Jun 29, 2013

It's (mostly) just politics

This is a true story: on the night Julia Gillard was replaced with Kevin II as prime minister, my dog stood near me and shook himself vigorously, and a small piece of poo flew out of his butt and landed on my shoe.

He's such a misogynist.

International readers, please excuse this diversion into the past week in Australian politics. What follows may make little sense to you. Unless perhaps you read the UK Huffington Post.

Fellow Australians, what do we think of the role of gender in the deposing of Julia Gillard?

I think gender played a big part in the shabby treatment and lack of respect she was given by radio shock jocks and some of the public.  It took people a long time to get used to having a female PM, and sadly I felt we had just about reached the point of accepting it as 'business as usual' when she was removed.

But I don't think gender had much of a hand in forcing her out.

I certainly don't agree with this kind of opinion that implies female MPs should all have voted to keep Gillard because she's a woman. Wouldn't that be making it all about gender?

What about loyalty?
Politicians have never been loyal against numbers. It's always about winning the next election or jockeying for personal position. Always has been.

What about the role of the media?
Unlike many on Twitter and in the letters pages of the newspapers, I don't think the mainstream media, the ABC, The Age, the Murdoch press or the Canberra press gallery are to blame. They might have overdone the coverage of the Labor leadership issues, but that's how news works. As a journalist I once saw tweet to a critic who told him to write about 'the real story' and not the politicking responded: "It may not be what you WISH the story to be, but it IS the story today."

Oh, you expected the papers to ignore all the internal division and upheavals and talk up the government's achievements? You're annoyed they eulogized the achievements only after Gillard was gone?

Wouldn't you be a bit suspicious if journalists ignored real problems within government and started talking up government achievements while governments were in power? I think I would. Thankfully, I've never seen it happen.

So then?
No one could have governed well in the circumstances Gillard had to work with. The combination of global financial crisis, minority government and relentless undermining by the previously deposed PM made it impossible.

Gillard gets everyone's respect for her strength, her resolve and her hard work, for "getting on with it" and "getting things done." In my opinion she did well under impossible circumstances and delivered some good things for the country. But we also do need our leaders to be communicators, and charismatic to some degree. And one's not enough without the other.

Paul Strangio in The Age summed the whole thing up quite nicely in this piece, which reminds us:

the highwire act of public life almost inevitably ends in failure and defeat

Paul obviously got that idea from my blog post from 2010 where I said CEOs and other public leaders are paid so well as compensation for the fact that some day they will suddenly (and maybe unfairly) be judged as having failed and will be fired.

So Julia Gillard's turn came this week.

It made international news. Here it is in the UK Huffington Post:

And here is a selection of my favourite tweets from the night.

Politics. Makes me glad I work in a gentle, nurturing industry like finance really.

Jun 25, 2013

Maths Brains x 3

It's so much fun and so easy teaching kids about money and counting, isn't it?

My kids are seven and a half and frankly I thought they'd have got it by now. Same with "reading the time" and "fractions".

Granted last night* was a bit of a challenge for Grade Two maths.

I owed the kids $4 each which I had pledged in return for tidying their rooms and helping me clean up the house last weekend*, which they had done very well.

After a few days of failing to amass $8 in gold coins, and as I had two ten-dollar notes in my wallet, I suggested this to the kids: I'll give you each a ten-dollar note and you each give me $6 back.

via Wikipedia per RBA reproduction policy

I didn't expect them to really get this, so I was well prepared with explanations, diagrams and appeals to recent lessons in school on counting money.

M. grasped an opportunity straightaway. "Yes, yes, I want to!" she said and pulled her sister into the hallway for discussion. "Tell her we'll give her the $6 tomorrow and then she'll forget," she whispered - but not out of my earshot as she imagined.

A. was interested but confused. "Why do we have to give you $6?"

"Because I owe you FOUR dollars," I said, "but I don't have four dollars in coins, so how can I give you four dollars? Well, one way is if I give you a TEN-dollar note, and you give me the change. So if I give you TEN dollars, you give me SIX dollars in change. Because TEN minus FOUR is SIX."

