud is vulnerable to both commercial failure of the provider and catastrophic failure on the part of their sysadmins, but at least it’s not vulnerable to my boredom or that of my parents (although Flickr at least is vulnerable to forgetting to pay Flickr). What has good desktop tools with the fewest clicks between plug camera in and digital files are safely squirreled away and as a bonus available for viewing by selected people?

I realise none of this is fail-safe, and if they aren’t interested in preserving the data it ultimately won’t happen, I just want to lower the barriers as much as possible and give it the best chance.

If you have thoughts and don’t know how to get in contact, email per this.