"Oh, I get it! Wait. I don't get it."

"Well I have to give you four dollars. Now if I give you ten dollars, that's too much, right? Cos I only owe you four? So if I give you ten dollars, you give me some back. The difference between four dollars (which I owe you) and ten dollars is six dollars. So if I give you ten dollars and you give me six dollars, it's the exact same thing as if I gave you four dollars."

I drew it on a piece of paper in two ways. One was drawing ten dots and then crossing out six of them to leave four. The other was using numbers to show them how the exchange added up. "OK. At the moment you have about $20 in pocket money, right? OK. I have to give you $4 so then you'll have $24. Like this -" I wrote down 20 + 4 = 24. "Now another way to get the same amount of money is like this: 20 + 10 = 30. 30 - 6 = 24. So if I give you $10 then you'll have $30, so you give me $6 and then you'll have $24. So either way we do it, you end up with $24. See?"

"Ohhhhh! I get it, I get it!"

M. grabbed a ten-dollar note and said "I'll give you $6 tomorrow."

I grabbed it back. "No, missy, you give it to me today, or you can wait and I'll give you $4 in coins tomorrow."

M. was suddenly indignant. "But why do we have to give you six dollars?"

I explained it again, and finally they both seemed to get it and agree. A. looked at me admiringly. "You have your smart brain on today," she said. We repaired to the bedrooms to empty out piggy banks.

A. was initially excited, but as she emptied out her coins she changed her mind. "These are all my special gold coins, from birthdays and the tooth fairy. I don't know if I want to change them."

"That's OK," I said. I can give you coins tomorrow instead."

She eyed the $10. "But I do want the $10..."

"Well it's up to you," I said. "Either way it's the same amount of money, right? It's just different ways for me to give you $4. You think about it and let me know."

Five minutes later while cleaning up in the kitchen I heard A sobbing miserably, and went back to find her crying over her pile of coins.  "I don't want to spend all my money! You always tell me not to waste it and I don't want to give you all my coins!"

I explained again (a) the concept and (b) that it was voluntary. I showed her how ten dollars in coins and a ten-dollar note were the same amount of money.

"Well, I do want the $10 note..." She eyed the mountain of five-cent pieces on the floor next to her precious gold coins. "Can you make $10 out of these instead?"

Both of my kids have a crap-load of five and ten cent coins. I don't even know where they got them all. There was easily $10 worth in each piggy bank, now that I looked at them.

Vorakorn / FreeDigitalImages.net

"Well that's good thinking," I said. "Let's count them together."

A. wanted to count all her money, so we started counting the coins and I showed her how to first put aside the larger denomination coins, and then count just the fives, putting them in piles of a dollar as we went.

We got to eight dollars in fives with three five-cent coins left over and had just started on the tens when I got distracted by the dog and had to let him outside. When I came back, the coins were strewn everywhere and A. was busy stuffing them into her boots. "I'm hiding my treasure!" she laughed. "Ohhhh, I get it, " I said. "It's your BOOTy!"

(As their dad is not a native English speaker, I have to do all the Dad Jokes in our house).

"But A.," I said, "Now we have to start counting all over again!"

"No we don't," she said. "The five-cent coins made eight dollars and we had three left over, so all you have to do is take those three away and then start counting again from eight."

I did an honest-to-god double-take. "Wow," I said. "Now you've got YOUR smart brain on!"

This from the kid who couldn't compute that ten dollars in coins and a ten dollar note were the same thing.

Also, why hadn't I thought of it?

Phaitoon / FreeDigitalImages.net

Anyway. We counted out six dollars in fives and tens and she gave them to me in exchange for the $10 note.

Then I went through the same exercise with M, but she insisted on swapping ten dollars worth of coins for the ten-dollar note, and then me giving her four dollars. She didn't want $4 in fives and tens, so she gave me six dollars in fives and tens and four dollars in gold coins, which I then gave back to her.

I think it's safe to say there are no math geniuses in our house.

*Not really last night/weekend, I've had this post sitting in drafts a few weeks.

Jun 23, 2013

A World of Goodness

This is not a sponsored post, nor am I fishing for sponsored post offers.  This is just a LOOK AT THIS COOL THING post.

We've all been scammed and bought cheap things that don't work. I remember a shopping trip many years ago to the grand bazaar in Istanbul where a friend bought packets of socks for a bargain, and when she opened them in the hostel found they were just rags bundled together to look like folded socks. You had to admire the seller. It is almost more trouble to make and package up fake socks than it is to make and sell actual socks. And think of the money and work that went into that effort. If only it had been used for good, instead of evil.

Even in more regulated places, it often seems companies these days are only trying to make things good enough to actually sell, but not good enough to really work well. From the early days of manufacturing where everyone aimed to make good stuff, over the years through evolution and economic experience, companies have learned how to put the minimum effort needed into making products, to ensure not that they are great but just that someone will buy them just one time.

So it's a great and unexpected delight - one suspects in fact almost a manufacturing accident - when you come across something that is cheap and truly good.

This globe is on sale at K-Mart for ten dollars.

Ten dollars!

I was after globes for the kids for awhile. In fact I had bought a couple before Christmas from Officeworks also for $10, but put them in the garage and then Y. threw them out, by mistake.

Since then all the globes I'd seen had been light-up ones, expensive, or horrible colours.

So when I saw these at K-Mart, reduced from $20 to $10, I grabbed them.

Check it out:

It has the international date line, and this little thingy on top that you can rotate to see what time it is where:

I am sure this is 100% accurate:

The kids love these. A. immediately showed me where Greece is:

Both kids took these to bed with them the day they got them, and pored over them instead of looking through books before sleep.

They are educational, see.

They feature well-known things for each country or region. Some of them are cliched, but then so are the first books kids read about places around the world.

Here is North America:

Central America:

...where the sharks are friendly:

The Middle East:


Africa: Land of Interesting Animals

We like to move it move it

And Antarctica

I LOVE these globes!

Have you bought anything cheap and terrific?

Jun 11, 2013

How not to handle a confrontation in front of your kids

A couple of weeks ago I got into a confrontation with strangers in front of my kids.  And I didn't handle it well.

It was a sunny Sunday and we decided to go to Oakleigh, a suburb with a well-known Greek strip, to have coffee. It's always busy there and on sunny days it's even busier, so it can be difficult to find a car park.

We went to the car park we usually go to, and sure enough it was full. My husband, unlike me, is very patient when hunting for a park, and will circle and wait until a spot frees up.  (I, on the other hand, hate waiting and prefer to park further away and walk the extra hundred steps, but whatever).

This particular car park has cars parked down the middle with lanes either side. So you can back out of a spot or drive out straight ahead, and people can drive into a vacant spot from either side.

After a couple of turns circling, we saw a couple getting into their four-wheel-drive and my husband put on his indicator. The woman of the couple loaded a couple of things in the back, glanced at us briefly and then got in the passenger seat. After what seemed an age they finally drove forwards out of their spot and we drove in behind them.

As we drove in, we came face to face with another car waiting to enter from the other side, and two angry occupants.

So we had both been waiting for the same spot, unknown to each other, but because we'd been behind the vacating car which drove out forwards, we were able to drive in and get the spot.

The two women in the other car immediately complained. I felt bad but it had been an honest mistake; we'd both been waiting for the same spot and we had got in first.

"Oh my god!" said the first woman, "you stole our spot!"

"That was so rude," said the second woman, her passenger. "So rude!"

My husband was unperturbed and ignored them entirely. I defended us. "No, we were waiting for it too," I said.

"You knew we were here!"

"No we didn't," I said.

"You did, you saw us waiting here!"

"No we didn't," I said. "If we'd seen you we wouldn't have taken the spot!"

"We've been waiting here for ten minutes. We followed them in!"

Her friend said again, "That was so rude, what you just did."

"We didn't see you," I said. (And I knew ten minutes wasn't true, because their car hadn't been in the car park when we drove in less than ten minutes ago).

"Leave it," said my husband, who had already moved on.

"That is so rude," said the second woman, and she kept on saying it. "That is so rude, you're so rude!"

I'm not good in confrontations, and in this case I was simultaneously dismayed, embarrassed, defensive and angry. I was annoyed at her manner with the "you're so rude". I'm fully aware it sounds paranoid, but it felt like she was purposely adopting a superior, measured tone to convey "I'm the mature, fair one and you are 100% in the wrong." I hated her tone. I hated that she wasn't listening to me, and I hated that we were being made out to be bad guys when we weren't.

I snapped, "No we're not rude. You thought it was yours, we thought it was ours. No one was rude, it was a misunderstanding."

She suddenly changed tack, flicked her hand in the air, and said contemptuously, in Greek, "Calm yourself."

And that did it.  I had been calm, but now I was not.  I stepped out of the car and yelled "And you can f*** off!" 

The women shook their heads and that made me angrier, so I kept going: "Go on, f*** off! Get the f*** out of here, go! F***! Off!"

My husband gave me an exasperated look, the women sped off, and I turned to face two seven-year-olds staring at me with mouths like doughnuts.

Damage control.  "Okay," I said, "Mummy did the wrong thing there, and I should never have said that, but... she was really rude to me!"

I heard the plaintive tone in my voice and the ridiculousness of my defense, using the same words that had made me so mad coming from someone else. I might as well have said "She started it!"

And I thought of all the times we tell kids to be strong, rise above it, bounce back, handle their feelings, manage arguments... when we (okay I) can't always manage it ourselves.

I know full well what I should have done, and I did tell my kids just that later. Firstly, I guess, we could have let them have the car space. But we hadn't actually stolen it - we had been waiting for it too, and we were already in it when we realised what had happened. But once the confrontation was underway, I could have stated our case and then ignored them when they continued, instead of blowing my stack over nothing. Then I could have explained to my kids later why I had walked away and ignored them instead of prolonging a confrontation. 

But I didn't do that, did I?

Have you ever lost it in front of your kids? How did you handle it with them?

Jun 10, 2013

Schoolyard shenanigans

Well, it has begun.

My girls are seven and a half, and girls that age, it would appear, begin to sort themselves and each other out, and to call out each other's behaviour in a big way.

used with permission

This is not entirely innate. Our schools are trying their hardest to combat the twin scourges of bullying and childhood anxiety, and kids are being drilled in the language of self-defense and resilience, and in recognizing and calling out bad behaviour. Is it all a bit heavy-handed? Who knows - they are certainly handling it twenty times better than schools did in my day, so you know, carry on.

But kids absorb messages in unexpected ways, and are expert at subverting them too. (As in the boy who was mean to A. in the playground and then sneered when she got upset, "So? 'Bounce back'!")

It will be interesting to see how this generation of youngsters grows up, and what ails them. (I am guessing the same old stuff).

Anyway, all of a sudden the things my girls are telling me about school every day (and into the night) are sounding like this:

"I don't want to be friends with L anymore, she is so rude and she is always lying." 
"B was upset today because C said she was rude but I know she wasn't rude, she was upset because D said she was bossy." 
"R and L are always fighting, and it gives me a big headache. And I tell them, 'Girls, stop fighting! I want to be both of your friend but you have to get along!' And I say that every day, mum, it's every day!" 
"I really like R, she is my best friend, but she is mean to L and then sometimes I have to go and help L, and I like L. But then L gets mad at me and she's rude to me, and it's not my fault. And L said her mum told her not to play with me and R anymore." 

At first when these things cropped up I had all the answers. I gave what I thought was good advice, stressing the importance of friendship, compromise, sharing, understanding, and being nice to each other.  I suggested specific things to say which I thought were helpful. I think sometimes they were helpful, sometimes not.

Now I'm feeling less sure. More and more I feel like I don't have answers to the kinds of questions they are bringing home.

M. in particular is bringing home these fraught conversations every day, and tells me about them in stories that go on for 15 minutes or more while I sit there and nod and say "Mmmm" and wait for her to finish.

I know all these girls moderately well. I don't kid myself I know everything, because I am a grown-up and not hanging out in the school yard. I don't kid myself my daughter is an angel - in fact I spend half the time she tells me these stories looking out for what she has done 'wrong' or is not telling me. Then I sense she knows this and may sometimes twist a story a little to keep herself out of blame. Then I think I'm being unfair and then I think, crap! I've lost the thread of what she's telling me while I'm thinking all this!

My daughter M is empathetic and very good at making friends, and is pretty popular. As a result she is loving herself sick at the moment, and that can make her a bit cavalier with her friends. But she does worry about all her friends and tries to 'look after' everyone. At least, that's what I think is happening.

R is her best friend and a lovely kid, who has been used to having M all to herself for awhile and is not thrilled about others joining their 'group'.

L is new, and has few friends. She is a sweet kid and loves M. L's mum hosted a playdate to get all the kids playing together and help foster friendships for her daughter, and a week later I had the kids over to our house as well. From what I've seen and what I deduce from M's nightly tales of woe, it's possible L may be one of those kids who struggles a bit with friendships and social niceties (as my other daughter A has done a bit).

The kids have dobbed on each other to yard duty teachers and their class teacher, and have got varied advice, from 'you have to sort it out yourselves' to the same kind of advice I was giving, and finally to 'don't play with each other anymore!'

I worry about L and her parents are so lovely, and I've been really tempted to call her mum and talk about it - but I don't think that would be a good idea. We don't know each other well enough, and she might think I am criticizing her child or defending mine; and I also don't want to interfere and push their friendship if it's really not working.

I'm thinking I'll talk to the class teacher and ask for her thoughts. Maybe she can have a chat to all three kids - but I think she may already have done that.

I don't want to 'fix' friendships or solve every problem for my kids. (Well of course I do want to but I know I can't). I would just like to know what to say when they talk to me about these things.

It would be nice if I was skilled at the social stuff myself, so I would know what to do!

So I'm off to visit the websites of Easy Peasy Kids and Michael Grose in search of some ideas.

How do you deal with this stuff? I need some tips!

Jun 9, 2013

Cat Beds: the saga continues

Last month I wrote about my cat's failure to appreciate her new cat bed.

If you are a cat owner (or a reader of cat memes) you will not be surprised to learn that things have not changed.

While Tia does quite like her cat bed sometimes, those times are few and far between.

She still roams the house mewing pitifully when she can't find a spot to her liking.

She still loves to sleep on our laps, on my laptop keyboard, on my newspaper or on the girls' homework books, or indeed on any soft surface other than her designated bed.

Here are some of the places she will sleep:

From the following two options, can you pick which one my cat chose to lie down on?

This doesn't even look comfortable. But she lay here like this for a good hour today:

But at least someone appreciates the cat bed.
And yes, naturally I made him get out immediately. As soon as I had taken the photo, of course.



Jun 2, 2013

Girl Songs

The songs my girls make up and sing in earnest voices are full of the vocabulary our culture gives them. It's all dancing and wishing on stars and learning to fly and things 'in my heart'.

My daughter A had a bit of an epiphany last night, while we were driving and listening to pop on FM radio. She sighed in sudden exasperation and said, "Mum, why do all the singers have the same kind of voice and the same accent? They all go like - " she raised her voice an octave, sang a couple of words with a nasal tone and soft r's and then made a sound like a sexy exhalation.

We talked a bit about that and how it was a bit annoying after awhile when everybody sang the same. Then an old Missy Higgins song came on, followed by Taylor Swift and Pink - none of whom sing "like that".

But still, her favourite female singer at the moment is Rhianna.

A loves (in this order): One Direction, Rhianna, Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber, Katy Perry.

M loves (in this order): Katy Perry, Delta Goodrem, Sia, Rhianna, One Direction.

I've become fond of some of their songs myself, partly because the kids love them so much. Others make me grind my teeth.

And it's always fun answering questions about lyrics like "stupid girls", "last Friday night", "I kissed a girl", and "I crashed my car and I don't care."

But to be honest I prefer those lyrics to the kind of "I'm learning to fly" schmaltz that inspires my girls' own songwriting.



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